Arts Desk

The John Waters Interview: Sheila Dixon, Teabagging, and Blowing Up the Three Kings

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Some people just don't like Christmas. Baltimore Director John Waters knows this, and has taken it upon himself to help such people through the holiday season with his spoken-word performances, in which he elaborates on why you can love or hate–but  can't possibly ignore–Christmas. In anticipation of his show at the Birchmere (which, sadly, is sold out), the Washington City Paper picked Waters' brain about newly convicted Baltimore mayor Sheila Dixon, films old and forthcoming, and how to love the one you're with.

Washington City Paper: So, Sheila Dixon, mayor of Baltimore. Stole gift cards, now convicted.

John Waters: You know, I feel bad for her. I think she was doing a good job as mayor. I guess she probably did it, I wasn't there for the trial every day. I saw the jurors be interviewed, and they seemed very conscientious, very intelligent, very sober about it. I think she should have to serve a couple of weekends in jail and still be mayor, even though I know that's not possible.

WCP: But that might give her some perspective.

JW: Well, it's not up to me. Look, believe me, I taught in prison. If people leave her alone in there, it'll teach her a lesson.

WCP: On a lighter note, what would you get Sheila Dixon for Christmas?

JW: I guess I'd get her a get-out-of-jail free card.

WCP: C'mon, that's a softball answer.

JW: I like Mayor Dixon! She's not gonna go to jail. I would give her a new job where she could make more money than she did as mayor, I would give her some credit for the good job that she did, and at the same time, I would never say the words "gift card" around her again. Who gives people gift cards? I never got one in my life. You know, it's hard for me to say that. She's been a good sport. She came to the premiere of The Wire the season that they had a character loosely based on her who portrayed her very unfavorably. And she came to the premiere! Talk about a good sport.

WCP: You're right. Not too many other mayors would do something like that. So, why no gift cards?

JW: I think giving money is a rude gift. It means you're too stupid to think of anything, or the person getting the gift is so dumb that they have no interests.

WCP: Ouch. See, I do that, and I'm going to blame my dad, because he is impossible to shop for.

JW: I know. Giving gifts is incredibly difficult. The smarter you are, the easier it is to find a gift for you, because you have interests. And if you're really smart, you tell people what you want and they get it for you. If you leave it up to people who you know are going to get you bad gifts, that's your own stupid fault. Basically, a lot of the time people want to be told what to get you, because then they don't have to worry if you'll like it. But the best kind of presents are when someone you know collects something, and you find something that they never even knew existed. That's the top present, even if it costs a nickle. It's just finding something that they want that they didn't know existed.

The worst present is something that's obviously regifted. In that case, you should demand a receipt.

WCP: That actually might be a good policy for regifting. Unless it's like, a year old. In which case, fuck it.

JW: A lot of times you don't get a receipt either. Someone gives it to you, and you don't like it, so you give it to somebody else. It's like passing a turd. It's really bad. And you can always tell. And don't think that people won't know. They always know.

WCP: So you don't buy this idea that if you really love somebody, you'll know what they want without asking?

JW: I believe that if you really love somebody, you shouldn't ask, you should spend a lot of time thinking about the perfect present for them. But if you really love somebody, you don't let them know how much you love them, and that's how you keep them.

WCP: Oh, that's just brutal.

JW: Look, someone always loves the other one more, and that's always the problem. It's a turn-off in a way to be the person who loves someone more. It's a tough game–and if you don't think it's a game, you're wrong. Everybody wants to have a little bit of a struggle with the person they love. It's a control freak thing. They're always looking for the person they can't control, and when they find them, it's hell.

WCP: I'm not sure that I, uh–have you found that person?

JW: I'm looking for that person. I don't want anyone I can control. That's why I could never live with anybody. Who could live in this house? It's like every possible thing of my taste, and if somebody–I would never let them put up any of their own stuff. And who would want to be with me if I wouldn't allow them to do that?

WCP: Do you want somebody smarter than you?

JW: Smarter in what way? I want someone different from me. I don't want smarts. I have smarts, and I don't feel like talking about books in bed. I want somebody who's the opposite of me, who does the complete opposite things that I do, so that I can hear about their life, and all the weird things in their career, and all the weird things that happen in their day-to-day activities. I don't want anybody who wants to go to a premiere with me–that's the last thing I'm looking for. I've never been involved with somebody in show business in my entire life.

WCP: Yeah?

JW: The red carpet is a bad date, and anybody who wants to go to a premiere is a bad date.

