Cult trash film director John Waters” latest extrava
ganxa. Hairspray. invades
Scottish screens this month. Alan .lones talks to the self-styled King ofSleaze.
The l lairdo (‘apital ofthe World. 'l'hat's what John Waters calls his yet-to-be—fashionable home town Baltimore — the setting for his past ‘celluloid atrocities’. the infamous "I'rash 'l'rio‘. Pink Flamingos. Female Trouble and Desperate Living. 'l'hese ‘exercises in poor taste’ branded the Wilde director everything from the Duke of Dirt to the Prince of Puke. "l’hc Pope of 'l‘rash is the most dignified though.‘ grins Waters. whose reputation for obsessive highbrow tackiness precedes him. All that changes with Hairspray. \‘s'aters' Sixties' comedy drenched in an ozone layer of
sweetness aboutglamour-hungry'l'V' 1
teen stars and dance era/.es. Says the dapper Waters. who considers good bad taste the best entertainment: ‘Making a family movie was the only way I had left to shock anybody. I worried about a backlash from my hard core fans. who seem to want Flamingos for ever. but while Hairspray is a movie you can take your mother to. it still contains my warped sense of humour. Hairspray is hardly mainstream as a fat girl is the star— Ricki Lake filling the screen saved on sets — Divine plays her mother. and Debbie Harry pops a pimple on screen!‘
‘Baltimore inspires me. as the place breeds a special type of
eccentric lunatic.' continues the arcane Waters. “And they still wear their hair in bouffant beehives. As one neighbour succinctly told me. “You got a good look —- you stick with it 3" ’l‘hey say whatever hairdo you have at seventeen you wear for the rest of your life. It's termed the hairhopper syndrome. Famous hairhoppers are (her and Dusty Springfield.' People have moved to Baltimore after reading his book Shock Value. Waters adds with an off-beat sense of civic pride. ‘What a terrible burden to carry on my
shoulders! But where else would you
see a red-neck girl sitting in a pool of mud saying. “l ley. I just killed a worm"? Incidents like that make rue happy to be alive and keep me in touch with the real America!~ Hairspray was inspired by The Buddy [)eanr' Show. a top-rated Baltimore dance insitution Waters wrote about in his book ('rar‘kpoi. He explains: ‘livery city had a dance show like ‘(‘orny (‘ollins' in the movie. I gave Hairspray a happy ending but in reality most went off the air due to racial integration. I tried to make it as authentic as possible and. although people tend to think I’ve exaggerated. the climate of the times was pretty much how I show it.’ local teen stardom meant being mobbed by fans at
8'l‘he List 5 — ll August 1988
record hops plus on-air engagements and break-ups. Waters pointsout: ‘lt
was pure soap-opera for kids. 'l'hc regular dancers w ere known as the ('ouncil and often their school grades suffered as they had to make the studio at a certain time every day. it) many it was the high spot of their lives even though they never knew if they would be asked for autographs or get beaten up.’ Waters assembled his dream cast for Hairspray. 'You cannot imagine the thrill ofwaking up knowing Sonny Bono is in your life!‘ he enthuses. ‘l’ia [adora is my favourite movie star —- she embodies everything America means to me. She arrived in her own private [car jet with "l lere comes l’ia" on the
side. which won my heart.‘ Debbie
l larry was a good sport too. Waters says: ‘l ler exploding beehive was inspired by The [Hang/Hyman 's ( ’onlrar'I — the only movie to have higher hair than we did? Because her wig had metal supports she suffered the first hair-do injury in history. ‘Movic stars are the best gimmick. a lesson I learned with l’olyr's'ler as the scratch and sniff ( )dorama cards turned out to be an expensive joke. The reaction l'm alter is “What?
'l'hey made a John Waters movie!" '
Waters. who initially wanted to advertise Hairs/nay with the line
"l'he family that sprays together. stays together". is fond of the phrase ‘(llamour is looks you can never forget'. the reason why the late Divine always starred in his movies. He continues: ‘At (‘annes we sold Hairspray to Hungary and I'm thrilled Divine is behind the Iron (‘urtain at last. I have this vision of l’rar‘rla printing his portrait with a caption saying this is an American movie star and what all rnen consider sexy! Divine knew how well received he had been in Hairspray as it opened a week before his death. I kept getting these midnight phone calls where he’d say "Read me l’auline Kael's review again." But it isn't good enough really. is it'.’ You work hard for twenty years and you die just on the verge of potential cross-over success. I loved his funeral. as the minister. a close family friend. countered the protests of how he could possibly conduct the service. with the statement. “'l’heologically it is not a crime to eat a dog turd." I‘m amazed that scene in Pink l-‘lanringos is still being talked about today. I‘ll miss him. he was a good friend.‘
All the songs on the Hairspray soundtrack from classic ( 'hubltl' (‘hecker to obscure chants by 'l‘he lkettes — are personal favourites of Waters. He says. ‘I hate modern music and really do believe 'l‘hc Beatles ruined everything. ()ur music lawyer had nightmares trying to trace all the rights. but I wanted to replace my scratched 45s so badly. I am now like my parents used to be when they repeatedly told me the old songs were the best.‘ Mary [on Raines. the real Queen of The Buddy lh’am’ Show. proved invaluable when it came to teaching the actors the more unfamiliar dance routines: ‘All the dances are real and I still do The Madison at night after a few drinks. Mary Lou remembered the steps to 'l'he Roach. The Bug. The Fly. and 'l‘he Mashed l’otato. which for sortie reason was the hardest to learn. We put together a ‘l low 'l‘o‘ video for the actors outlinging the basic moves as I never Could understand those l'ootstep guidesl'
'l‘hc sell—styled King ( )f Sleaze is currently at his ( ‘ape (‘od retreat writing his next movie. a historical romance. and his latest book Rulr’ .llmlr’ls. ‘Divine‘s death means a sequel to Hairspray wouldn't be right .' says Waters. whose burning ambition is to star in a film version of The Don Knolls Slury. ‘( ‘alled ll('(l(ll)(lII(/. it would have been the only way I could have dealt with the hippie era. although there is the possibility of a Hairspray sit-corn television series. 'l‘he stars I would love to work with in the future are l.ana 'l'urner and Benji. But my ultimate goal is to make a movie where everything is fake and ev ery part is played by a star'. So you would have crowd scenes w here people walk past the camera fora few moments and audiences would scrcaru: "'l‘here‘s Joey lleathcrton. there‘s Brigitte .\'eilsen. there‘s Nancy Sinatra and (‘onnie l’rancisl"
times to recognise eve ryone.‘
and you‘d have to see it a million