Perhaps no filmmaker has injected more shock-value into the cinematic canon than subversive auteur John Waters. The writer-director-producer-cinematographer-editor-actor and self-proclaimed "filth elder" has dedicated his career to helming irreverent, original films that are known for pushing the boundaries of "good taste" — modern classics like Pink Flamingos (1972), Hairspray (1988), and Serial Mom (1994).
John Waters: Pope of Trash, now open at The Academy Museum, is a first-of-its-kind exhibition dedicated to the artist's contributions to cinema. Running through Aug. 4, 2024, the comprehensive exhibition explores more than a half-century of work via costumes, props, handwritten scripts, and scrapbooks that prove there is no one quite like Waters.
But what shocks the The Sultan of Sleaze, The Prince of Puke, The King of Schlock?
Waters says the movies that have most surprised him hail from filmmakers like Ingmar Bergman (Brink of Life "was the most depressing movie, which I love"), Federico Fellini (8½, "because of the beautiful artiness of it"), and… James Cameron?!
"One that probably would really surprise you that I liked was Avatar, because it's not my kind of movie," Waters chuckles. "But you think of when films first started and the technical aspects of that today, and looking at how much has changed in just a hundred years or something is pretty phenomenal."
Still, the Baltimore-born filmmaker's favorite movies will always be "feel-bad French movies with [full-]frontal nudity, especially about abortion." In fact, he'd love to see French remakes of his own movies. "Gérard Depardieu plays Edie in Pink Flamingo, or Isabelle Huppert as Serial Mom, or Gaspar Noé remakes Desperate Living with Catherine Deneuve."
"I feel great when I go into a movie, so I never understand people that say, 'I just want movies that make me feel good,'" Waters muses. "I already feel good! I want to feel bad when I come out of a movie! I want to go into a world of misery and hell and be moved by it. A movie that can make me feel bad is powerful. That's not a movie's job to make you feel good — that's like taking a bad pill!"
Below, Waters shares with A.frame the five films that have most inspired him.
Directed by: Victor Fleming
Number one would be The Wizard of Oz, because I always thought the witch should have won.
Directed by: Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske and Clyde Geronimi
I love the stepmother, and I always wanted her to win. I was rooting for the villain.
Directed by: William Castle
Because buzzers went off under your seat, and I remember the kids going crazy in the movie theater.
Directed by: Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey
Certainly Andy Warhol's The Chelsea Girls was when I first saw a real underground movie in this new Bohemia, that had gay people, straight people, Black people, drugs, and where everything mixed together! Andy Warhol told Fellini to go see Mondo Trasho, which was so great. I finally met [Fellini] later in life, and I was so happy.
Directed by: Russ Meyer
I love that kind of crazy exploitation movie.