WCP: They want to date the red carpet?

JW: Anybody who wants to be a celebrity's date likes it at first, and then they grow to hate it. They're a plus-one. I've been on the red carpet with a couple, and the photographers have yelled, "Will the husband step out?", because they just want me and the woman.

WCP: Ooh.

JW: Or they yell, "Date step out." Talk about a cock-blocker.

WCP: That sounds absolutely crushing.

JW: But they do it! They'll do anything.

WCP: So, earlier you said something about weird gifts for collectors, and it reminded that I've always wanted to give someone the 'neuter' version of A Dirty Shame.

JW: Oh, I hate that version! That is only the appropriate version to give if you're having a birthday party for a group of 6-year-old children, and you decide, 'Oh, a movie about sex addicts would be a good thing to show right now.' Then that's the present. Or, if you have every possible thing you could collect about me, then yes, it is a ludicrous thing to watch it. I had to watch it recently for something I was working on, and I was shocked. I'd only saw it once, back when I had to go through and use every take that they make you use for airplane use, and I've never used that footage for any other movie. It's a baby version of the movie.

WCP: The 'neuter' version doesn't make any sense.

JW: Nope. Well, all my movies are surreal. But in the scene where he goes down on her and comes up with a shoe, I thought, 'if I was going to have that perversion, I've already done shrimping in another movie.' Luckily, we had the NC-17 footage. And I'm sure the MPAA was so pissed off when I finally turned it all in. New Line said I could release the NC-17 version if I would do the 'neuter' version for wide release. Which is a shame, because chains won't carry the real movie, but they will carry the 'neuter' version. In the neighborhood [in Baltimore] where we shot the movie, there aren't any independent stores left–just chains. So some of the local actors couldn't even get the version of the movie that they were in.

WCP: Really?

JW: They could only get the 'neuter' version! They were pissed off!

WCP: Can you only get the NC-17 version online?

JW: You can get the real one in independent, hip video shops. But not one big store–Target, Blockbuster–none of them will carry it. It's corporate censorship.

WCP: It's fucking terrible, is what it is.

JW: It is a dirty shame!

WCP: Little trivia for you: That was the last movie I saw before I lost my virginity. I was a young college man, and I saw the NC-17 version, and I thought, "Goddammit, I am missing out." So I drove back to my hometown and convinced my Southern Baptist girlfriend that we should have sex.

JW: Had she seen A Dirty Shame?

WCP: Christ, no.

JW: Some people would want to not have sex after seeing A Dirty Shame, because there was no normal sex in that movie. Did you try headbutting each other when you finished to see if it gave you an orgasm?

WCP: We did butt heads a couple of times, but it was completely by accident and it gave me a headache.

JW: That's good. That's a unique sex act. I'm only jealous of people like the Marquis de Sade, whose name became a sex act. That's really famous.

WCP: But people associate your name with sex; maybe not a specific sex act, but 'John Waters' has sexual connotations.

JW: Yes, but not as specifically as 'de Sade.'

WCP: If you could have your name stand for something, it wouldn't be head-butting, would it?

JW: Well, that was the only time I had to actually think up a new sex act for a movie. Teabagging had been done before [Pecker]–but I didn't think that up, I just spread it. The fact that, in this movie, if you bang your head together it's the ultimate orgasm–I never tried it. So I don't know if it works. Fictitiously, it works.

WCP: I can say from personal experience that it does not work. Speaking of teabagging: Do you feel like you've been cheated, now that teabagging is back in style and you've been given none of the credit?

JW: I never feel like I've been cheated. I'm not a bitter person. I think I have a pretty nice life and I'm not angry about much. And the whole teabagging thing is glorious. What happened was, when the whole Republican teabagging thing started getting press, all the newscasters on liberal stations thought it was funny because it reminded them of Pecker. It brought a movie I'd made back into the news. I was thrilled.

WCP: Was there a boost in sales of Pecker?

JW: That I don't know, but there was certainly a boost in talk, and whenever there's a boost in talk, that usually translates to lots of things. It helps my spoken word thing. It helps overall. It's fame maintenance.

WCP: Speaking of spoken word, how is your Christmas performance at the Birchmere going to help people get through Christmas?

JW: I talk to people about how you can't ignore Christmas. You can love it, you can hate it, but you can't ignore it. I love it without irony, but I understand why some people hate it. It's a financial burden, it's an emotional burden, it's a decorating burden. But it's a happy time for criminals and a happy time for people who are attracted to elderly men who are overweight and wear velvet. It's a time for perversion.

