John Waters runs deep

By OWEN GLIEBERMAN  |  June 21, 2006

That’s the sort of anecdote John Waters relishes- a story that shows up some middle-class businessman type as a slimy, insensitive worm. And that, in a way, is what Polyester’s about: the movie is set in a respectable suburb whose inhabitants are a pack of colorful degenerates. One gets the impression that Waters didn’t think he was stretching things. “I’m petrified of suburbia,” he says. “It’s enemy territory. I don’t know how those people think. They’re the ones who are the most hostile to me. I mean, I’ll walk through the Combat Zone and feel right at home. But I go into suburbia and I’m looking over my shoulder in shopping malls.”

Shooting Polyester in one of Baltimore’s ritzier suburbs, Waters couldn’t wait to leave. “During the first day of filming,” he says, “we had rented a helicopter to do the overhead stuff and had to crash-land it on the golf course of the country club. So we entered the neighborhood with a bang. When we finished the film, it was like escaping from prison.” Master of exploitation that he is, though, Waters and his set designer simply combed the city for the tackiest, most garishly middle-class paraphernalia they could get their hands on. And when the shooting was over, “the neighbors bought every stick of it up.”

Polyester was three years in the making, and Waters is counting on the highly publicized Odorama to help sell it. The idea of distributing scratch-n’-sniff cards to the audience was actually Waters’s first inspiration for the film- and, he admits, it helped get the project financed. “Kids now buy scratch-n’-sniff cards like baseball cards, and trade ‘em,” says Waters. “They have, like, pizza, pickle, all these things.” This sort of cultural debris is endlessly fascinating to Waters. He’s just finished writing a book about sleezy obsessions- a lavishly illustrated paperback entitled Shock Value, which will be out by August. And another film is in the works. “It’s about triplets,” says Waters. “Divine’s going to play two women and a man.”

For the moment, though, Waters is looking to take some time off. He generally devotes his days to reading and seeing movies and is always eager to get back to Baltimore, “the one place where you have no idea what anybody’s into.” Listening to Waters sing the praises of his home town gives you a pretty fair idea of where he’s at. Underneath his celebration of sleaze, there’s an undeniable affection for society’s outcasts, misfits, and weirdos. And the ones he respects the most are those who flaunt it- the people who, like himself, have taken “their seemingly abnormal characters and turned them into a career and an advantage.”  
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