A false friend means being betrayed by vocabulary. Writing open letters to unknown characters might be a reckless thing.

Illustration by 

False friends: 3. John Waters – O Production Company

In this section, Rubén Lardín sends an unasked for weekly missive to the stormy electrodynamical sea.

Mr Waters, what are you up to; I’m not sure if you’ll be able to hear me because I’m writing from a very long distance, from the Iberian Peninsula, a little black and furious dot that is far away from everything and so it feels and proud of it. If I look out of my window I can smell a spectre haunting Europe, not sure what type, so I go back inside and close the curtains quickly in case some kind of ideology dares entering my house. Then I see one of your films and any worries go out the window too.

I’ve heard you’ve stopped making movies due to size reasons, because films today have to be either colossal or home-made-like, there’s no middle way, so you have opted for staying away from the circuit and are devoting time to other things, like writing, something you always did and had great talent for, and touring performing some monologues, some talks, something which is right down your street because eloquence is your forte. Stand-up comedians’ success is a bit similar to that of bullfighters, although when it comes to failure is not as rewarding because there’s no eternal glory. But eternal glory is for serious people, and you’re more the joking kind.

One of the things that makes me feel so close to you is humor, and I’m not talking so much about sense of humour as of humour in itself, constant, a vehicle, philosophy and way of being. The fact you’re always in a good mood, that enormous quality. I don’t know if you’ve heard about that thing they call now the limits of humour, I guess you must have because you have pushed them quite often, you know that’s what they’re there for. Here the new trend is telling the joke after explaining it first, a very serious business, a way of depriving us from the unity of humour for us to scatter. This is not a trifle, man, not at all, we’re forgetting that we shouldn’t joke about humour. But the situation is strange: we cry out for freedom of expression but don’t seem to notice that it won’t be of any use to us without freedom of thought, and our thoughts are all over the place in memes, satisfying stories and little lapel ribbons. Today, we understand ‘freedom of expression’ as ‘expressing ourselves at all times,’ and thus, with all the racket we’ll never be able to listen to thought. I’m talking to you from Spain, I know what I’m saying.

At the end of the day, our need will always be to be understood. For that you have used errors, anomalies, you have proposed abnormality as an advantage. In your youth you reunited before your movie camera a bunch of monsters you identified with and through whom you wanted to change the world, making it a better place, but never changed them because singularity is a treasure, something to be protected from the elements. With that goal, in your work you have mixed everything, you have mixed genders, have diluted the sky in hell, and have handed out fantasies that satisfy all of our needs. Since as a man nothing human is alien to you, your proposal was to strip everything from its meaning in order to understanding it, hence the attraction you feel for killers that kill with taste and character, I guess, the call of those individuals that do evil well. With your lecherous and out of control films you take us out of our comfort bubble, you make the system explode from within knowing that is the only way of transforming it.

Your fantastic attacks towards the Catholic church, for instance, that fascinating, kitsch and plagiarist institution. If you didn’t know it inside out you wouldn’t be able to attack it with such care. I’ve read you wrote that anything beautiful in church took place before the Reformation, that it was Luther and Calvin who finished with that loony mythology that were the anorexics and bulimics of the time, delicious saints alienated in a perpetual ecstasy. Religion provides and maintains taboos, and taboos are picklocks to understand each other and all at once. That’s why you even premiered some of your films in churches, maybe that’s why you have so many parishioners and converted, not for anything was Disney inspired by Divine to create the villain in Little Mermaid. Religion made you discover what was forbidden, which is there for that, to be revealed, it encouraged your rebelliousness and that’s something priceless. Let’s thank it for it.

Wilde wrote that audiences are a lot more at ease when a mediocre speaker speaks to them, but the misunderstanding on bad taste has been very much talked about, so we won’t go on about it now. Another thing that makes me closer to you is that you hate TV; according to you it’s only funny for magnicides, when someone shoots the Pope. TV is cohesive, it makes people identical and it rejects differences, that’s why staying at home watching it is not life, life is on the streets, but if you decide to stay in it should be to read, you’ve said something like that at some point, and also that being rich is being able to buy any book without checking the price. This last point defines you very well, although people who don’t read prefer to quote that other sentence about if you get to someone’s house and s/he has no books, don’t fuck her/him. To be honest, I’ve got to say that some of the nicest people I’ve met in my life haven’t read a single book, but I know what you mean.

In the end, everything has a meaning, with or without books everything is explained as was explained by Buñuel, Pasolini, Genet, Russ Meyer, Herschell Gordon Lewis, Visconti, Fassbinder, Keneth Anger, los Kuchard, William Castle… Notice that half of the guys in that list are faggots. If you lived here, Nazario would be amongst your influences, I’ll talk to you about him one day. Nazario, who uses words with precision, says that no matter how gay you are you never stop being a faggot, something I would have liked being to be to enjoy the original privileges of the homosexual, which consisted in escaping a bit from biological tyranny, that hindrance. But I no longer know what faggot refers to these days. You have a delicate and fragile complexion and just the right amount of camp to, for instance, use lorgnettes, no more, but it’s clear that you’re a dandy. It’s easy for me to imagine you winding up a pocket watch, being a dandy, and after that eating a Dracula ice-cream, to refresh yourself, one thing has nothing to do with the other. Your elegance is no longer questioned because you have shown it very much, but for a while it surprised those who thought knew you because they had seen your films, for scenes like that one in which Divine ate a shit to become famous, something that many people do today, they devote their lives to it!

It’s essential for dandies to sport a not-quite-adult moustache. A thin and sinuous one, although yours isn’t so much a moustache as a line above the lip. Because you’re aristocratic the right way, as a parody, that’s why you use eyeliner in the same way that, I’m sure, the napkins in your house have a buttonhole so you can wear them on your shirts. An adult bib and a childish moustache sound like a winner. The moustache is besides a guarantee in its two uses: sometimes it certifies a dandy and others it gives away an impostor. Beards would be more complex. A beard is old or new, but never entirely adequate, because it’s a mask and a refuge, it’s believing yourself undecipherable for thinking you’re something, when behind a beard there will always be a beardless man, a naked man.

I’ve always seen you as an actionist, how about that, like those Viennese artists. Your mission was making us feel uneasy, freeing a rat in a plane, making films smelly, reeking of human beings, but also making them a party, and a party is by definition an attack. The behaviour model was, in many aspects, you. Apart from humour, the quality I admire the most amongst all your qualities is your absolute control of danger, and I guess that’s why your films are so comfortable to live in, because in them the scales are balanced exactly at the point in which sensibility and boldness meet. I have not much more to say and I don’t want you to pay any attention to me anyway. You have to protect yourself from people telling you how good you are, how well you do things, how much they like you. You have to protect yourself from people who want to annihilate you. What I would like is to wish you a very long life, one that has included everything.

Rubén Lardín