John Waters: The Filthy World Auteur

 DATELINE:  Standup for Smuttiness

young waters, old warhol Young Waters, Old Warhol

About ten years ago, John Waters filmed one of his so-called lectures on a college campus, but it’s more like social media commentary about porn in the modern age done as standup comedy. It’s now streaming:  John Waters: The Filthy World.

He emerges on a live stage to chat with the audience, stepping from a Catholic Church confessional to stand amid garbage cans and bouquets of flowers. Yes, it is pure John Waters, director of Hairspray (an all-family movie) to ultimate disgust (Female Trouble).

Even before an audience of alleged cult fans, he is too smart for them. He mentions how he’d like a tattoo of Joseph Losey on his arm—and the rapt audience is unwrapped in silence. Losey is one of the titans of directors. Who knew? Not this audience.

Indeed, when Waters discusses the invention of “tea-bagging” in one of his movies, audience members of young men look most unhappy, like they were sold a bill of goods.

Not so much funny as appalling in bad taste, he argues for all-Lesbian army soldiers, and discusses Michael Jackson’s spotted private junk.

He tells many stories about the overwrought Divine, the man behind the Hairspray star turn. No one else could epitomize Miss Edna.

Waters notes how he used to go to children’s movies, but mothers always moved the kids away from him, thinking he looked like a perv. He said he isn’t.

One of his long-time hobbies is to attend court proceedings of famous or notorious cases, especially in his hometown of Baltimore, where he proudly defends the nation’s ugliest people.

Having worked with an eclectic group as actors in his movies—the likes of Patty Hearst, Traci Lords, Sonny Bono, and Johnny Depp, he has tales about all of them.

He started out as a guerilla filmmaker and has become the Establishment outre star.

 

 

 

Illuminating Lumet

DATELINE:  Basic Workhorse

Lumet

His documentary is standard, if not dull, with Sidney Lumet alone talking to the camera. No other interviews interrupt his self-analysis, though it is interspersed with dozens of clips from his many notable films.

As you might have guessed by the end of the film, Lumet never won a best director Oscar—not that it’s an omission of the prodigious output of his career.

Starting out as a child actor on Broadway (an arch-rival to Frankie Thomas), he tried Hollywood as a child star, but MGM dropped him soon enough. However, Lumet loved acting and being around creative people. He loved to work, and his father Baruch Lumet was a soap opera radio actor as well. It was a short jump to stay with theater as a director as Sidney grew up.

He started at the top in movies, directing the extraordinary all-star, movie called Twelve Angry Men with Henry Fonda about a claustrophobic jury. From there he worked steadily with great stars in less than commercial properties, from Katharine Hepburn to Brando, in their least successful box-office films of the era.

Each film he made was literate, thought-provoking, and from all genres. Few recall he directed Michael Jackson in The Wiz—and Richard Burton in Equus. Fonda again in Fail-Safe. He brought out bravura performances by Rod Steiger in Pawnbroker, and Paul Newman in the Verdict. He made diverse movies like The Hill (Sean Connery) and Murder on the Orient Express (Albert Finney). He made Dog Day Afternoon like a newsreel with Al Pacino and made a hilarious black comedy with gay themes called Deathtrap with Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve. All brilliant.

As each amazing movie is catalogued, Lumet dismisses his interest in morality, his love of New York, and his nearly Calvinistic religious fervor for work above all else.

Yet, we realized half-way into the documentary that we never truly loved any of his films. They won our respect, and caught our attention always. However, there was no overpowering sense of directoral style, which may not be bad. He knew how to handle a story and its stars.

If there is an ultimate response to him, we feel regret that he did not receive enough acclaim from us.