Thursday, September 8, 2016

Interview: looking back on when John Waters genuinely horrified people.


“Yes folks, this isn’t any cheap X-rated movie or any fifth–rate porno play! This is the show you want! Lady Divine’s Cavalcade of Perversions, the sleaziest show on earth!” Crowed by a two-tone-haired, ringmaster tails-clad David Lochary, this lurid sales pitch is our introduction to Multiple Maniacs (1970), John Waters’s criminally under-seen and unavailable-for-decades second feature. The Cavalcade, a traveling sideshow that bookends the film’s first act and turns the spotlight on a line-up of puke-eaters, pornographers, and a live OD, is but a brief taste of the maddeningly depraved behavior exhibited in Maniacs, devised by Waters to simultaneously skewer the so-called “straight” values of the American middle class and the post-Charlie Manson peace-and-love ethos of his flower children peers.

Waters is now our most adored public intellectual who wears the hell out of a Comme des Garçons suit, but in the late ‘60s, the Baltimore native was corralling his troupe of Dreamlanders (actors Lochary, Mary Vivian Pearce, Cookie Mueller, Mink Stole, Edith Massey, and Divine) to create a new kind of high camp, high satire art cinema seated in the provocations of deranged comedy and exploitation films. Maniacs’s twisty, turn-y plot cedes coherence to melodrama. It’s a whirlwind, as our tour de force heroine, Lady Divine, exposes the affair of her lover (Lochary), starts a new romance in church after a buttoned-up woman (Mink Stole) seduces her with a (yes) rosary-in-the-bum sex act, and goes on a noirish bender of revenge, murder, and cannibalism before she falls victim to the Lobstora, an acid dream of a B-movie monster. Ever a survivor, Divine goes on one last rampage (carjacking, window smashing) before she’s put out of commission by the National Guard.

Filmed on a dime in his parents’ front yard and in his own apartment, Maniacs spent the last thirty or so years in limbo in Waters’s attic before Janus Films completed a full restoration. Its offenses (a Baltimore judge ruled the film “obnoxious but not legally obscene”) are many, but this “monster movie,” as Waters describes it, is a prescient example of the themes that would go on to dominate his body of work. Grotesque, macabre, and unnervingly funny, it’s peak Waters. I recently spoke with the director by phone.

Colleen Kelsey: You’ve cheekily mentioned that this restoration looks like a bad Cassavetes movie. As the credits say, Multiple Maniacs is “Produced, Directed, Written, Filmed, and Edited by John Waters.” This was made completely guerilla style.

John Waters: Well, it was just a matter of necessity. I didn’t have a production designer. Vince Peranio was the production designer for that movie, and he did every one of my other movies and The Wire. But the first thing he ever did for us was Lobstora. He’s in Lobstora, with his brother Eddie. You can see their legs in it. But there was no other production designer. I just rented those tents. David Lochary kind of designed the costumes, I think. And we had this old Jewish lady who made clothes for drag queens in her basement without her husband knowing. She was real old-fashioned, and she’d say, “Come to the basement, I don’t want him to see you.” Divine would get all his drag made there, but so did a lot of drag queens. She had a secret drag queen clientele in her basement, and she made those clothes, and I think David Lochary probably sketched them...

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