Writer, director, and actor John Waters is widely known for his weird, wonderful, and often over-the-top films as well as his pencil-thin mustache and distinct voice. John Waters’ movies aren’t for the masses, but they appeal to an audience who enjoys a zany plot featuring shocking counter-culture characters. Waters landed on the film map in 1974 when his movie “Pink Flamingos” was released. The film, which has been described as “an exercise in bad taste,” featured the now-infamous dog feces- eating scene with Divine, a transvestite whose performance helped propel the movie into film history. One thing is almost certain when looking at Waters’ body of work: either you love it or you hate it. Waters is an important figure in film because of his ability to pull people outside of their comfort zones and draw them into a world that displays the more violent, brutal side of human nature.
Born in 1946 in Baltimore, Maryland, Waters grew up with an interest in the bizarre and outrageous aspects of life while living in a strictly Catholic home. He began flexing his creative muscles early in life, putting on puppet shows at parties for money before he hit his teenage years. Waters was a member of the Catholic Youth Organization, but he preferred studying the likes of William Burroughs and experimenting with drugs like LSD. During his youth he befriended Harris Glenn Milstead, another boy who didn’t quite fit in with mainstream society. Milstead was known to dress in women’s clothing and was slightly overweight and shy. Milstead later took on the name Divine to use for his cross-dressing persona, as Waters had referred to him as his “divine inspiration.” After Waters was expelled from college for marijuana use in the mid 1960s, the pair created a production company named Dreamland Productions. The two began to work on films that were created to shock audiences and showcase the grotesque and bizarre. Armed with an 8mm camera and a cast and production team of friends, the company started out making low-budget short films like “Hag in a Black Leather Jacket” and “Roman Candles.” Soon he began filming in 16mm to film “Eat Your Makeup” and “Mondo Trasho.” These movies were screened in the cellars of a few local churches despite themes of sexual deviance, interracial relationships, and sadism.
John Waters and Dreamland Productions continued on their quest to mesh together “pure” American values with debauchery, receiving local buzz after word got around that during the filming of “Mondo Trasho” several people on the “set” were arrested for indecent exposure while shooting a naked hitchhiker scene at John Hopkins University. Most of his films were rated “X” and were shown only at late night screenings, and his movie “Multiple Maniacs” was screened in 16 different cities. After “Pink Flamingos” Waters filmed “Female Trouble” and “Desperate Living,” but with the release of “Polyester” in 1981, audiences began to see a new kind of Waters film emerge. “Polyester” was more mainstream than his previous films, starred a well-known actor, and had an unusually happy ending. “Hairspray” was Waters’ next big release, and with a budget of at least two million dollars, the film carried a “PG” rating, which was a huge departure from his earlier work. Other films Waters has filmed include “Cry Baby” starring Johnny Depp, “Pecker,” Cecil B. Demented,” and “A Dirty Shame.” John Waters has also worked on a number of other projects in film and television, although die-hard Waters fans usually prefer his earlier, more visceral, offensive films.