Friday, 4 September 2015

John Waters season of films at the BFI Southbank

SINCE he rose to fame in the early 1970s, actor, writer and film director John Waters has been making work that entertains, shocks and makes audiences cringe.
With his now trademark pencil thin moustache, his early career was dominated by his transgressive cult films which featured a regular troupe of actors known as the Dreamlanders - among them Divine.
Since then the 69-year-old American, dubbed the Pope Of Trash and the Prince Of Puke, and has consistently been pushing the boundaries of taste bringing us such films as Female Trouble, Serial Mom, Pink Famingos and Hairspray.
Now, a season featuring his complete canon of work has just opened at the BFI Southbank.
It Isn’t Very Pretty… The Complete Films of John Waters (Every Goddam One of Them…), which runs until October 6, is the first complete retrospective of Waters’ work in the UK.
It features his very early underground short films, which have never been seen before in this country as well as his more contemporary and mainstream work such as the iconic Hairspray.
He has also personally selected six eclectic British films to accompany the season in a dedicated sidebar Teabaggin’ In The Kitchen Sink: My Favourite British Films – all of which have moved or inspired him in some shape or form, and include Joseph Losey’s Boom! and Roger Michell’s The Mother.
"This tribute is like receiving a plenary indulgence from the movie gods above and for once I can be show-biz thrilled without the slightest drop of irony in my thanks," he says.
"Yikes, respectability…the final outrage.”
The season has been curated by Justin Johnson who says he's "very excited" about bringing Waters' work to the BFI.
"He is a remarkable film maker by any measure and is incredibly interesting which is why we were so keen to put on a season of his work by way of celebration," says Justin.
"He has always been very much on the outside of both respectability and the establishment and so for us to honour him in this way is huge.
"He began when he was about 17 using the cheapest equipment to make a series of short films for about $1,000 each with his friends at his home.
"He worked with the Dreamlanders who included Divine, Mary Vivian Pearce, David Lochary and Mink Stole. They were the core cast members in his shorts, Hag In A Black Leather Jacket, Roman Candles and Eat Your Makeup.
"Some of the stuff was outrageous, shocking and ridiculous - and made with shock value - but are fascinating examples of juvenilia, but they really show and hint at the genius that was to come with his later work.
"He was inspired by a lot of great film makers and eventually he managed to make the move to Hollywood producing more mainstream films and worked with amazing people like Tracey Ullman, Johnny Knoxville, Selma Blair and Mink Stole."
What Justin is particularly excited about is being able to bring all Waters' films to the BFI including those early shorts that have never been seen outside America.
"We are incredibly honoured and delighted that he's given permission for us to show them - it's a unique opportunity," says Justin.
"He never went to film school and so his early films are not polished at all but we wanted to celebrate his entire career and so if you see them as a whole you watch his journey in film.
"The films he made after he moved to Hollywood are more polished - in Serial Mom, which is one of my favourites, you can see that. It's really well edited and directed and I always have a smile on my face when I watch it.
"But I love most of his films - Pink Flamingos and Polyester are great - and I loved his career with Divine. It was so sad Divine died so early because it was a great film partnership.
"He deals with some really hard issues in his films but there are also some very sweet sentiments within them - they are such well constructed and lovely films."
As well as his own, Waters has also picked his six favourite British movies to be shown over the festival.
"He's coming over especially for the season and will be here for three days," says Justin. "We asked him to chose the six British films he loves most and he will be introducing them.
"He was really thrilled and a little surprised when we put forward the idea of the season. We started talking to him about it a long while ago but as he's so incredibly busy all the time, despite the fact he hasn't made a film in 10 years, it's only been now that we could get time in his diary."
As an extra treat Waters will be taking part in an In Conversation event with Justin on Friday, September 18 followed by a book signing.
"It will be really fascinating to speak to him," says Justin. "It will be a proper in depth career interview and a real insight into his life and career - about what inspired him to pick up a camera and then do work that would shock us.
"His reputation has been built around guerilla film making but he's a real auteur and a unique film maker and a fascinating character. He writes, acts and paints as well as directs - he's a real man for all seasons.
"Who knows what the future may hold for him. He’s a workaholic, very active and full of energy so he will do something - and it will be exciting.
"I am sure he will have so much to say so for John's fans it will be a real treat."

It isn’t Very Pretty… The Complete Films of John Waters (Every Goddam One of Them…) takes place at the BFI Southbank until October 6. Visit for full listings or call the box office on 020 7928 3232.

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