John Waters movies are completely inappropriate. Many of his films are filled with sick and twisted scenes, vulgar language, and morbid humor – and I love them! Some John Waters films are more mainstream, others are early indie films that he made right on the streets of Baltimore, starring his friends and featuring homemade costumes and sets around the town. All of them are brilliant in some way, skewering pop culture and social ideals with stunning commentary. Seriously, his satire is so spot on – but you definitely have to have an open mind to see it. Here are some of my favorite movies by John Waters, which showcase just why this Baltimore native is a genius.
1. Pink Flamingos
Pink Flamingos is both one of the raunchiest and most well known John Waters movies, because it revolves around «the filthiest people alive» – and they really are. The film contains a very memorable, very disgusting scene by the divine Divine, which unequivocally proved that Waters and his crew were willing to do anything – repeat: anything – for their art, their movies, and their witty snark against social norms.
Cry-Baby was the first John Waters movie I ever saw, and I promptly fell in love. That had a lot to do with Johnny Depp at first, but after watching the film so much that I was able to play act along with every scene (including the donning of full skirts and bobby socks), I absorbed the movie's central message. It's not just that Johnny Depp makes a hot little rebel. The film examines those awful adolescent caste systems, where lines are clearly drawn between the cool kids, the preps, the rebels, the nerds, and so on. I desperately wanted to show this movie to every member of my high school class, but I always feared the message would be lost on them. It stars a lot of surprising people – Ricki Lake, Traci Lord, Susan Tyrrell, Iggy Pop, Mink Stole, and Patty Hearst.
Pecker is one of the most popular John Waters movies among several groups of moviegoers, and with good reason. To me it showcases why Edward Furlong had so much potential once upon a time (along with American History X – man, I loved this boy). It's also a really great arty movie, and rather low key for a Waters-scripted flick. Pecker is a gifted Baltimore photographer who gets invited to NYC and becomes immersed in the art scene. Christina Ricci has a great turn in the film too, as do Martha Plimpton and Jean Schertler.
4. Serial Mom
This isn't my top favorite John Waters film, but it's pretty close. Kathleen Turner is crazy amazing in this film, which is ludicrous from the word go but still incredibly funny. Like Cry-Baby, it also costars Ricki Lake – John definitely loves him some Ricki Lake, nor is she the first actor to get lots of play in his films. Contrary to what the film states at the beginning, it is not based on a true story, but I think we've all seen some suburban housewives we suspect of being a little like Beverly Sutphin.
If the only version of Hairspray you've ever seen is the musical starring Nikki Blonsky, Zac Efron, John Travolta, and Amanda Bynes, stop reading right now. Get thee to a video store or thy Netflix page (although not on Watch Instantly, damn it!) or something – don't worry, I'll wait. Seriously, the original is one the most celebrated John Waters movies ever. It features a young Ricki Lake, as well as Divine, Debbie Harry, Jerry Stiller, Sonny Bono, Ruth Brown, and Mink Stole. Both the original and the remake deal with social stereotypes as well, and showcase Waters' penchant for standing up for the underdog.
6. Female Trouble
If you want a really raunchy John Waters movie, look no further. This was the first early Waters flick I ever saw. I spotted it on IFC or Sundance one night when I was in college, and I was immediately hooked. Again, it stars the incomparable Divine, along with Mink Stole and Edith Massey, another Waters favorite. It's all about crime and is actually dedicated to Tex Watson, a member of the Manson family.
7. Cecil B. Demented
Last but most certainly not least, here's one of my favorite John Waters films, a bit of a genre flick starring Stephen Dorff, Melanie Griffith, Adrian Grenier, and Maggy Gyllenhaal. It also stars some of my favorite members of the Waters crew, like Ricki Lake, Mink Stole, and Patty Hearst. It's a very dark movie which pokes satirical fun at Hollywood's A-Listers – very appropriately, since John himself has never been considered one of them.
The thing I love most about the majority of John Waters movies is their unwillingness to accept the traditional stereotypes. Popularity, sexuality, class status – they're all relative and largely meaningless to Waters, who shows again and again that the lines separating people are fluid and easily erased. If you don't acknowledge them, you can make them disappear. What are your favorite movies by John Waters? Let me know what you think about his messages.