Director John Waters, famous for both numerous shock films like Pink Flamingos and amusing tangents such as a prominent appearance as a character on an episode of The Simpsons, stars in this unique stand-up/lecture combination that is one part comedy blitz and one part social observation from an enjoyably bizarre angle. You do not need to be deeply familiar with all of his work to enjoy the presentation, but if you are, it adds to the sideways veritas.
He opens for his collegiate audience by saying "Every young person needs a bad person to look up to and I hope that tonight, I can be that person for you." He then proceeds to show you why you should indeed look up to him, but possibly through the fingers of your hand held over your face. Anyone can be audacious, but Waters does it with a class that is all his own.
Although he wends his way through the backstories of his infamous early films, regaling the crowd with tales such as that of cross-dressing actor/actress Divine being a "trooper, willing to do anything," the best aspects involve his observations about life as a gay man, the weirdo-watching joys of seedy clubs and the horror experienced by people who liked his light-hearted teen dance offering Hairspray when they followed up with the far more twisted Female Trouble.
"My movies celebrate people who think they are normal when they're anything BUT normal." He is clearly fueled by the fact that his rather staid parents were supportive and are proud of his success, yet upon seeing a later film, his father said "I enjoyed it, but I hope I never have to see it again." That neatly describes Waters' almost "evil" yet clearly non-hostile, even giddy pleasure at knocking someone off of the proverbial pins of their preconceptions.
Many a stand-up comedian would no doubt kill to have his breezy style, yet it derives from his being entirely genuine. You're seeing a healthy portion of his creative drive at its best. When he describes asking the Canadian Film Board what happened to a print of the aforementioned Female Trouble that was sent for review and getting a simple statement that says "BURNED" in return, his amusement is obvious. "They actually burned the print! In an odd way, I'm flattered!" Its the stuff of cockeyed legends.
You not only get insight relative to how he learned his craft through trial and error, having never engaged in any formal training, but how the threads were pulled together. He praises low-budget scaremeister William Castle's promotional shamelessness in using electric buzzers under seats at showings of The Tingler and connects it to his use of a scratch-&-sniff card handed out to patrons before Polyester. "We had to change the name on a few of the later cards because some distributors couldn't handle the idea of people smelling a fart, so we had to rename that smell when we printed them up." Its farce given a face so far outside anything resembling the "norm" that it takes on a life as lively as those seen in his films. Better yet, fans will appreciate the fact that he starts with his early work and follows the timeline up to the present, so you get a cameo panorama of the Waters experience. It would be funny enough if it was a total fabrication, but it's the real McCoy. At several points you may easily feel much like he does when "I do a popper, spin around in my leather office chair and go WHEEEEE!" That would make one hell of a screen saver.
The main lecture is approximately 90 minutes long, but the disc includes an entertaining 30 minute Q & A session with the audience afterwards, as well as a secondary "featurette" where he discusses his career from a different angle. It is an attractive package whose format many would no doubt enjoy seeing reproduced with other creative figures, but none of them is John Waters. He is a perverse American icon, but his greatest victory is that he makes his personal slant on so-called perversion inviting, convincing and ultimately laudable. If you have seen even one of his earlier offerings and wondered what made him tick, here's an excellent way to get the full monty. Its great fun taken flat-footed and even better if you can watch it from the perspective of someone who howled at his films in theatres. This Filthy World is a definite must-have on any shelf that includes cultural documentaries, especially those aimed at our societal quirks and the coping mechanisms we hopefully develop to confront them with humor, style and sometimes, pure courage. John hits the deck and delivers in spades. Spoiler alert: he claims Divine actually ate the dog crap. OH ME OH MY!
– Review by Hellpope Huey