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This article was published 29/10/2010 (2793 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
If the world view of young rebel filmmaker John Waters was imprinted with the lurid exploitation movies he used to devour as a teen, the iconoclastic director's view of Winnipeg is likewise based on what he knows from the movies.
"I'm looking forward to coming there," Waters, 64, says during a phone interview. "Finally, I'll see what Guy Maddin has been talking about all these years."
The man responsible for films such as Serial Mom and Hairspray had his curiosity aroused about our city when he saw Maddin's "docufantasia" My Winnipeg, a film Waters put on his annual Top 10 list a few years ago, blurbing: "I remain frozen in admiration of this homegrown masterpiece from the most reluctantly radical and humorously tortured maverick working in the movies today."
"I'm a huge fan of all his movies, but that one really made me want to come there," Waters says.
He gets his wish when he takes his place as the keynote speaker of the four-day symposium My City's Still Breathing from Nov. 4 to 7, an examination of "arts, artists and the city."
Credited by the symposium literature with being a living, breathing "example of the symbiotic and essential relationship between culture and city-living," Waters brings with him the status of a Baltimore-based renegade whose gleefully transgressive early output included scabrous film classics such as Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble.
Yet as the "Prince of Puke" (as the Baltimore Sun affectionately dubbed him), Waters says he has never been at odds with the city he calls home, even though his early films tended to focus on the depraved, the hideous and the criminal. He had battles with Baltimore's film censor board over content, such as the gratuitous consumption of dog poop by his 350-pound transvestite star Divine at the finale of Pink Flamingos. But the powers that be always threw their support behind the outlaw director. The Baltimore Museum of Art put on a retrospective of his films early in his career, he says.
"When I had only made Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble, the mayor then was Mayor (William Donald) Schaefer and he said, 'I've never seen SSRqem but keep makin' 'em. I don't care what's in 'em.'"
Waters has residences in New York and San Francisco, but he mostly resides in Baltimore, even in the cold of winter. Especially in the cold of winter. That's another reason he says he's likely to feel a kinship with Winnipeg.
"Any city that's isolated in a way or has extreme weather always has a good sense of humour among the people who live there, it seems to me," he says. "I don't know if I'm just categorizing people, but they usually always drink.
"And everybody, when it's cold out, looks better than hot weather because (cold) is nature's facelift."
Waters says his address on the opening night of the symposium is likely to exhort honesty in arts when it comes to presenting a given city's character, warts and all. Baltimore's Barry Levinson, Waters points out, makes films about Baltimore-based anti-Semitism such as Liberty Heights. The HBO TV series The Wire presented Baltimore as a dying city riddled with crime and corruption.
"Even the governor hates The Wire," Waters says. "A lot of people were upset about the image of the city but when I see The Wire, it makes me completely homesick.
"All the TV shows or movies come to Baltimore for the extremes of it," he says. "No one makes a movie about the aquarium or the places that all the tourists like that are beautiful and look like every other place in every city. No one's interested in that. They're in interested in what makes Baltimore so unique and so strange."
Maddin, Waters says, achieved that dynamic with My Winnipeg, with its images of sleepwalking denizens stumbling through frozen downtown landscapes.
"I think Guy Maddin should take over your tourist bureau," Waters says. "He celebrates the things maybe the chamber of commerce doesn't want you to know."
Baltimore is catching on, Waters says.
"I always used to joke and say the chamber of commerce bumper sticker should be 'Come to Baltimore and be shocked.' And 20 years later, they put it out."
But evidently, there are still limits to how Baltimore wants to present itself to the world.
"A few years ago Travel and Leisure picked us as The Ugliest People in America," Waters says with a laugh. "The mayor then was really pissed about it, and I said, 'Why? The second ugliest was Philadelphia. Who wants to be that?"
John Waters will speak at the Garrick Centre Nov. 4 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25 plus agency fees and are available through McNally Robinson Booksellers, the Winnipeg Arts Council at 103-110 Princess St., or online at artsforall.ca.
In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.