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John Waters, an Auteur of Trash, Would Like to Thank the Academy
Curators from the new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures rummaged through his Baltimore home to plan an exhibition on Waters and his cult films.
Credit…Sinna Nasseri for The New York Times
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By Adam Nagourney
BALTIMORE — John Waters was leading a delegation from the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures — in for the week from Los Angeles — on a tour of his home of 32 years, cluttered with film artifacts and kitschy curios and tucked behind trees on a quiet corner five miles from this city’s waterfront.
There was much to see: the electric chair from his 1974 dark comedy, “Female Trouble” in the entryway. A birth certificate for Divine, the 300-pound cross-dresser who played the “filthiest person alive” in “Pink Flamingos,” hanging in a basement room piled with mementos. The mimeographed poster for the 1966 premiere of “Roman Candles,” retrieved from a stack of boxes.
“Hand me that leg of lamb,” Waters asked an assistant as two curators and the museum director followed him up the narrow stairs, through a doorway and into his cramped two-room home office — one room for “my writing and thinking” and one for, as he put it, selling. He was offering for consideration a favorite artifact from his moviemaking career: the (rubber) leg of lamb that Kathleen Turner used as a murder weapon in a particularly gruesome scene from “Serial Mom.”
For decades, Waters was famous for pushing the boundaries of taste back when there were real boundaries of taste (enforced by entities like his one-time tormentor, the Maryland State Board of Censors), including the notorious final scene in “Pink Flamingos,” which involves dog excrement. William S. Burroughs called Waters the “Pope of Trash,” and he meant that as a compliment.
Next summer, Waters, who is 76, is being honored by the establishment he has flamboyantly provoked for over 50 years. He will be the subject of a sprawling 11,400-square-foot exhibition at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, the museum celebrating Hollywood that opened last year. With this exhibit, the Academy is making clear that its curatorial appetite goes beyond R2-D2 and Dorothy’s ruby slippers.
This may not be easy. The Academy Museum has planted a flag as a family and tourist destination, which is not precisely the John Waters fan base. Notwithstanding the name of the exhibition — “Pope of Trash,” of course — Bill Kramer, the museum’s director, said a sign might be put at the entryway to warn the young and the squeamish.