WCP: Who would be the patron saint of a John Waters Christmas?

JW: Jeez, the patron saint would be some of the insane saints before the Reformation. But Christmas is a pagan holiday, so certainly, if I had to make a Christmas movie, the patron saint would be Prancer the Gay Reindeer.

WCP: Aren't you making a Christmas movie?

JW: Trying to–Fruitcake–but this economy isn't helping.

WCP: Do you want to tell us about Fruitcake?

JW: I think it's bad luck to talk about something before you do it, it makes it not happen. But I'll tell you a little bit. Fruitcake is a little kid who's in a very functional family in Hampden–no, not in Hampden, he's in a different neighborhood in Baltimore. And his family is a family of meat thieves, which we have in Baltimore. They knock on your door, and say "Meat man!" And you go downstairs with them and say, "I want two porter house steaks, some pork butt, and a roast chicken," and they go steal it and you pay half of what's on the supermarket label. So, Fruitcake's family is a very functional family, but they steal meat. But on Christmas Eve, Fruitcake gets greedy and gets caught trying to steal a fruitcake, and he gets separated from his parents, and teams up with a little black girl whose bad gay parents are forcing her to have 'gay Kwanzaa,' and they run away together, and then try and fight their way back home through the slush of Christmas Eve in Baltimore to their parents.

WCP: That sounds heartwarming.

JW: It is.

WCP: I like movies where people come home for the holidays.

JW: That's what I'm saying. I like Christmas and this is going to be a real Christmas movie. But they're John Waters characters, so they're like the Little Rascals on poppers.

WCP: Are you glad to see that the pink flamingo is back up at Cafe Hon?

JW: I didn't have much to do with that, but I thought it was brilliant the way they put up all those pink flamingos at city hall. It was a very very smart political move. I respect the politics of it. But to be honest, there's not a single pink flamingo at my house. I'm weary of them.

WCP: Why is that?

JW: Because people gave them to me for years! How many years ago was that [Pink Flamingos]!? I don't collect them. To me, it's almost offensive to have them in your yard. It depends on who collects them. If it is an elderly couple who have the old kind and has had them forever because they think they're pretty, that's OK. If it's a young yuppie making fun of working class people, I think it's offensive.

WCP: What's the best gift you've ever received from a fan?

JW: One fan sent me this statue, a Christmas decoration of Divine knocking her mother over with a Christmas tree, and it has blinking lights. It's really well done. Another fan gave me a painting of the wall paper from Dawn's house in Female Trouble, which I thought was a good-taste, modern idea. Someone gave me the paperback book of Herschell Gordon Lewis' Moonshine Mountain, and Herschell Gordon Lewis was in my house and I showed it to him, and he said "I've never even seen this," and it was about his movie! Books are the best for me, because that's what I collect.

WCP: What do you want this holiday season?

JW: I always want the 'Buildings of Disaster,' which are done by a company called Boym. I just gave them a design award this year at the National Design Awards. They make five-inch nickel-plated models of buildings where terrible things happened. They have both World Trade Center towers, they have the Pentagon, they have Unabomber's house–they even have the Unabomber's birdhouse, which I bought. They have Waco, they have Oklahoma. They're very sobering and quite collectible. They have Princess Diana's tunnel; I've given that as a wedding present.

WCP: Oh my god, that sounds like a terrible wedding present.

JW: No, look at them. They're really well done.

WCP: I guess the aesthetic would take some of the oomph out of the tragedy.

JW: I'm  not making fun of the tragedy. It's very sobering, this little building where a terrible thing happened. It represents a building becoming iconic because of some awful event.

WCP: What's your favorite thing to see around Baltimore during the Christmas season?

JW: I like the lights in some of the neighborhoods like Guilford, when they're very simple. The scariest, of course, are the living creches. What I like that's horrible, but funny–I hate the inflammable blow-up decorations, but vandals will let the air out, and you can drive around and see deflated creches in peoples' lawns. The blow-up ones are really popular in Baltimore. Do you know the kind I'm talking about?

WCP: I'm from Florida, all our Christmas decorations are inflatable.

JW: They're hideous. But when vandals let the air out of them, it's kind of comical to watch the father come out and angrily blow up the three kings. There's no Christmas spirit.

Photo by Susan Segal

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Comments

  1. #1

    JW is my favorite hot curmudgeon!!!!

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