Independent producer and author John Pierson (Spike, Mike, Slackers and Dykes
) defines the 1970s American indie scene as "the three Johns: John Cassavetes, John Sayles, and John Waters." John Waters, Baltimore's king of sleaze, in such classy company? According to Pierson in this 1998 documentary, Waters had an even more profound impact on American cinema. Director Steve Yeager, a Waters intimate for decades (he plays a bit part in Pink Flamingos
), gathers the surviving members of his stock company for a portrait of the director, from backyard puppet show impresario to the transgressive underground and exploitation director who grossed out America in the 1970s. A generous array of film clips is enriched with archival interviews with Divine, David Lochary, and Edith Massey, and a chorus of film critics and underground and independent directors.
Fully half of the film chronicles the making of Pink Flamingos, with actual behind-the-scenes footage from the shoot (including the most priceless direction ever captured on film: "David, act some more"). A plentiful portion pays tribute to Divine ("the Godzilla of drag queens"), whom Waters calls "my Elizabeth Taylor." The only real disappointment in this rich and highly entertaining documentary is that it ends with Flamingos, as if his entire career since is a mere coda to this cultural touchstone. But this portrait is so rich and detailed that it's a forgivable directorial choice. --Sean Axmaker