September 5-14

The career of John Waters—one of the most influential and beloved underground filmmakers in the history of American movies—has a symmetry to it ironically at odds with his films’ trashy chaos. His first six features are enduring staples of the midnight-movie circuit: maniacal exercises in high-camp shock humor, each with the emotional pitch of an opera and content that wouldn’t be out of place in a psychological text on sexual fetishes. His next six—made with bigger budgets and well-known stars—find Waters refining his style and burrowing deeper into his favorite film genres, but they unmistakably represent attempts to subvert Hollywood from within. On top of their oft-discussed self-conscious irony and thematic obsessions (sex, celebrity, social exclusion), Waters’s movies, starring his friends (David Lochary, Mink Stole, Mary Vivian Pearce, and the immortal Divine), are also odes to the rhythm and texture of life in Baltimore and improbably tender visions of domestic communities held together by their own unsentimental, idiosyncratic forms of affection. One of the characters in Multiple Maniacs, turning to his current object of desire, perhaps best sums up the spirit of Waters’s life and work: “I love you so fucking much I could shit.”

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