8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Role Models is John Waters's tribute to those who have influenced him throughout his life. I had already read two of his earlier books, Crackpot: The Obsessions of John Waters and Shock Value: A Tasteful Book About Bad Taste, so I knew what I was in for: I was ready to laugh myself silly.
Waters describes himself as "a cult filmmaker whose core audience, no matter how much I've crossed over, consists of minorities who can't even fit in with their own minorities.". One can see how the people who have influenced him the most fit in with this self-assessment.
The first major influence on John as a little boy was "Clarabell, the psychotic clown on The Howdy Doody Show, whose makeup later inspired Divine's, had been my role model.". One can't miss the similarities when comparing the two:
The chapter entitled Leslie is perhaps the most serious piece of work Waters has ever written. In it, he talks about his twenty-five-year friendship with Leslie Van Houten, the member of the Manson family who was sentenced to death for her role in the LaBianca murders in 1969. Waters makes a very convincing case for the parole of Van Houten, who has been incarcerated for over forty years. He also apologizes for exploiting the Manson family murders in his early film career:
"I am guilty, too. Guilty of using the Manson murders in a jokey, smart-ass way in my earlier films without the slightest feeling for the victims' families or the lives of the brainwashed Manson killer kids who were also victims in this sad and terrible case."
This was quite a revelation from Waters: that of guilt. Waters has visited Van Houten on a regular basis at the California Institute for Women and is convinced that Van Houten has been mentally rehabilitated for decades and is in no danger of reoffending. The most surprising thing of all is Van Houten's sense of inner peace in all this. She seems resigned to live her life to the fullest, even though she may never be granted parole. I never thought I'd ever say this, but Van Houten's lawyers should have John Waters testify in her behalf at her next parole hearing. Waters never sweeps the LaBianca murders under the rug, and often identifies with their orphaned children, and how they must feel if they were to see their parents' murderer released. Nevertheless, it is a very convincing case to parole Van Houten, and made me review my own opinions on the matter.
Waters also talks about personalities from his hometown of Baltimore. One of them was the stripper known as Lady Zorro, whom he describes as "[having] a real rage she brought to the stage, which added a demented hostile sex appeal. An angry stripper with a history of physical and sexual abuse with a great body and the face of a man. Now there's a lethal combination...Zorro was so butch, so scary, so Johnny Cash. No actual stripping for her at that point [at the end of her burlesque career]; she just came out nude and snarled at her fans, 'What the f*** are you looking at?'".
Waters fondly remembers a Baltimore bar owner named Esther Martin: "the real reason I loved Esther right from the beginning was her mouth. No one in the world cussed more! She gave the phrase 'cursing a blue streak' a refinement that seemed almost noble. 'That motherf***ing c***s***ing son of a b***h' was used as a prefix to almost every name she uttered...Just a mention of Esther's foul language makes each sibling go into hilarious imitations of their mother's tirades. 'As my dear sainted mother would say'--Dick laughs and then mimics Esther's voice--'You're as worthless as a c**t full of cold p**s.' 'Sh** and fall back in it!'". I tell you, reading Waters's reminiscences about Lady Zorro and Esther had me laughing so hard during my work lunch breaks I could barely eat anything at all.
In the chapter entitled Bookworm, Waters writes about five of his favourite fiction authors. After I read this chapter I researched these authors and looked for their books and criticisms. Waters writes about one of his favourites:
"Try reading any novel by [Ivy] Compton-Burnett. She was English, looked exactly like the illustration on the Old Maid card, never had sex even once, and wrote twenty dark, hilarious, evil little novels between the years 1911 and 1969."
The chapter on art, entitled Roommates, was surprisingly boring. It would not have been so tedious to plow through if only Waters had included some photos of the works he was describing. There is nothing more boring to read than pages and pages of descriptions of paintings. Waters did make me laugh at this remark:
"I knew about Richard Tuttle's minimalist troublemaking and respected his early hostile establishment reviews, such as 'Less has never been less than this.' His bare plywood slat pieces nailed flat to the wall with just one thin side of the depth of the wood painted white were so beautiful, so simple, so plain, that I felt exhausted just imagining how complete the artist must have felt when he decided the work was finished."
