Even now, John Waters still can't believe he has an exhibition at the Academy Museum dedicated to his life's work. "The Academy wanted to be more diverse," the iconoclastic filmmaker and self-proclaimed "filth elder" quipped during Monday's sold-out special screening of his 1994 cult classic, Serial Mom, which was preceded by a conversation moderated by Peaches Christ. "Well… I guess this is the way to do it!"
Serial Mom stars Oscar nominee Kathleen Turner as a suburban housewife prone to violently murdering her neighbors for their perceived crimes. It also happens to be Waters' favorite of his own work. Which made it the perfect selection to mark the opening of John Waters: Pope of Trash, the Academy Museum's comprehensive exhibition dedicated to the artist's contributions to cinema.
"It's just amazing to me to walk through it," Waters said of the exhibit. "I'm so glad that I'm alive, because usually, if you ever get this, you're dead! And I ain't finished."
Pope of Trash, put together by Exhibitions Curator Jenny He and Associate Curator Dara Jaffe, has been years in the making. It comprises costumes and props from films such as Pink Flamingos (1972), Hairspray (1988) and Serial Mom, as well as hand-written scripts, fan art, and more. "Dara and Jenny did such an amazing job on this, from the clips to everything they selected," he said. "I'd really like to give a great hand to them. They got it."
"I was incredibly proud, as I've said with no irony, as I walked through it," Waters continued. "Pat Moran was sobbing... We remember so many people that had such a big part in it that aren't here. But some still are, and we're still close, and this just made it the ultimate Dreamland reunion."
Dreamland refers to Waters' original independent production company behind some of his earliest works, including Multiple Maniacs and the Trash Trilogy (Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble, and Desperate Living). Dreamland was made up of friends and frequent collaborators such as leading ladies Divine, Edith Massey and Mink Stole, casting director Moran, costume designer Van Smith, production designer Vincent Peranio, all of whom are highlighted alongside Waters in Pope of Trash.
"We didn't know what we were doing," Waters reflected. "You look at those early movies, and I had no idea about [making movies]. But something [about] our craziness caught on. People always came to see them. No one liked them; we never got a good review for 10 years. But the crazy audience liked them."
As Waters made clear earlier in the evening, he is far from finished — he is set to direct his first feature in nearly 20 years, an adaptation of his novel Liarmouth — although his plans have been delayed by the ongoing strikes. In the meantime, he was also made the recipient of a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Tuesday, Sept. 18.
"Someone said, 'Well, you'll be near the gutter…' But I hope there's a drain nearby too," he joked of the honor. "The filth and flotsam of Hollywood Boulevard going right by me. Just don't take your dog and do that," he added, referencing one of the more infamous moments from Pink Flamingos.
Before the lights dimmed and Serial Mom began, Waters offered a final expression of gratitude to the fans who have supported his weird, wonderful films throughout the years.
"I've never had to get a real job," he laughed. "Thank you. I'm not the filthiest person alive — you are!"
The 'John Waters: Pope of Trash' screening series runs from Sept. 17 through Oct. 28, and the exhibition is now open at The Academy Museum and will remain at the museum until Aug. 4, 2024. Check out www.academymuseum.org for more information.