John Waters

By: Mimi Lipson
April 22, 2013


Since his breakout hit, the 1988 film Hairspray, filmmaker JOHN WATERS (born 1946) has been ubiquitous: a beloved emissary of “bad taste” and “shock” and “transgression” for the mainstream. The culture has transformed around him — because of him — so completely that it takes some effort to remember the delight of first contact. In my case it was at a midnight screening of Pink Flamingos in 1980. I was a high school kid, innocent of the Kuchar brothers and Jack Smith. I embraced his cheerful “everything bad is good” formula with the simple heart of a child raised on The Addams Family. The moment I saw Divine stroll into a grocery store and stash a slab of beef between her thighs, doo-wop, drag, and flea-collar crime were fused in a coherent sensibility. It became, to some degree, my own. After Waters I dressed in thrift-shop pedal pushers, listened to Frankie Lymon, and experimented with Dippity-do. But the strangeness of those early movies surpassed anything I could imitate. Before Waters began casting people outside his circle of friends, his films seemed to come from somewhere beyond the space-time continuum: a planet called Baltimore. Today it occurs to me that no other American filmmaker has documented an obscure regional dialect so thoroughly. To anyone who wants to know what a Baltimore accent sounds like, I refer you to Babs and Crackers.



On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Charles Mingus, Aaron Spelling.

READ MORE about members of the Blank Generation (1944-53).


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