“When I was eight years old all the nuns told me we’d go to Hell if we’d see these [dirty] movies so…I got obsessed with those movies and I pretended I owned a dirty movie theater… I [read] the Marquis De Sade in Tenth Grade and that started it...I just thought, Wow! This is a great book! How many authors have an entire sex-life named after them?”
Until I hear all of Wes Anderson’s musical choices for The Life Aquatic, you're not going to find a better soundtrack this year than the one for John Waters' sexual dysfunction comedy A Dirty Shame. But to the movie and John Waters first:
Waters’ newest study on both the ridiculousness of uber-morality and the idea of “sex addictions” takes us through the psycho-sexual journey of a prim, middle-aged frump named Sylvia Stickles (Tracey Ullman) who experiences an unleashed libido after suffering a concussion in a traffic accident. When I interviewed Waters for the film, he stressed that, people with traumatic brain injury sometimes really DO become horny fiends (he’s right…just look up any literature on the THI). With her newfound sexual proclivity, she horrifies her husband (Chris Isaac) with actions like…shoving a water bottle up her uh, special place (and in a nursing home!). Help comes to her in the form of a rockabilly tow-truck driver named Ray-Ray Perkins (Johnny Knoxville) who's a sexual healer encouraging his disciples to revel in their fetishistic desires. Soon, the entire town is overrun with zombie-like pervs:
“They’re Night of the Living Hornballs. Someone said 28 Lays Later...I guess I have seen certain people like zombies. The gay guys that are on speed, the drugs they all take, they’re all like zombies. They have that look in their eyes— no mind and a hard on... It used to be a biker drug; a white trash drug in Baltimore. Now hairdressers have whole labs in their houses! It’s confusing to me.”
And Waters DOES confess to being a bit confused by all this over-sexed business. Using his story and a parade of kinky fetishes to, of course, riff on sexual addiction with references to "bears," Roman showers, dirt lickers and auto-erotic asphyxiation, A Dirty Shame shows not all, but just enough for a proper fetish fix. Still, Waters isn’t entirely buying all of this sex-addict stuff:
“I’m not sure if I believe in true sex addiction. I believe in reckless behavior, but, I mean, is there sexual addiction in Iraq? I mean if you’re hungry are you a sex addict? Is it possible to be a starving sex addict? I don’t think so. We have too much time on our hands…I think it’s excess of capitalism.”
Echoing the proclamation made in his brilliantly funny book Crackpot in which he wakes up ever morning and thanks God he was raised a Catholic because “sex is dirty” Mr. Shock Waters continues with a very classy, very true desire for the good old days:
“Certainly when you’re brought up to think sex is dirty it will always be better because dirty sex is better. Sex can’t be that wholesome or it gets really boring. That’s just not a thrill. I like doing it illegal. It was much more fun to me when gay was illegal. I mean I’m glad it isn’t any more, but just think— back then every time you had sex you BROKE the LAW! That’s a fetish right there.”
Furthering his point that Lenny Bruce language wouldn't even phase a sitcom, Waters yearns for both excitement and limits in the arena of sex. Funnily, and on the mark (as usual) he cites fetish acts that were once considered irresponsible now responsible:
“These sex acts used to be thought of before AIDS as really neurotic behavior. Now they’re responsible and REAL sex is irresponsible... Sex addicts are so serious about it...the other thing of these fetishes is there’s no humor about it. I’ve been on these websites and they are DEAD serious about this stuff. I think if you’re an adult baby you BETTER have a sense of humor about it… I’m trying to make fun of political correctness in a way [in] questioning how far can freedom go. Can tolerance go too far? Do we really care about the rights of adult babies? I don’t know if I do to be honest with you. There seems to be a lot of causes. When does it become the LAST cause? Like the line Big Ethel says: 'Being a whore is a disease?'”
Exactly. As he questioned the abuse of irony with Pecker (“I think irony is over, and then 9/11 happened and all these editorials said 'irony is over!' I said that two years ago in Pecker! It didn’t take 9/11 for that happen!”) in A Dirty Shame The director pokes fun at both neuters and sex fiends with heavy doses of Waters-obsessed nods (Douglas Sirk, Jean Luc Godard, Federico Fellini, English porn star Dina Fullsome with Selma Blair’s obnoxiously chesty character Ursula Udders, a book he read in High School called The Erotic Minority, sex-scare films like A Woman in Trouble and then some) and silly, silly humor.
And though this may sound like a replay of the old John Waters experience (push the envelope, questioning the tolerance of bad taste while embracing it, etc.), it's certainly the first film where sex is (which is really, if you think about it, a ridiculous act) consistently made fun of (though I'm not sure anything beats Divine being ravaged by a male Divine in Female Trouble). But for the film's freaky sexual refrain, the picture got an NC-17 rating. Waters fought for an R-rating, and lost:
"I didn't expect that...I didn't know I was going to get that. I think it's the first NC-17 comedy-and you don't see any sex in this movie! I mean, come on...humping a tree!"
But back to the music…Waters is showing us these fetishes, but many of us, particularly Waters fans, are gonna be aware of such deviancies. It’s the music—the music that’s so fun and radical because it's real and raunchy and not now. Its classic rockabilly, R&B and pop tunes that are randy-candy great.
Waters discussed how music was so much "dirtier" back in the '50s and '60s. He's right. There's simply a rawness and energy that you're not going to find in, oh...pick whatever "sexy" song is currently playing on the radio.
In A Dirty Shame you're privileged to hear "Red Hot" by Billy Lee Riley, "Eager Beaver Baby" by Johnny Burnette, "I'm on Fire" by Jerry Lee Lewis, "Hump-a-Baby" by Little Ritchie Ray, "Baby Scratch My Back" by Slim Harpo, "Moanin'" by Screaming Jay Hawkins and "(Baby Let Me) Bang Your Box" by the spectacularly named Doug Clark and the Hot Nuts. If Waters allows viewers to wake up to the musical genius of Slim Harpo, then he's done the world a favor. Leave it to the arbiter of supposed bad taste to, as usual, have the best taste in film, music and art.