I don’t know how I made it to 100 of these without talking about John Waters but I guess that is the beautiful contradiction of Baltimore’s favorite son. Waters became an American institution by reveling in bad taste, hard drugs, rock and roll, and sexual predilections that I think escaped even Alfred Kinsey. What was peculiar was what happened after he made his name in trash. He at first made marvelously self-effacing parodies of melodrama and ’50s musicals, then skewered the middle-class audiences who had turned movies like “Female Trouble” and “Pink Flamingos” into niche culture. He then made “Serial Mom,” “A Dirty Shame,” and best of all “Cecil B. Demented,” in which the American audiences who politely tolerated Waters were the victims of maniac killers and sex addicts.
“Cecil B. Demented” may lack some of the immediacy of Waters’ early experiments in transgression, but it’s one of his most personal statements. Naturally the reviews were mixed and it bombed. Let’s take a fond look back at a time when offending people was a simpler task and less of a cluster headache of obstinate and willful political contradictions. A time before Infowars, Ricky Gervais, and irony poisoning. A time when images still had shocking power. When the worst was yet to come.