Monthly Archives: January 2012

Review of Low Budget Hell on — The Journal of Underground Film

Review from The Journal of Underground Film.

Werner Herzog Discovers that John Waters is Gay

This short clip is from a wide-ranging conversation in the little-known 2007 documentary, On the Ecstasy of Ski-Flying: Werner Herzog in Conversation with Karen Beckman, shot and edited by Laura Hanna.  After I first met John Waters, it took me a few weeks to ask him what it took Herzog 30+ years: “Is this man gay?”

Werner Herzog is one of the most compelling filmmakers of our time.  To many, he comes off as a rambling crackpot, but I like those kinds of people.  I do my best to see every one of his films, and want to buy them to view over and over.  Maybe one day I’ll understand what he’s talking about.  He can be hilarious, metaphysical, pedantic, quotable, down-to-earth, and disconnected, which are the most endearing traits I can imagine.

I found On the Ecstasy of Ski-Flying buried in Netflix and watched it last night.  I nearly fell off the chair when Herzog began speaking about John Waters as an example of a “real” man.  I first met John in 1973 in the equipment room of the film department of the University of Maryland Baltimore County when he was trying to make a deal to have students work on his film Female Trouble.  Like Herzog describes in the clip, I didn’t see Waters as a gay man.  Determined, yes;  ironic, yes;  compelling, yes;  unique, yes; smart, yes.  Gay?  I didn’t think to ask.

After I started working on Female Trouble, I began to wonder a little about John especially with lines like Edith Massey’s  immemorial, “The world of the heterosexual is a sick and boring life.”  When naïve little hetero me asked him if he really meant that from experience, or what….  he just laughed and said I should come hang with him in Fells Point bars on Friday nights.  I did, and that began a whole new education.

Clip Courtesy of Slought Foundation. 
To buy the film, click on the link to microcinema dvd below.

“On the Ecstasy of Ski-Flying: Werner Herzog in Conversation with
Karen Beckman”

Produced and edited by Aaron Levy and Nicola Gentili, with the
2007-2008 RBSL Bergman Curatorial Seminar, University of Pennsylvania
Published by Slought Foundation

Read about Robert Maier’s fifteen years working with John Waters in the new book “Low Budget Hell: Making Underground Movies with John Waters.”  Available on and booksellers around the world. Review of Low Budget Hell

This 4-star review was written by K. Harris, Amazon’s 7th most popular reviewer– out of 10,000.  K. is  a Waters fan, and an honest reviewer who warned me not to expect a rose garden review when I sent him a copy of the book.  I like reading Amazon reviewers more than the main stream media because they aren’t pressured by editors who just want to cover books by celebrity authorsRead it below or on Amazon.

Guerilla Filmmaking 101: Surviving The Humiliations Of True Independent Cinema
by K. Harris

Having dabbled in the filmmaking community with some short amateur films (both behind the scenes and in front), the process of movie making has always been of interest to me. With advances in technology and easier access to equipment, it has become much more conventional to see people putting together their own projects. But I’m awed by the commitment, energy, expense, and sheer scrappiness that fledging artists needed to make independent films in days gone by. Perhaps one of the more unlikely success stories was that of John Waters. In Baltimore, with a renegade band of misfits including the divine Divine, Waters started out as a gross-out counterculture visionary but transformed himself into a mainstream success. But it wasn’t an easy road. One of the people in the trenches with Waters and crew was Robert Maier, and this is his story as only he can tell it. It features many celebrities and known personalities in key roles, but this is about the journey that Maier chose to undertake.

