Interviews with John Waters are always entertaining since the cult filmmaking legend can pretty much say whatever the hell he wants and exercises this right regularly. But Waters is always smart—and quite funny—about it, offering his unique perspective on just about everything.
During a brief chat with Tom Hall yesterday ahead of the BSO's production of his iconic musical "Hairspray," Waters touched on everything from the continued success and many adaptations of his film to local politics to the art world to Baltimore's racial divide. You can and should listen to the whole thing here. In the meantime, here are some of the best nuggets.
On the messages about racial intolerance in "Hairspray" and modern audiences
And you wonder if there was a teen dance show—and I think there should be again, kids don't slow dance anymore—but could 14-year-old black and white kids slow dance on television today? I'm not so sure even today that that wouldn't make some people uncomfortable. To me, "Hairspray" is a Trojan horse that snuck in. Even racists love "Hairspray." It's really strange to imagine. Even though what it's saying is against what many people believe, those same people that don't believe in it still like "Hairspray."
On "Hairspray" being performed in school plays
It's different now. Skinny black girls play Tracy [Turnblad], because political correctness. You cannot, in the public schools, cast by weight or race or anything. And I think it doesn't make any sense, but that's good, too. And the kids don't even question it! Maybe that's good, too.
On the advice he'd offer Catherine Pugh, who he plans to vote for after backing DeRay Mckesson in the primary
Don't ask white men like me that live in a good neighborhood. That's why I wanted DeRay. Ask a younger person that's a little more radical. But he had very well-thought-out ideas. He wasn't here long enough, but his progam he put out was not ill-advised. It was pretty good. Maybe I don't agree with it all, but we can't just have the same thing again and again and again. It doesn't work. It doesn't change anything.
And you know, riots build. They take a long time for that to bubble and boil over—and it's boiled over. Let's hope that's not gonna happen again, and to be honest, I don't think it will. But at the same time, I think that we have to try something different.
On Baltimore's racial divide
The answer is to get out of your own neighborhood, to switch neighborhoods once a year like jury duty and have to live in Penn-North and Penn-North gets to live in Ruxton. And I think we go to bars and get your hair done there and send your kid to school there and see it... If you never leave your neighborhood and you never talk to people that are different from you, you will remain stupid. There are no smart racists.
On the modern art world
There is no indie art scene. There is, but no one takes notice of it, really. I mean, it doesn't affect the price of artwork today. The art world you're talking about—and I'll be honest, the art world that I'm in and I show—is definitely not independent. That's why Baltimore is such a great city, it's the only city left where you can be a bohemian. But even the bohemian artists here want to be in the real art world. The real world is not independent at all anymore. It's the least independent it's been in the history of the world. The next group of artists are already decided who they are at Yale, and they're in the right schools, they know the dealers, they know the collectors. And I'm not saying that's wrong. I would think art for the people sometimes is really dreary and the art's terrible. So I like the elitism of the art world, I think it's funny. And I certainly make fun of it, even the shows I do. But at the same time, there's hardly an independent film scene anymore. It's about making movies for China.