An independent film icon
John Waters: Trash, subversion, movies
By Meriah Doty
DAHLONEGA, Georgia (CNN) -- Film director John Waters first shocked audiences with 1970s cult favorites like "Pink Flamingos" and "Desperate Living."
He made his mark in mainstream cinema with "Hairspray" in 1988, casting a then all but unknown actress, Ricki Lake, as the film's star. His place in cult film history has been cemented with films like "Serial Mom" and "Pecker" -- perhaps unexpectedly made with major studio backing.
CNN spoke with John Waters recently in this north Georgia town, which was holding its first film festival. There he told fledgling filmmakers that his next project will be "about sex addicts."
CNN: What interested you in coming to Dahlonega?
John Waters: Well, 'cause I had never been here. You know one of the best things about making movies is you get to see the world if you can talk. So they invited me. ... I'm all for film festivals bringing you to towns you've never been to before.
CNN: This festival focuses on "fringe filmmakers." How do these films differ from "independent films"?
Waters: I don't know that fringe films are different than independent films -- maybe they're less whiny. There's bad independent films too. So maybe fringe films think that independent films are too whiny.
CNN: Do you think that independent films have become mainstream?
Waters: Mainstream films are independent movies already. I mean "American Beauty" wins the Oscar -- that could have never happened 10 years ago. "Boys Don't Cry" wins the Oscar for best actress. There's no difference anymore in Hollywood and independent. The difference is ... they always say to you in Hollywood, "We're looking for an edge." They are until you have your first test screening (laughs), then they're not.
CNN: Do you see any parallels between Ricki Lake's career and yours?
Waters: I love Ricki Lake and we're still good friends, but I think our careers are very different. The audiences we appeal to -- she's much broader, let's say. Her show has little irony, I think. Although I've been on her show and hung around with the other guests that were addicted to porn (laughs). So I like doing her show and I love Ricki, but I hope with all the success she's had on TV she doesn't stop acting, because I think she's a really good actress.
CNN: Given the fact that John Waters is here to stay -- you recently hosted the Independent Spirit Awards, and you've been working with larger budgets ever since "Hairspray" -- has trash become respectable?
Waters: The golden age of trash is long gone. It's been over for 10 years because Hollywood makes trash now. The gross films that are coming out now are from Hollywood -- they're not from independent, they're not from fringe, they're not from foreign films. Hollywood makes gross films now. As soon as Hollywood makes it, it's long over with; it can really not be too influential anymore. ... Even the golden age of irony I was hoping would end, but I made a movie called "Pecker" about that. So I just try to make funny movies now.
CNN: What is subversive anymore?
Waters: There is still such a thing as subversive. Subversive makes hip people nervous. It's something new that scares you in a good way. I mean, subversive to me is a compliment. Subversive is something that influences people to do something against society that they haven't thought of before.
CNN: So, what hasn't been done?
Waters: That's 20-year-olds' duty; not my duty. Certainly, everything's been done -- but it's about style, it's about how you do it, it's about wit, it's how you can make something new again. That's the whole point.
CNN: What have you not accomplished?
Waters: If I died tomorrow I've accomplished what I set out to do in my life. I enjoy making my movies, I enjoy doing what I do. I have a nice life. I have nothing to complain about certainly. If I was put on this earth to do it, I've made trash 1 percent more respectable.
CNN: Some of your recent films have not been well received by critics. Why do you think this is?
Waters: I've always gotten good reviews, bad reviews -- I've gotten every kind. I've got just as many good reviews for the last few movies as I got bad -- probably half and half. I'm used to it. I personify the mixed review.
CNN: My impression is fans and critics who loved the "Pink Flamingos" Waters didn't necessarily like "Pecker."
Waters: But "Pecker" -- probably some people like that one best. It depends on how old you are. There are people that will only want me to make "Pink Flamingos" over and over again. If I hadn't, I wouldn't be here today.
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