When John Waters shocked audiences with “Pink Flamingos” more than 50 years ago, he probably didn’t foresee major museum exhibitions of his trashy aesthetic and irreverent filmmaking. But half a century later, he’s become the elder statesman of rebellion, and the Academy Museum is celebrating Baltimore’s treasure with a career-spanning exhibit and accompanying film retrospective.
Opening Sunday in Los Angeles, the extensive exhibit includes 400 pieces over 12 galleries. At the preview, Bill Kramer, CEO of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, said, “John Waters: Pope of Trash is a salute to an individual creative voice and the distinctive contributions he has made over the past six decades, not only to the art of film but to American pop culture.”
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Among the many must-see props and costumes on display were the jackets Johnny Depp wore in the 1990 film “Cry Baby” and the prop electric chair from “Female Trouble.”
Speaking at the preview, Waters said he was grateful to be alive for it. Waters said, “I wish my parents could be here because they always made me believe that I could do whatever i want, even though they were horrified by what I was doing.” He added, “If I hadn’t had the outlet to use all my antisocial lunatics that I put in my scenes who knows what would have happened.”
As part of the exhibition, the Academy Museum will be screening 1994’s “Serial Mom” on 35mm with Waters in attendance. There will be a rare screening of his 1968 silent film “Eat Your Makeup,” for which he will provide live commentary.
Here’s a short preview of what to see at the Academy Museum exhibit, which runs to Oct. 28.
Liquor Cart from ‘Polyester’ (1971)
The museum’s co-curators Jenny He and Dara Jaffe compared collating the pieces that feature in the exhibit to a scavenger hunt.
One such scavenger hunt took place in Waters’ hometown of Baltimore, Maryland.
Said Jaffe, “We had talked to many people who worked on the film, ‘Polyester,’ which they shot in a real house at the end of the cul de sac in a suburb of Baltimore. At the end of the shoot, they held a huge yard sale for the neighbors and they sold all of the set dressings and furnishings. We knew it was a long shot, but we thought what if we went back there, maybe 40 years later, one of those neighbors might have been there during filming and might have an object for us.” Jaffe talked about how they went door to door and one of the first doors they knocked on was someone from that time who still lived in the neighborhood. “He owns his childhood home. He invited us in. Not only did he have never before seen photos of John on the set of ‘Polyester,’ But his family had bought the bar cart used by Divine in the film and his sisters very generously lent it to us.”
Prop electric chair from ‘Female Trouble’ (1974)
In Waters’ 1974 film “Female Trouble,” Divine plays Dawn Davenport. After giving birth, she goes on a killing spree. With lines like “I’m a thief and a shit-kicker, I’d like to be famous” and “Nice girls don’t wear cha-cha heels,” Davenport becomes a tabloid superstar.
When she’s sentenced to death by electric chair, Davenport revels in the moment and says, “This is the biggest award I could get in my field.”
Tracy’s roach dress from ‘Hairspray’ (1988)
Costume designer Van Smith was Waters’ go-to for nearly all of his films. In “Hairspray,” Ricki Lake’s Tracy Turnblad spots a roach dress. The dress has since gone on to achieve iconic status and has been recreated for Halloween year after year.
Smith’s creation is on display along with other outfits from the film.
Ransom notes from ‘Serial Mom’ (1994)
Kathleen Turner played Beverly Sutphin in Waters’ film about a suburban housewife who on the surface seems perfectly happy. But, as audiences learn, she’s unhinged and has homicidal tendencies. When Dottie Hinkle, played by Mink Stole, starts receiving profane messages and prank calls, detectives show up at Beverly’s home. She denies everything. Not long after, Beverly is back to her ways and taunting Dottie – and yes, she sent those ransom notes. Fans of this film can get a look at the costumes worn by Turner as well as the telephone used in the film, and see those notes up close and personal.
Johnny Depp’s guitar and leather jacket from ‘Cry Baby’ (1990)
Johnny Depp’s guitar from the cult classic film “Cry Baby” along with the leather jacket he sports is on display in the museum. Depp plays teen idol Wade Walker, aka Cry Baby, a juvenile delinquent who can cry a single dramatic tear and sing his heart out. While the actor didn’t provide the vocals for the film, he did play the guitar.
Cry-Baby’s guitar and leather jackets worn by Johnny Depp and Jonathan Benya as Cry-Baby and Snare-Drum
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