When legendary director John Waters took the stage at Fort Lauderdale’s Parker Playhouse Saturday night, his message was unsurprising, but worth hearing again: It’s okay to be weird. In fact, weirdness should be nurtured. “I always tell parents that if your kid is messing up in high school, be happy,” Waters told the audience to cheers. “It means he’s an artist!”
The packed theater, multigenerational audience of teens to sixtysomethings, and general jubilant mood added up to an overwhelming success for organizers Blindspot Productions (and, disclaimer, media sponsor Salty Eggs). The sort of “evening with” format featuring a relatively left-field auteur is rare in South Florida, and rarer still in Broward. It was the kind of booking you might expect, if at all, in one of the old theaters on South Beach or maybe downtown Miami.
The evening kicked off with introductory remarks by Salty Eggs contributor Brandon K. Thorp, followed by a screening of Waters’ 1980 film Polyester. Though it stars Divine in a patently ridiculous, yet pathos-ridden turn as housewife Francine Fishpaw, it’s one of the director’s less-heralded works. Perhaps it’s because, as Thorp explained, a send-up of the so-called “women’s pictures” melodramas of the ’50s, a genre that went critically derided the first time around.
Of course, though, the highlight of the evening came afterwards, when Waters himself appeared to a standing ovation before he even uttered a word. “You know you’re old when you get a standing ovation without doing anything,” he said. The next hour or so comprised a performance — or rather, an updated reprisal — of his 2006 one-man show, This Filthy World. The “show” was more of a nonstop riff bordering on standup comedy, with biographical anecdotes interlaced with sardonic, often outlandish commentary on pop culture.
The running theme, here, was basically that Waters has always been a neurotic misfit who doesn’t like to play in groups, and that’s totally fine. In fact, that kind of iconoclasm is something to be celebrated, he urged. He had, after all, been thrown out of every school he attended after elementary school, including NYU, where he found himself rounded up in the first-ever college campus marijuana bust.
Another theme was that the distinction between high and low culture is mostly artificial, and something for which Waters has little use. The 66-year-old is, after all, an avowed Justin Bieber fan. “I went to the 3-D movie and screamed like a little girl,” he said.
Then there were the early Waters influences who remain either underrated or borderline reviled for their taste. Grace Metalious, author of the then-scandalous 1956 novel Peyton Place, was one, he said. So was Kroger Babb, notorious for his film Mom and Dad, which skirted restrictions on female frontal nudity in the movies by depicting a live birth. Then, of course, there was the genius behind such schlock horror films as Blood Feast — Herschell Gordon Lewis who, Waters pointed out to more cheers, was himself actually seated near the front of the auditorium. This was a pleasant sighting for B-movie buffs, but not an entirely surprising one — Lewis is a Fort Lauderdale resident who, apparently, has parlayed his old movie-promo genius into a career as an Internet marketing guru.
The common thread among all of these in Waters’ creative lineage, of course, was a dogged pursuit of a singular artistic vision, perceived public response be damned. His idiosyncratic personal choices even translated to his wardrobe choices for the evening, which included a blindingly white pair of Comme des Garcons ankle boots.
The success of the evening, which concluded with a Q&A session and a private meet and greet for VIP ticket holders, bodes well for future events by Blindspot Productions and the evening’s other sponsors. Film buffs can already look forward to a future evening with another marquee name at the same venue — Oliver Stone’s already scheduled for an appearance on January 5, 2013. To keep up with these one-off events, as well as the group’s monthly Splatter-Rama double features at Cinema Paradiso, keep reading Salty Eggs, or join the Splatter-Rama Facebook group.
Photos by Valyn Calhoun:
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