It’s been 30 years since the death of Divine, the Baltimore-born drag star and eventual cult icon. Divine and mentor John Waters invented their own brand of deranged humor and glamour in movies like Multiple Maniacs, Pink Flamingos, and their masterpiece, 1974’s Female Trouble, which stars Divine as Dawn Davenport — problem teenager, thief, and worst mother ever. The Criterion Collection has released a stunning restoration of the film, and it’s never looked or sounded better. Waters — who was recently named an officer of the French Order of Arts and Letters — chatted with Out about missing Divine, his last meal, and our modern-day PC-obsessed culture.
Female Trouble is loaded with quotable lines. Is there one that stands out for you?
The one that made it into a porn movie is, “I wouldn’t suck your lousy dick if I was suffocating and there was oxygen in your balls!”
But it’s less like porn than it is a Hollywood women’s picture — like a George Cukor film.
It’s hopefully a melodramatic parody of the women’s picture. Susan Hayward in I Want to Live! was an influence, and all the Douglas Sirk and Delmer Daves movies. I love 1961’s Susan Slade, when the baby catches on fire.
In the movie, the worst thing Dawn’s daughter, Taffy, could become is a Hare Krishna. What’s the worst thing your child could become?
Worse than a Hare Krishna? I suppose a Trump supporter.
Dawn’s last meal before going to the electric chair is two veal cutlets. What would yours be?
My mother made veal cutlets and I hated them. Gray, rubbery mystery meat that’s breaded. Ugh. My last meal would be a single leaf of arugula, because you lose control of your bowels when you die.
Your sense of humor is often considered in poor taste. What do you think of modern kids getting outraged over so many things?
Well, the rich kids…
They seem to call older works problematic, like saying Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” was transphobic to Holly Woodlawn.
I would disagree. Holly was so funny about it in her book, saying that when she got to New York she was penniless and pussy-less.
What in Female Trouble would they find problematic?
The character of Ernie, played by Bob Adams. He’s a very nelly gay man cruising the straight Gator — not very PC. I still use the archaic term “ribbon clerk” — a stereotypical bitchy queen working in the gift department at Harrods. Can we bring that back?
Divine has been gone for 30 years. What do you miss most about him?
He was such a good friend — generous and very funny. Who knows what he’d have accomplished? Divine did techno music before anybody else did. I miss all of that.
You need to make another film! Would you ever make a biopic about your early years in Baltimore with the Dreamlanders?
Oh, God, no. I could write that, but I don’t want to. After I’m dead someone else can do that movie. But I’ll come back to haunt them if they get it wrong!
'Female Trouble,' directed by John Waters, is now available from Criterion Collection on Blu-ray and DVD.