Friday, August 17, 2007

An Evening Without John Waters

One of these days I'm going to ditch everything and join the Alamo Drafthouse's Rolling Roadshow tour of famous movies at famous locations. I'll get myself a nice car, a beautiful lady friend, a GPS tracking system (especially the new one with Burt Reynolds' voice) and really go to town. We'll sleep in cheap motels, eat greasy food, hang out with my friends from Austin and, best of all, see America while seeing some great movies. The films themselves will be nothing more than pleasant afterthoughts to the trip itself, which will be the real reason to go, with the Roadshow simply providing a map and points of interest. America's a pretty god damn great country (really!) and though I've done the cross-country thing once before, I did it in a speedy manner (N.J. to L.A. in 52 hours, with a 3 hour layover in St. Louis), so I feel like I haven't seen enough of the U.S. of A. to satisfy my love of it. I'm a man who's gone searching for America... and hasn't found it anywhere. Yet.

Until that glorious day happens, I will simply have to satisfy myself with my periodic visits for the Rolling Roadshows on the east coast, of which I've attended three and they've all been a blast. For THE WARRIORS screening and cast reunion in Coney Island last year, I picked up cast member Dorsey Wright and his friend in the Bronx and drove them all the way down to Coney, all on the hottest day of the year (it was still 100 degrees when the show started). But it went over great and after it was done I got to hang out in a swank Manhattan hotel bar with Michael Beck and talk MEGAFORCE and Christianity (though not at the same time). A CLERKS screening in Red Bank, NJ was most pleasant, being held right on the water (though not in front of the Quick Stop, thanks to the Leonardo town council) on a perfect summer's night. This year's Roadshow flicks included THE LOST BOYS (sans Coreys) in Santa Cruz, CA, STAND BY ME in Oregon (complete with pie-eating competition) and SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT in Texarkana (complete with road race), but all of those, as fun as they must have been, were nowhere near me, so I had to make due with the John Waters triple feature of HAIRSPRAY, POLYESTER and DESPERATE LIVING in Baltimore, which turned out to be enough fun to make up for missing all those other shows.

The three hour drive to Baltimore took an extra hour thanks to traffic (which hit once I passed into Delaware - fucking Delaware!), so when I pulled into the Middlebranch Park location (just on the water) the inflatable screen hadn't even gone up yet (I helped drive the spikes in) and the first several hours were spent just helping and hanging out with the Roadshow crew: Tim League, Zack Carlson, Justin Ishmael, Tim Doyle and three other guys whose names I don't remember (sorry). It was hot as blazes that day, too, so I got myself a slight sunburn for my troubles, but it didn't really bother me none. Tim and Zack and I went on ahead for a pre-show party that was being held at The Drinkery, one of Baltimore's more established gay bars, which was pretty much an old man's gay bar (don't mean to typecast, but it's true) and it turns out none of the guest from the films showed and it was just us with a lot of gay Baltimoreans. The place was pleasant enough, but it wasn't exactly an experience to write home about, either, since we didn't get hit on, though as we were leaving one of the bar patrons did say how much he wanted to "blow all three a'youse", which is always flattering. (True story, by the way.) We stopped off in Baltimore's old burlesque district (now pretty much the "strip club, liquor store and pizzeria" district) for some none-too-tasty cheese steaks and a sweet reminder that no matter how gentrified a city can get (and Baltimore is getting there), you can still find some good old-fashioned sleaze.

Is this boring you, by the way? Not that I care, but it's always good to know.

Driving back to the screening location, I hear Tim say, "Hey, you can see the screen from across the river. And no audience!". Yeah, attendance for this one was pretty darn low, though it perked up as we got closer to showtime and it seemed like enough people from the neighborhood turned out once someone told them they were showing movies in the park to not make it a total embarrassment. Part of the reason I came down was also because I'd never seen any of the features (though I've seen HAIRSPRAY on Broadway) and this seemed the right way to do it. Waters himself wasn't going to be there, but three of his old associates (producer Pat Moran and actors George Stover and Susan Lowe) were, so along with the location I knew this was going to be a good time. I haven't seen a Waters picture since SERIAL MOM, but CRY-BABY is a longtime fave and PINK FLAMINGOS, though I don't feel the need to see it again, is not easily forgotten.

Happily, both HAIRSPRAY and POLYESTER proved to be fun experiences that proved the trip to be worth saying (the lateness of the hour and the long drive home made me bolt before DESPERATE LIVING). They reminded me that Waters is actually a skilled comedy director, filled with fresh, funny ideas (POLYESTER's arthouse drive-in was priceless) and excellent comic timing. The intentional "badness" is always part of the joke but it isn't the joke itself (Waters is still trying to tell a story) and there's a love and sympathy for his lead characters that makes the film endearing. The films look and sound great, too, with some fantastic music (I remember how much praise HAIRSPRAY's soundtrack received back in '88), costumes and production design. And the performances are often first rate, with Waters finding actors (and, let's face it, non-actors) who get what he's doing and know how to work within those lines. And it must be said, Tab Hunter has one of the all-time great movie entrances in POLYESTER, showing that Waters knows how to film a movie star, too. Waters may be the king of bad taste, but he's also a good filmmaker who deserves a little more credit than what he's given. He's a one-of-a-kind filmmaker and his movies are often good fun, so shouldn't he be celebrated more often? It's one thing to be "independent", but another thing to be what Waters is, original. Hollywood may have caught up to his "gross out" humor, but they don't understand that there's a heart to these films, too, and that's pretty damn unique no matter how you size it.

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