Film director John Waters spoke freely with GW students Wednesday night about some of the factors that influence his eccentric movies. He said his influences include Wicked Witch of the West, murder trials and the youth of America.
Students from “Silver Screen,” a Community Living and Learning program for freshmen interested in films and acting, sat in a circle in the Strong Hall piano lounge and talked with the Baltimore native an hour before he spoke at Lisner Auditorium. Waters most recently directed Cecil B. Demented.
It was the first visit to GW for the filmmaker, who William S. Burroughs once called “the Pope of bad taste.” Waters said he has had a constant presence at college campuses for almost 30 years.
“How else could I know all the new ways you get on your parents nerves,” Waters said to the film group. “That’s what my movies are all about.”
At the Strong Hall reception, Waters said giving speeches at colleges keeps him in touch with young people, whose overly dramatic lives are a leading subject in many of his films.
“They’re always changing stuff,” Waters said. “They have the best new clothes. They have the best new music. I don’t want to go to a punk club at 3 a.m. to find out about this stuff, so I come here.”
Waters earlier directed such films as Cry Baby and Serial Mom. But he is well known for earlier films Pink Flamingo and Polyester, in which he pushed the limits of what he calls “good bad taste.” Most of his early films starred the 300-pound, cross-dressing actor Divine and relied heavily on sex and indiscrete references to bodily fluids.
“People probably reacted to (Pink Flamingos) the same way I did when I first turned on Forrest Gump,” Waters said in Lisner. “Everyone has their limits.”
Waters talked with students about “redneck bars” in Baltimore, his love for The Wizard of Oz and the need for young people to make films. There is no such thing as Hollywood, independent or art films today, said Waters, who said he believes all of these were barriers that are now gone.
“They’re looking for the next weirdo film you might make,” he said.
He also talked about the importance of people making films about things they love, not things they hate, and the use of humor as a weapon.
“If you can laugh at the worst thing that ever happened to you, then you have power,” he said.
Freshman Betsy Walters said she agreed with a lot of points Waters made and was inspired by his self-assurance.
“I admired his ability to mock stuff and get away it,” Walters said. “It’s great.”
Jennifer Garza, a graduate student and avid fan of Waters, said the director was exactly what she expected him to be.
“He was totally off the wall,” Garza said.