In the final chapter, Waters tells of his childhood education at Catholic schools. I again felt like laughing so hard I could barely chew:
"I hated my Catholic high school, so I certainly never went back to a reunion, although I did get to comment to The Baltimore Sun, on the school's fifty-year anniversary, that the Christian Brothers and lay faculty there had 'discouraged every interest I ever had.' A friend who attended the reunion that year said he heard me called 'f**got' and 'pornographer' by some of my p***ed-off fellow classmates who had read my criticism, but I didn't mind. The only reason to attend any school reunion is to see how the people whom you had wanted to have sex with then look today. And I had already looked up those people's addresses and driven by their homes to stalk them years before."
And when talking about those wacky saints he learned about at school:
"Of course, there are some saints we do take very seriously. Saint Catherine of Siena is without a doubt the most insane of these and we have no choice but to honor her daily. Reading Holy Anorexia by Rudolph M. Bell, the best encyclopedia of deranged saints ever written, we learn that in Catherine's time (the 1300s) she was known as 'a person of considerable reputation for outstanding holiness'--in other words, nuts! At the peak of her career she 'urged the holy hatred of oneself' and advised others to 'build a cell in your mind that you can never escape.' She was a 'bottom' for God."
and I am still laughing over the poor girl who could never succeed here:
"Catherine organized a group of fellow child masochists who flagellated themselves daily. Well, I can understand that, too. I had a Horror House in our garage and I'd charge the neighborhood kids twenty-five cents to enter. After they gave me the money, I'd tell them to wait, and I'd go inside and then yell, "Okay, come in!" The little ticket buyers would group their way into the darkness and I would squirt them with a fire extinguisher (my dad's company sold them) and then kick them in the leg. They loved it. They even came back for more. I also used to play 'school' as a kid with the little girl who lived next door, and I was always the teacher and she was always the student. Every time we played I failed her, yet she still eagerly agreed to play every time I asked, fully knowing the results."
Role Models is John Waters's most serious written work. Without his name on the cover, one would never believe that the chapters on Leslie Van Houten, art, Johnny Mathis or Little Richard was written by him. If you love Waters's humour, and need a laugh like the original "Hairspray" on the printed page, this book does not disappoint.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
This is an entertaining, insightful and often thought-provoking series of journalistic essays by John Waters on his role models.
Waters is arguably America's most wonderful, funny, quirky and cult film director (who can forget, once seen, the marvels of 'Pink Flamingos' and 'Female Trouble') and, for those who aren't already fans of his journalism as well, John Waters is a natural writer. You can hear his voice as he reflects, shares, meditates and wryly comments on a wide range of topics. He's also widely read and his cultural interests are equally wide-ranging and, unsurprisingly, reflective of his quirky, distinctive - and, I hasten to add, utterly charming - personality.
While this latest collection is accomplished and well worth the price - the UK edition, this review refers to, by the way, is by Beautiful Books, and is truly beautiful in format, dust jacket and design - and this review will highlight a bunch of evidence to justify such claims - it doesn't have the many hysterically funny, laugh-out-loud moments that run through two of his previous collections of journalism (I'm thinking here of 'Crackpot' and 'Shock Value', both of which I adore).
But there's no harm or foul in this fact, as there's a greater maturity and depth to be found in these essays. (Still, if you want incredibly funny, there is one article in particular, 'Baltimore Heroes', in which he tells you stories about some of his beloved local heroes, and, one especially had me laughing out loud time and time again: Esther Martin, who ran a bar whose only clients were bums and misfits, alcoholics and troubled, with Esther as 'keeper of the asylum', but all of whom were welcome in The Wigwam, or Club Charles as it was later renamed. Esther was clearly an amazing, remarkable woman, who took **** from no one, and swore like a motherf**ker. It's the stories her grown-up kids share with John Waters about Esther's swearing - including the fact that she swore on yellow post-it notes left around her house for her kids (all of whom loved Esther to bits, and for whom Esther was clearly a responsible parent), that leave you gasping for breath.)
