Photo of John Waters by Danielle Levitt
Long before the family-friendly fun of Hairspray, John Waters was the undisputed king of subversive American comedy, writing and directing two of the funniest movies ever along the way, Pink Flamingos (1972) and Female Trouble (1974). Both are required viewing, but if you want something even more offensive to delicate sensibilities, look no further than his second feature, the black and white Multiple Maniacs. The film is proto-punk, a truly insane, counter-cultural masterpiece. Waters’ brutal muse, the 300 pound Godzilla –esque drag superstar Divine, comes into full bloom here, making her entrance fully nude laying on a divan and demanding “something strong, something I can get off on!” Boy does she get it.
The very complicated plot revolves around Lady Divine and her Cavalcade of Perversions coming to a small town, with freaky acts like The Puke Eater, and “two actual queers kissing like lovers on the mouth,” shocking then, commonplace now. Divine and her gang rob and kill the bored suburbanites who come to the show and loot their jewelry and wallets, cruelly mocking them with barbs like, “look at what ugly children they have.” Mayhem and hilarity ensue from there, with the infamous lesbian sex scene in a church involving rosary beads and the stations of the cross, a very high body count and finally rape from a giant shellfish, Lobstora.
I sat down with John at the Criterion Collection offices, to discuss their painstaking restoration of his self-described ‘celluloid atrocity.’
Out: It’s about fucking time! What took so long?
John Waters: Sometimes its better the longer you wait, the more it rots [laughs]. It makes a comeback and feels new again
What exactly did Criterion do to it?
All the splice tape marks are gone, the dirt, the scratches, it’s less overexposed. I can hear lines I’ve never heard before. It looks like a new movie.
Is it still your favorite film after all these years?
I said that long ago in my book Shock Value My movies are all my babies. Multiple Maniacs is my problem child, and now has sort of graduated from special ed.
I love how hilariously mean it is and that it was a big FUCK YOU to the hippies and to political correctness in general.
We were kind of hippies though, or yippies. We made it to make fun of the values of the society at the time. And it is not politically correct today, though it was then, especially about the police.
The Divine character we’ve come to know and love really comes into her own in Maniacs. I know he loved Liz Taylor and there’s lots of parallels between them here.
Divine worshipped Elizabeth Taylor, saw every movie. [Joseph Losey’s] Boom (1968) was certainly an influence. I just rewatched Pink Flamingos and realized its like Boom, with Babs writing her memoirs too. The wig and the fur coat in Multiple Maniacs are very Liz.
She’s like Butterfield 8 Liz gone to seed. You refer to Multiple Maniacs as your “celluloid atrocity,” is that because it has the most sex, gore, and violence? I mean Divine is raped a lot.
It definitely doesn't have the most sex, and only two real rapes. I don't think rape is ever funny, but if it being done by a giant lobster...
Do lobsters even have penises?
I do not know that. I know they scream when you put them in boiling water..
Well, wouldn’t you!?
Lobsters are used in surrealism a lot. Dali, the famous Schiaparelli dress, and director Jack Smith has used them. They are from another world. You have to boil them alive and torture them and then crack them open. It’s a S&M meal.
This is certainly the most sacrilegious movie I’ve ever seen, with the rosary job sex scene filmed in an actual church, with a real heroin addict shooting up to boot. How did you ever pull that off?
The priest was kept outside by talking about the Black Panthers and Vietnam, but he came to the opening and freaked out completely. I said, "Don't worry I’ll never tell what church it was filmed in."
Were there any repercussions from that? Were you ex-communicated?
No. I used to say to Willem Defoe when he was going through all the trouble with Last Temptation of Christ, “Oh please, that’s nothing. Wait till you see the rosary job!”
What are your favorite sacrilegious movies?
Luis Bunuel’s Viridiana (1961), when the homeless people are eating at the table and then freeze as the Last Supper. That was so beautiful. Hail Mary (1985) by Godard was another, which I wrote about in my book Crackpot.
Did you hear what the new pope said about transgender people?
No, but I hate the new pope.
He said they are an "annihilation of man."
2016 is his Catholic Year of Mercy where women have one year to ask for forgiveness for an abortion. It makes me crazy, the hypocrisy. A pat on the back will hold you back!
Lobstora is really your Jaws shark, years before Jaws, Whatever happened to him?
I had it in the front room of my apartment for a long time and it started to fall apart, it was only papier maché. We took it to the Baltimore harbor and had a proper burial at sea.
He’d be perfect for a John Waters theme park in Baltimore.
We could have a Lobstora ride, it wouldn't be a rape ride, it would be consensual sex. You could be a top or a bottom, it would be a verse, flippable lobster.
Watch the trailer for Multiple Maniacs below: