Crackpot: The Obsessions of John Waters

I've been a fan of John Waters ever since I was a kid and saw something on daytime TV about his movie Polyester. Of course, it was famously presented in Odorama, and my childish imagination was captured by the idea. I really wanted to see that movie. While in high school his great muse Divine became something of a pop-star, and I followed her career with great interest. A 200 kilo drag queen was always going to grab my interest, especially one singing Hi N-R-G disco tunes.

By the time I got anywhere that actually played his movies he had just released the original Hairspray, and I was an instant fan. In those days there was a revival-house cinema in Sydney (does anyone remember it?), and they regularly played his back catalogue. So I saw in quick succession Female Trouble, Desperate Living and the infamous Pink Flamingos.

This book, Crackpot, was released in 1983, and it is a fine collection of Waters' essays cataloguing his unlikely obsessions and distasteful enthusiasms. It should come as no surprise that his trashy facade obscures a distinctly literary soul, and he writes beautifully, and very, very funnily. As well as being a wonderful exploration of Waters' interior world, Crackpot also serves as something of a primer of 1980s popular culture, and if I ever ran a University course on that subject (hello academic world - are you listening?) this would definitely be my textbook.

It's a wonderfully nostalgic read as he details an interview with Pia Zadora, or mentions in passing Boy George's birthday party. Indeed, the whole book is something of a self-conscius exercise in nostalgia, a commodity that Waters trades in extensively and which, I think, characterises his work. Anyone familiar with his film work will recognise in these essays the germ of many of his plots (the whole scenario of Hairspray, for example, is presented in a reflection on TV in Baltimore in the 60s, and many of the characters that turn up in Pecker, and Cecil B. Demented, among many others, are described here as real people Waters knew in his youth).

Along with nostalgia and a kabuki-esque dedication to tastelessness (and he says a lot of things in this book that he'd never get away with in teh infinitely more politically correct 21st century), Waters writes well on the subject of celebrity. Of course, queerness and celebrity have always gone hand in hand, and Waters would seem to have been the textbook little homely gay kid who develops an encyclopedic knowledge of the lesser celebrities of his childhood.His essay on 'How to Become Famous' could actually be read as a self-help manual, and contains much salient advice on how to become a celebrity, no matter what. Some of the tips include: "Exaggerate Yourself...if you're overweight, go eat ten pies..." and "Die...Drastic? Well, I thought you were serious."

Unsurprisingly, he turns out to be a real film buff, and rights just as insightfully on the films of Jean-Luc Godard as he does on the oeuvre of Jayne Mansfield. I wanted to read this book again before I started on his new book Role Models, which is an examination of his literary (and other) influences. John Waters is a genius, there is no doubt about it, and his books prove that he is a polymath to boot.


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