In 'Bookworm', he tells you about some of his many favourite reads (in his Baltimore house, he had as of the time he wrote the article, 8,425 books). He shares his love for the very quirky, brilliant fiction of Ivy Compton-Burnett, and focuses on 'Darkness and Day', one of 'her strangest novels' - which is saying something, because only her first one was ordinary (she disowned it), the rest are all uniquely original and disturbing; he evokes the wonder of Jane Bowles' 'Two Serious Ladies', and the little-known English novelist, Denton Welch's 'In Youth Is Pleasure', and others, besides. It's fascinating, and demonstrates his real love for great fiction.
Interestingly, in 'Leslie', he maturely reflects on the Manson murders - as well as his obsession about them as an interest ever since they occurred in 1969 - in terms of the real implications and impact on the lives of the victims as well as on the life of - and his long-term friendship with - one of the murderers in particular - Leslie being, of course, Leslie Van Houten, one of the original Manson 'family', who was involved in the LaBianca murders ('the night after the Tate massacre'), and still in prison.
He acknowledges how at first he was gratuitous and thoughtless in the way he drew upon the murders as fodder for entertainment, directly inspiring and leading him to write and direct the an homage movie to the murders, 'Multiple Maniacs'; besides dedicating 'Pink Flamingos' to the 'Manson girls, "Sadie, Katie and Les"'. The article shares his thoughts and feelings about the history and experience of being a long-term friend to Leslie. It is fascinating, troubling, moving and intelligent; deeply researched, compelling, and he also pulls no punches with himself or the reader. One of the most insightful interpretations of true crime that I have ever read.
I also want to single out his great article on his collection of modern art, 'Roommates' (the roommates in question being the art itself, inhabiting his house and two apartments). And it sounds like a fantastic collection, including pieces by Cy Twombly (probably the best appreciation I've ever read on this artist), besides Mike Kelley, Peter Fischli and David Weiss, and Richard Tuttle, and others.
I have read a lot of art appreciation over the years, but none has come close to conveying as well as 'Roommates' a collector's passion, and personal taste, and likewise consistently insightful observations about the art works themselves.
Fans, of course, will also be delighted that his mainstay obsessions continue in his latest collection, including a piece singing the praises of the fashion designer, Rei Kawakubo; besides great articles on the rock and roll singer, Little Richard (about an interview Waters did with him); on 'Outsider Porn', where he shares his passion for two of his favourite 'genius', groundbreaking outsider gay porn directors, Bobby Garcia and David Hurles - both sadly now absolutely broke; and on cult leadership, in 'Cult Leader' - that is a singular, funny fantasy about him being a great and charismatic cult leader and what he expects of us if we are to be his devoted disciplines.
He also writes beautifully, in a deeply personal and touching way, of his love, respect and appreciation for Tennessee Williams; 'he saved my life', Waters writes in his opening sentence to the essay, called 'The Kindness of Strangers'; and the equally lovely and charming, always thoughtful and learned essay appreciation on Johnny Mathis, his life and accomplishments, and whose opening sentence reads 'I wish I were Johnny Mathis'. Of course.
I wish I were John Waters, if only for a day. He's a true star, in the 1940s/50s Hollywood sense of the word, when it meant something; he is Little Richard, Johnny Mathis, Rei Kawakubo, yes, sometimes even a Cy Twombly drawing, but he is always, uniquely, irrepressibly John Waters. I love you, Mr Waters. May you write and direct much, much more, you beautiful, lovely, wicked, funny, clever, perfectly self-described 'Master of Filth'.