Sunday, 19 August 2007

An Apology to John Waters

The great American filmmaker was in London this week to promote the film of his stand-up act. He took to the stage at the National Film Theatre and was given the old NFT treatment, by which I mean the NFT interviewer was staggeringly condescending and rude. The auditorium was packed of course, with a good crowd right across the adult age range — the queue for returns was one of the longest I’ve seen there — but that of course meant nothing to the state-sponsored clown whose ‘welcome’ to John you simply won’t believe. He started by talking about a trashy UK TV show (How Clean is Your House) which John Waters couldn’t have heard about (and I’m sure couldn’t care less about) but Waters responded with a long and cleverly perverse definition of what ‘filth’ means to him. Then, drum roll for this one, the NFT interviewer said, in all seriousness, something along the lines of ‘Are you aware how famous this place is? We have had Jean-Luc Godard, John Huston, Satyajit Ray, Elia Kazan, Martin Scorsese (of course), David Lean and Akria Kurosawa here?”
What a way to welcome a VIP!
Everyone has a right to make mistakes, but ... come on! You've got John Waters sitting there. John Waters! The man who has fought for artistic and personal freedoms for decades with such spectacular boldness and with such wit and grace that he was welcomed onto The Simpsons and has become his hometown’s favourite son — and you think it is the right place and the right time to boast of your government’s past achievements?

John Waters seemed a little taken aback, said: “Sure, I wasn’t an idiot savant in Baltimore living in a trailer.”

The audience laughed.

England of course is the only major country which still censors John Waters’s films. The jolly censors cut scenes from Pink Flamingos every time the film’s distributors pay them thousands of pounds to ‘sit in judgement’ of it.

There has been an awful lot of good going on at the NFT in the last few months, and there are very good people who work there, (plus the bog-standard rude ushers who stand talking at the back and shush you when you tell them that the film has been playing for fifteen minutes and it is time to be quiet) and I will be writing good things about the NFT soon but I’m still reeling from the shock of last night’s visit and feeling ashamed of my fellow countryman. I felt duty bound to report.

Actually, to end on a more positive note, I should mention that the NFT book shop was well-stocked with signed copies of John Water's book, Crackpot; and they had at least one of his glossier, heavier (lesser) books, and they have an excellent range of Andy Warhol titles to back-up the simply breathtaking Warhol retrospective they've programmed. It was also good to see the three Warhol prints on display that they've borrowed in from the Coca Cola people.

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