John Waters’ This Filthy World, was a one-off, one man show playing Hamer Hall, with the speaker covering his long, trash-addled career at a speeding, frenetic space. The show was less of a polished act than an open acknowledgement by audience and speaker of the significance of a life lived in a less than conventional way. It was presented as a celebration of the sidelines of life, the gutter and trash that we all watch, but hate to admit that we love. Waters discussed some of his most significant films as a chronology, moving from his early influences of Fassbinder and William Castle, towards his breakthrough to the mainstream with films like Hairspray and Serial Mom.
Waters has had a long career and there is a lot to cover in the hour and a half show, so it was expected that he would only be able to skim over some of the events and films that have meant so much to so many varied groups of people. There is something about Waters’ show that is less than engaging, however. He is sharp almost to a fault, running with films, people, ideas that you can tell have raced straight from script to mouth, with little shaping or editing done in between. The show was a FAQ, a set of answers to questions that he has been asked again and again. Having decades to refine his response, Waters emphasises the anecdote and plays down the tragedy, so that by the end you feel that you’re not getting as much of an emotional attachment as you’d hope. The most obvious of this comes with the figure of Divine, who is often mentioned but rarely recounted with any level of intimacy, a few crumbs being fed to a hopeful audience, his character and stories kept secret. And who can blame Waters for that? An ageing man who makes films as easy as breathing, but, like so many of the survivors of artistic movements and events, are expected to be the storytellers, the chroniclers of an era, their own personal involvement stripped down to anecdote, to the recounting of forty years of filmmaking in a ninety minute show.
Many one man shows are aware of this pull, of stories complex by their very existence refined into a digestible format for public consumption. Maybe this it the transaction that the audience enters into when they take their seat in the auditorium. Maybe that is why the most successful one man shows embrace that inability to convey a whole experience, to translate the memories into a story that captures the feeling of certain events. Maybe this is where Waters falls short. Instead of a story we are presented with a chronology. An interesting chronology, but recounted at such a scripted and frenetic pace that we are not allowed to connect with the characters Waters is speaking of, let alone Waters himself.
Nevertheless Waters is a strong and shameless figurehead of trash, of the creators of art that will always remains in the sidelines. He reminds us of the respect that should come with a trip into this filthy world, a point emphasised during the question time at the end of the show. Traci Lords is a former porn star who acted in many of Waters’ films, and when an audience member boasted to him about owning the video pornography she had made when still underage, Waters reminded her of Lords’ life now, quiet, with a husband and children and books to her name, of the distance she has travelled from an exploited youth. The love Waters has for his artists is great, something that didn’t always hit the mark with the audience.
John Waters – This Filthy World
27 February 2010
Presented By: Maggie Gerrand
Venue: Hamer Hall