A Gift from the Pandemic

Kait LeonardBy Kait Leonard

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A Gift from the Pandemic
Jim Jarmusch. Photo Courtesy Collection / Shutterstock.com
An evening with John Waters and Jim Jarmusch
Amidst all the bad right now, there are a few good things that have come out of the pandemic. One was watching Jim Jarmusch engage John Waters in a dialogue about his new book, Mr. Know-it-All: The Tarnished Wisdom of a Filth Elder. The event was presented by Murmrr Lit and the Community Bookstore, Brooklyn, NY, and took place in a live Zoom meeting on August 4, 2020. John Waters is quoted in the event’s promotional material as saying “Whatever you might have heard, there is absolutely no downside to being famous. None at all.” One interesting thing about this statement is how beautifully it captures the positivity of this rule-breaker, rebel, and master of the outlandish. His joie di vivre shines through everything he says. Jarmusch opened the dialogue by asking how Waters balances “being anti-social on a certain level but always being uplifted.” “I make fun of things I love,” said Waters. “If you make fun of things you hate, it’s funny for a short time, but not for 50 years.” Jarmusch pointed out that Waters’ work “uplifts outsiders.” “Big girls aren’t sad anymore. I think Ricky Lake and Divine helped that,” said Waters. Then he laughed. “I was in a Nike ad this year. How ludicrous is that? I’m not even an outsider anymore.” But he explained that he’s okay moving to the inside and compared himself to the Greek soldiers who entered Troy by climbing into the belly of the Trojan horse. He plans on “screwing things up from the inside.” At a couple of points in the conversation, the two big guns of the alt art world discussed the state of the arts since the pandemic. “Right now, show business is over,” Waters said. “But my life is the same. I get up every morning and write.” He’s currently working on a novel but declined to give details. John Waters seems to know everyone, and he spoke in glowing terms about the parade of stars he has interacted and worked with, from Brad Pitt who auditioned to be Johnny Depp’s sidekick in Cry Baby (“You can’t have a sidekick that handsome!”), to Carol Channing, who wanted to play an American Indian in Cry Baby (“I have no idea why.”). Though they didn’t get the parts, Waters described them as lovely. He has remained on good terms with each of them.
John Waters. Photo Courtesy Collection / Shutterstock.com
He also talked about former Manson family member, Leslie Van Houton, whom he has written about in detail. His fascination with the Manson followers, less with Manson, stemmed from his identification with them. Especially in Leslie, he saw a girl who could have fit in with his group of outsider artists. He thinks that if things had been just slightly different, she might have trashed the establishment by making subversive films rather than committing mass murder.

Van Houton has been recommended for parole for the fourth time by the California Board of Parole. The recommendation will now go to Governor Newsom who has already blocked her release once. (Jerry Brown denied it the first two times.) Waters “hopes the Governor has the courage” to approve her release.

During the conversation, Jarmusch and Waters discussed the absence of art events because of the pandemic. Ever the optimist and with his usual flair, Waters suggested we hold “art drive-ins where we can have champagne.”

At points throughout the evening, Jarmusch sounded a bit down because of the state the art world is in. He seemed especially discouraged about the possibility of getting new films funded. But through it all, Waters’ optimistic responses were like a tall drink of something fizzy.

Attending this event via Zoom certainly did not match the thrill of sitting in an auditorium with these two giants of indie film. But, if not for the pandemic and the creative use of online platforms, anyone outside of New York would have missed the event entirely. (Perhaps even Waters himself since he zoomed in from San Francisco.) So, drawing on Waters’ positivity, the current situation made it possible for many people to participate in this wonderful evening.

When asked by an audience member if he had a fantasy project, Waters said “I’m still pitching a children’s Christmas movie called Fruitcake,.”

While it might be hard to even imagine what that might look like, after listening to his beautiful, offbeat optimism, one can’t help but think, Lucky kids!
Kait Leonard

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August 21, 2020