The book starts with an introduction to John Waters and charts the tumultuous days of shooting the films “Female Trouble,” “Desperate Living,” and “Polyester.” With each film, the budget got bigger and Maier’s role expanded. There are a lot of harrowing and hysterical details about doing what needed to be done, at any cost of humiliation! Sometimes gross, sometimes excruciatingly unpleasant, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny–this is a real insider’s peek behind the magic of movie making. The book also details the periods between these films as Maier engaged in studio politics, hung out with Andy Warhol’s crowd, and took part in non-Waters films that shared some of the same production issues, if not more. Reunited for “Hairspray,” Maier and Waters found themselves in entirely new territory with studio involvement and it changed the course of their relationship forever. Maier ably demonstrates the sting of this new development, and much of the story plays out as a cautionary tale about success (and its cost) within the Hollywood machine.

As a personal memoir, scenes are filtered through Maier’s vantage point and perspective. I think that’s to be expected as Maier is the one and only source for these recollections. So don’t expect this to be a definitive portrait of Waters or even of the films it describes, just enjoy it as personal storytelling. It is a thoroughly engaging ride. Truthfully, I didn’t take anything as a hundred percent fact but that didn’t lessen my enjoyment of Maier’s tale. It showcases a lot of inherent truths about the filmmaking business, things that are just as true now as they were then. Anyone interested in Waters and/or independent movie making should appreciate this warts-and-all portrait of guerilla artistry. KGHarris, 1/12.

Divine- The First Rapper c.1974 (Accidentally)

In his early movies, John Waters just lifted music for his sound tracks from a friend’s record collection ignoring copyright or licensing permissions.  There wasn’t money for such things in underground movies, so he just put it off until later.  Female Trouble’s title song (called Female Trouble) was its only piece of legal music.  With Divine’s growing performing career, John thought an original song would help the movie, and maybe one day become an income stream.  At least it would be one less music right to buy when that day of reckoning arrived.

Charles Roggero (the film’s editor) offered one of the many songs he had produced when he was in Los Angeles, trying to break into the record business.  He still had reels of high-budget, professionally written, arranged, and recorded music tracks stored in an LA studio, and agreed to give John a song for free, if John wrote the lyrics, and they would equally share any royalties.  Divine was in LA at the time, and took a taxi one afternoon to the studio to overdub the vocals.

He gave the driver the address that John had given him saying he was going to a recording session. The driver freaked because the address was in the heart of Watts, the infamous neighborhood that just a few years earlier was the site of some of the worst riots in U.S. history.  Why was this bizarre looking guy going down there?  A drug run?

They eventually pulled up to an old, unmarked warehouse surrounded by burned-out shells.   Even Divine was spooked now, and begged the driver to wait by the door until someone answered his knocks.  The door was opened by a black man.  It was Don Cook, one of LA’s most respected record producers, who had worked with Dianna Ross among many others.  His very nice studio was located purposely in a non-nondescript building to save on the high LA rents.

John and Charles listened to the session live on the telephone from their editing room; a technological breakthrough for John, which enabled John to direct.
Unfortunately, Divine only occasionally hit the right notes.  The problem was he was basically tone deaf.  For John’s camp audience it was great, but Don and his engineer were mainstream Hollywood award-winners.  Seeing the 350 lb. Divine with his shaved head, in his usual flouncy pants and oversized shirt, and listening to John’s psycho lyrics like “I’m berserk, I like it fine, as long as I’m making headlines,”  they thought Charles had lost his mind and was working with a Manson-like cult in Baltimore.

The producers worked hard to make Divine sound professional, using thick reverb and echo and doubling his tracks, but they couldn’t change the many flat notes (this was well before Autotune).  To finish with some semblance of professionalism, they resorted to Divine reciting the lines, not singing them, making Female Trouble one of the first rap songs ever—accidentally.

Since this first step away from just producing movies, John has spread his talent into assembling successful compilation CDs, not to mention books, articles, artwork, and comedy tours.  Maybe one day he will lend his name to a perfume line.  John Waters’ #2 anyone?

The Female Trouble CD can be purchase from CD Baby or downloaded from iTunes.

Read about Robert Maier’s fifteen years working with John Waters in the new book “Low Budget Hell: Making Underground Movies with John Waters.”  Available on and booksellers around the world.