When I was a kid I wanted to be either a murderer or a filmmaker.—John Waters
John Waters is the best-known trash filmmaker the world has ever seen. There is no mountain he won't climb, no line he won't cross, no rock he won't turn over in his quest to make movies. Now, from New Line Home Video, you can get a firsthand look at the life and times of this twisted yet fascinating auteur.
Facts of the Case
During 2001 New Line released three double disc sets of John Waters's films. If you are one of the lucky souls who have purchased all three sets, you can send in to New Line for this amazing collection of John Waters memories and background information. It's all here, from the early days in the cheap hotels and cafes of Baltimore to…the present day in Baltimore.
All kidding aside, this is quite an impressive collection of supplemental information. If I did my math correctly, there is about three and a half hours of video footage on this disc, spanning Waters's entire life. I mean that literally—some of the earliest footage is from Waters family home movies showing John as the new baby in the house. From there we are able to watch the evolution of John's career. One of the early gems on this disc is the last surviving footage—just over a minute in length—of his first film, Dorothy the Kansas City Pothead. From there we have interviews with a number of his "Dreamland" crew. Alumni of Waters productions have an amazing affection for the quirky director, and all of them mention how his group of guerilla filmmakers was like a family. They were a close-knit bunch, rejected by the outside world, who accepted each other's eccentricities and worked together to make art as they saw it.
Among the video clips are trailers for several Waters films, behind-the-scenes footage from the making of several of his movies, and treasures from his archives. We can track the trash auteur's evolution through interviews conducted by local television stations at several points in his career. Perhaps the best video bit is an interview from the Sundance Channel's Conversations in World Cinema. This presentation runs for approximately twenty minutes and features Waters being interviewed by Richard Peña, followed by questions from the audience. This interview is quite recent and thus is able to cover all of Waters's career, including recent films such as Cecil B. Demented.
The audio portion is no less extensive. There is two and a half hours of audio material. The two largest items here are a pair of interviews that Waters himself conducted with two of his frequent stars, Edith Massey and Divine. The interview with Divine is by far the bulk of the audio material, with a running time of two hours and four minutes. It is broken up into chronological segments, each dealing with a different period in their long collaboration. In these segments we see—or hear, rather—Waters and Divine unguarded, chatting away amiably as old friends. Waters keeps the interview focused and moving along, but this truly is the reminiscences of two old friends caught on tape. Old friends that talk about going to drag beauty pageants and making movie together, that is.
New Line has assembled the video material from a wide variety of sources and has standardized in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. For the most part this works well, and imposes some level of uniformity on the chaos. Older material shot in the Academy aspect ratio or television material is presented windowboxed to maintain consistency. As might be expected, picture quality from all of these disparate sources varies greatly, and never approaches the quality of a feature film. Still, if one is watching this material it is hardly in anticipation of a spectacular video presentation, and the video as presented is adequate to the task.
Audio is quite variable in quality as well. Almost everything presented here is in a monaural format, and none of it is going to win any DVD quality awards. This is to be expected with archival material. Again, it is about exactly what one would expect given the wide variety in sources and their ages.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The major glaring flaw of this disc is its navigation system. Items are arranged on a timeline of Waters's career which runs for several screens. On some screens (or "pages") of the timeline there is no material to see at all. Scattered along the timeline are also random events in US and world history which have some connection or interest for Waters. This amounts to clutter, and at times it is hard to tell exactly what is available for viewing and what is not. There is an alternative menu system that allows one to navigate by movie; however, once a movie is selected the menu brings the viewer back to the section of the timeline dealing with that point in Dreamland history. Also sorely missed is a "play all" function that would allow the viewer to listen to, for example, all of the interview between Waters and Divine without having to navigate the cumbersome timeline to do so.
The underlying problem with a lot of the material on this disc is that it just isn't that interesting. The best part of the disc for me was the Conversations in World Film interview. There are a few interesting gems like this, but they are hard to pick out in this voluminous collection of information.
The John Waters DVD Scrapbook is not unlike reading a real scrapbook. Unless the reader is deeply acquainted with the person portrayed, it isn't going to be very interesting. A lot of work went into compiling this material, but unless you are a hard-core Waters fanatic it won't be of much interest to you. Of course, if you are the kind of person who has purchased all three double-disc John Waters sets, this will probably be right up your alley.
Not guilty! This is a fine collection, provided you are a part of the target audience.
We stand adjourned.
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