Rats humping in the garbage. Sweaty pubes in close-up. A man masturbating with a coin-op washer. These are a few of John Waters favorite things, chronicles in his return-to-outrage flick, Pecker. With a lower budget and a more understanding distributor than he enjoyed on 1993’s Serial Mom, the auteur of the awful ups the ick factor, unleashing a host of new obsessions.
Pecker tells the story of a dweebish cute teen photographer (Ed Furlong), snapping madly away at his world, focusing on his sugar-freak sister, addled grandmother, and pissy girlfriend (Christina Ricci). After hanging the results in a local greasy spoon, he’s discovered by a New York art agent (Lili Taylor) who promotes him as the “humane Diane Arbus,” launching Pecker as the new darling of the art world.
Waters has always catalogued his loves on film, and Pecker adds more doozies than ever, including the savory wonders of something called pit beef, the fetish of the “Dutch oven,” and a showstopping phenomenon known as tea bagging. At a gay bar dubbed the Fudge Palace, Waters introduces the practice, in which rough-trade go-go dancers dangle and dunk their balls onto fat, bald patrons’ foreheads.
OUT: Tell me about tea bagging.
Waters: If you’ve ever had any kind of oral sex you’ve at least had a close call with tea bagging. I once saw somebody do it for a tip at the Atlantis [the real-life Baltimore gay bar rechristened as the Fudge Palace]. But they didn’t call it tea bagging so I don’t know if I made that up or heard somebody call it that.
Do you foresee it becoming a national craze?
It would be a lovely one. Although if you’re too militant a tea bagger, it must hurt. And if you’re the bottom in the tea-bag situation, it’s a fleeting moment. It’s hard to see where the satisfaction comes from.
You promote another fascinating practice in Pecker called Dutch oven. What’s that?
It’s when you’re in bed with your partner, and quickly, without permission, you pull up the covers over both your heads and hart. People are always telling me different dirty words and practices, and I try to put them in my movies.
In your films, you’ve always savored the ugliest things people eat, from the imitation grape soda drunk by Queen Carlotta in Desperate Living to the spam and cotton candy in Pecker. Why?
To me, the whole act of eating is repellent. I’m certainly not anorexic or anything, but I think eating should be done in private… like a bowel movement. We have no choice but to eat—I find instinct, in general, creepy.
Well at least you don’t have to eat something as repellent as pit beef, which you have one character selling. What is pit beef?
Outside of Baltimore very few people have heard of it. Within Maryland it ranks next to crab cakes. People love it. It’s like roast beef but fattier; big slabs of greasy meat they put barbeque shit on and sell in stands outside their houses. It’s actually illegal. That’s why they’re only open on Saturdays and Sundays, because the health department doesn’t work on weekends. There is a pit-beef underground here.
Speaking of beef, at the Fudge Palace we witness your first salute to naked criminal trade!
The real bar is right next to a prison. It’s the first place criminals can get jobs when they get out. So they have nude burglars and nude confidence men. Funny enough, the one day my parents came to the set was the day when Martha Plimpton [who plays Pecker’s sister] said the line “Come on down to Baltimore, the trade capital of the world.” My father started laughing, and I thought, He knows what trade it? I think he just thought it meant shipping.
You went for a nice double entendre with the title of the film as well. But I heard you originally wanted to go further by formalizing calling the movie John Waters’ Pecker. True?
We could have really pushed it and said, “Coming Soon: John Waters’ Pecker.” But I’m glad we didn’t. The movie is funny on its own: It isn’t smarmy, there aren’t any jokes about dicks in it. I just think pecker is a very funny word to say out loud.
But you do open the movie with a long slow pan of the shaft of the statue of George Washington.
That’s a famous old dirty joke in Baltimore. If you look at the Washington Statue from the east, his arm looks like a giant uncircumcised dick.
You continue your love affair with Baltimore in this movie. One character actually kisses the asphalt at the bus station when she returns from a trip to New York. Why the romance with the city?
Because I have an apartment in New York. If I had to live in Baltimore 52 weeks of the year I’d go out of my mind. But this is were my friends are, and the place still inspires me. It’s a city that isn’t impressed by anything else. If you try to act chic here you just look stupid,, and I find that refreshing.
You have probably included more gay subject matter than ever in this film. Why is that?
Because being gay is finally no big deal in a movie. Every Hollywood film has to have a gay character. We’re like Thelma Ritter. I thought I had to pervert that. So I have lesbians dancing for straight men and straight men dancing for gay men. In those kinds of clubs, the dancers who pretend they’re straight make the most money. And straight men always love lesbians. They just don’t like lesbians who say, “What the fuck are you looking at, asshole?” I also have the scene where a guy tries to explain to his parents, who see him tea bagging at a bar, that he’s not gay because the guys blow him. And then Martha Plimpton’s character is a trade had. If she wrote a book it would have to be called Women Who Love Straight Men Who Get Blown by Gay Men. I don’t think there’s been one of them in any movie before.
I also don’t think there’s been a film that fetishizes voting booths before. What’s the allure?
I vote religiously. But when I go into a voting booth I get confused. I feel like it’s a peep show and think dicks are going to come through glory holes when I pull the levers. I also have Pecker standing in a shopping bag in a voting booth. When I was 16, I heard that’s what all gay men used to do at Greyhound bus stations: go in a stall and stand in a shopping bag so people thought there was only one person in there.
Have you any other loves you’ve not yet exploited on film?
I’ll always have new obsessions. If don’t, I’ll have nothing to make movies about.