Grab your hairspray and call your filthiest friend. Brisbane is gearing up to celebrate John Waters.
The eclectic Baltimore filmmaker is best known for his transgressive cult films of the 1970s, including Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble and Desperate Living, but also the 1988 crossover hit Hairspray, which was later adapted into a long running Broadway musical.
Waters turns 70 this month and to celebrate, local events specialist Kristian Fletcher is hosting a multi-venue tribute. Kicking off at the Fox Hotel’s Fish Lane Studios on April 16 before shifting across town to the New Farm Cinemas the next day, the program includes screening parties for Pink Flamingos, Hairspray and Polyester, as well as a trivia night. “There will even be a room on Saturday night where you can get made up like Divine [the filmmaker’s long running drag queen collaborator] or with a John Waters pencil moustache,” Fletcher says.
Fletcher is well known for tribute nights and themed parties dedicated to b-movies, filmmakers and entertainers (next month he’s hosting the Brisbane chapter of the Kate Bush-themed Most Wuthering Heights Day Ever, in Bedford Park). But Waters is a special inspiration. Fletcher first screened Pink Flamingos in 2006, sick bags and all, and ran a double feature night to coincide with Waters’ 2010 stand-up tour that saw him tapped to meet the film-maker backstage at the Powerhouse. “John was genuinely interested in what I was doing,” says Fletcher. “When you talk to your idols and they’re lovely people you want to do more to honour them,” he says.
Fletcher’s not kidding. For Polyester — famous for its use of Waters’ version of Smell-O-Vision, called “Odorama” — he even managed to track down a batch of the rare, aromatic scratch cards that accompany the film. “The movie got a re-release at Cannes a few years back so they printed a new batch. But I was very, very lucky to get 100 of them — that’s usually a no-no.”
As much as the weekend is about Waters, it’s also a tribute to Divine, the actor, singer and drag queen who became a muse for the filmmaker throughout the 70s and 80s. “I tried where possible to mix up the films but all three star Divine. She’s such a pop-culturally important figure,” Fletcher says.
A variety of ticket options allow Waters fans to take on the weekend a la carte, in case you’re not so keen on staying up on Saturday night to take on the infamously confronting Pink Flamingos.
But Fletcher thinks Queenslanders are at home with Waters oeuvre. “It always goes well in Brisbane,” he says. “I’ll visit Melbourne and whenever anyone screens anything Waters-related, they struggle to get people along. Queensland seems at ease with that trashy vibe.”
The John Waters 70th Birthday Fest runs April 16-17 at the Fox Hotel and New Farm Cinemas. Tickets are available at kristianfletcher.com.