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Shame on You! A Conversation with “A Dirty Shame”‘s John Waters, Selma Blair, and Johnny Knoxville

The more I hear about John Waters, the more I wonder how he’s managed to avoid a straightjacket for so many years. This is the guy who claims that his favorite childhood memory was seeing blood inside of a wrecked car while visiting a scrapyard and fantasizing about deadly car crashes.

Waters might be responsible for some strange fantasies – and some even stranger screenplays – but it’s difficult not to welcome his distinctive movies at a time when stagnant superhero flicks and cheesy romantic comedies dominate the multiplexes. He’s most famous for his 1972 cult classic Pink Flamingos in which his lead actor ingests a pile of dog shit. Since then, he has made a ‘love him or hate him’ career out of gross-out sexploitation films, including Serial Mom, Mondo Trasho, and Female Trouble. His latest, A Dirty Shame, focuses on Baltimore residents who become fetish-friendly sex addicts after suffering from concussions.

Surprisingly, Waters (a.k.a. The Pope of Puke) is a sweet and dignified gentleman in person – that is, until you start talking with him. That’s when his dirty mind starts to show its true colors. When I asked him about his obsession with perverse, unscrupulous sex, his comments were no surprise. ‘When you’re brought up to think that sex is dirty, it will always be better because dirty sex is better,’ he says. ‘Sex can’t be that wholesome or it gets really boring. I liked doing it when it was illegal. Just think, every time you had sex, you broke the law! It’s so much more fun that way.’

It’s not every day that people dream up movies about head injuries, sex-addicts, defecating, and public ejaculation. So where did the idea for A Dirty Shame come from? ‘I think it was when I was eight years old when I started thinking this one up,’ Waters proudly proclaims. ‘All the nuns told me I’d go to hell if I watched sexploitation movies. So naturally I became obsessed. Also, I read a book called The Erotic Minorities in high school, and I remember it had descriptions of all these sexual fetishes that I had never heard of.’

Now, with all the unsettling sexual fetishes that exist today, it must have been difficult to decide which ones to include in A Dirty Shame, but Waters claims he researched thoroughly and decided deliberately. ‘I picked ones that were joyous, and ones that weren’t against women, and ones that weren’t mean-spirited, and ones that could be funny, and ones there were safe – that was really important to me,’ he explains. ‘If I was going to make a movie encouraging sex addicts, I had to have sex addicts do safe stuff – I couldn’t be that irresponsible.’

As disturbing as it may be, A Dirty Shame does not contain a single fictional fetish; according to Waters, every fetish in the film actually exists in the world today. ‘We ordered all the clothes off a website. You can actually buy a baby outfit for a 250-pound man,’ he explains. ‘All this stuff is real. It wasn’t made up.’ And why include an adult baby in the film, ahem? ‘I’m questioning whether or not tolerance can go too far. Do we really care about the rights of adult babies? I don’t know if I do. I’m trying to make fun of political correctness in a way.’

To the unpleasant surprise of Waters, Shame received an NC-17 rating for ‘pervasive sexual content.’ Although many of his past film received the same rating, he wasn’t counting on it here. ‘I didn’t expect that – I didn’t know it was going to get that at all,’ Waters says. ‘I was kind of amazed. You can’t even talk about sex anymore. There is a sexual war going on right now. I mean, you don’t see anything in this movie. I think this is the first non-explicit NC-17 movie. I don’t remember any others.’

Since he hasn’t made an NC-17 film in quite a while (his most recent films have been rated R), some people are calling A Dirty Shame Waters’ return to his original filth and sleaze, but Waters himself disagrees. ‘I don’t think it’s a return,’ he says. ‘In Cecil B. DeMented, a gerbil went up someone’s ass. In Pecker, there were close-ups of giant pubic hairs. I don’t know that [A Dirty Shame] is so different from the other ones except for the rating.’

When I spoke to stars Johnny Knoxville (Walking Tall) and Selma Blair (The Sweetest Thing), the most pressing question on my mind was whether or not the abhorrently distasteful, politically incorrect sexploitation conflicted with their personal values. After all, Knoxville’s character beams orgasms into unsuspecting pedestrians through rays of light from his eyes, and Blair dances topless while wearing latex breasts the size of Goodyear Tires. These behaviors must – somehow, someway – challenge the ethics that their parents taught them. Right?

Wrong.

Waters found the right actors for his movie – the kind who would do anything for the project. Neither Knoxville nor Blair had any inhibitions in fulfilling the requirements of their roles, which, I suppose, is no surprise considering Knoxville’s involvement with Jackass and Blair’s provocative roles in Storytelling and Cruel Intentions. ‘This might incite parts of the country, but my values are still intact,’ Knoxville says. ‘I’m not very prudish. I don’t know if you’ve seen my earlier work. But I’m pretty game.’ Blair agrees: ‘Maybe a lot of actresses wouldn’t want this role, but I don’t have a lot of inhibitions with my acting life. It’s John Waters, so you have to be game. It’s when I have to play some sweet likeable girl that I start shitting my pants.’

According to Blair, some of the requirements of her role were quite humiliating… but what can you expect from a John Waters comedy? ‘We’re all really ugly in this movie – I look like a man dressed as a woman dressed as a man again,’ Blair laughs. ‘I think John really celebrates the ugly misfit in everyone. They’re always loud, ugly, confident people in his movies.’

Luckily, Waters selected an actress who put her comfort aside for art’s sake because Blair’s gargantuan latex breasts didn’t exactly provide console. ‘Not only did I look like I had leprosy by the end of this movie, but I would rip my tits off everyday because I couldn’t wait for the makeup guy to take them off,’ Blair says. ‘I’m obviously not a large breasted girl… but after wearing them, and being able to rest my food plate on them at lunchtime, I’d never hope to have a set of those knockers.’

Normally, large breasts come with certain fringe benefits, but Blair claims the jumbo boobs weren’t remotely enticing off camera, either. ‘One morning, there was a big construction crew outside, and I just couldn’t help myself. It had to be done. I was wearing a bathrobe, and the tits were underneath, and I said ‘Hey boys!’ and opened up. Normally they’d eat that stuff up – but not a peep. They looked up, and I swear, they went the othe
r way.’

Blair doesn’t agree with the film’s extreme rating, despite the nonstop sexual perversity. She perceives A Dirty Shame as blissful and innocent, not vulgar and explicit. ‘Why do so many people find this movie – and other John Waters movies – so offensive? There’s all this stuff on the Internet about a Christian embassy group thinking this is the devil’s work, and that these movies should never be seen or made. Why is it so offensive to people? It’s pretty joyous and harmless… and it’s coming from a place of such innocence.’

Knoxville rejoices in the NC-17 rating, though, he feels the rating was applied because of the current conservative mindset of the country, not because of the public ejaculations and full frontal nudity. ‘I think some people were a little disappointed, but I wasn’t. I’m glad to be in a John Waters film, especially if it’s NC-17. You hope for a naughty John Waters film,’ he says. ‘But I don’t think it would have received an NC-17 two years ago. We’re living in a very conservative time in America right now.’

Finally, I asked Waters if he attended any 12-step sex addiction meetings to prepare himself before he began writing the screenplay. He didn’t. ‘I felt that it would be condescending,’ he says. ‘But if I were a sex addict, I would definitely go to sex addiction meetings, and for the same reason that they do in this movie – someone’s going to slip!’

That’s John Waters for ya

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