DocuMondays – This Filthy World

This Filthy World (2008, dir.Jeff Garlin)

Unlike the other documentaries I have looked at, where you have multiple interviewees and tightly edited footage to form a narrative, this is simply one man on stage in front of a crowd, talking to them. It’s basically a concert film, but while most of those feature either a music performer or comedian this is a film director. I guess the closest equivalent  of this would be the Evening With Kevin Smith DVDs. Both are the result of directors whose personalities are as large as the reputation of their films. John Waters is definitely not a filmmaker who appeals to everyone, something he readily admits, but even if you don’t enjoy his films I think it would be hard not to enjoy this one-man show about his love of all things strange.

Waters was raised in and around Baltimore, Maryland, which is to him like New York is to Woody Allen. Baltimore, named the Ugliest City in America at the time which Waters proudly cites, provided him with a front row seat to the grotesque. Rather than being repulsed, Waters was drawn to the misshapen and demented natives and made them movie stars. His love of film also began in Baltimore when, as a child, he became enamored with the gimmickry of William Castle (House on Haunted Hill, House of Wax) and Kroger Babb. Babb was a filmmaker who had little skill with filmmaking, and more with being a salesman. He produced films like Mom and Dad, which the Catholic Church gave a Condemned rating, and features actual birth footage, one of the few ways of showing female nudity in those days. Babb would have an obvious influence in Waters later work, and Castle got a very gimmicky homage with the Odorama cards handed out at showings of Polyester.

My favorite piece of the performance was the second half, where Water discusses how he even he has lines he doesn’t think people should cross. This allows him to go into very poetic descriptions of teabagging, helicoptering, and other outer edges sexual practices that he gets pleasure from horrifying the audience with, but also seems to honestly think are too far. He addresses his child molestery appearance, which draws looks when he goes to see animated films at the theater. He talks about his love of attending trials and the little club of friends who try to one up each other about which they have attended (Waters got into one of 10 public seats at Watergate for a day, an elderly woman beat him, she was Nuremburg, the Super Bowl of courtroom trials). There’s a wonderful sequence where he talks about the influence The Bad Seed has on him, creating a desire to be a secretly evil child. Even now, he says he loves to encourage children to get into trouble, mentioning when he was attending a parade recently and tried to convince a little girl to help him go knock people’s bicycles over.

Like I said, Waters isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, nor should he be. If he was, then the entire agenda of his work would be subverted. He talks about how his career is now lauded in elite high society circles in New York and that he thinks its wrong. Even if you don’t care for his films, I don’t think you could watch this and not find some anecdote or piece of wry wisdom memorable. If you haven’t seen his work some segments might be confusing, but nevertheless this is an excellent piece of insight into one of the ground breaking directors in America.

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