MR. KNOW-IT-ALL by John Waters
Kirkus Star


The Tarnished Wisdom of a Filth Elder
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An exuberantly transgressive American filmmaker gets down, dirty, and weird about life, art, and career.

In this collection of loosely connected, photo-illustrated essays, Waters (Make Trouble, 2017, etc.) ponders his improbable state of respectability after years on the artistic fringe. He begins by reflecting on his first major Hollywood success, Hairspray (1988). The film catapulted Waters, along with such colorful actors as Divine and Mink Stole, from the world of underground filmmaking to at least the edges of the mainstream. The author’s newfound status as Hollywood insider allowed him to direct such A-list celebrities as Johnny Depp and Kathleen Turner and make films that enjoyed marginal success in the 1990s. After several box office failures that included Cecil B. Demented (2000), a film about an insane movie director who kidnaps an A-list actress to star in an underground film, and A Dirty Shame (2004), a “sexploitation satire” that he “was amazed got made at all,” Waters cheerfully slid back into the gutter to cash in on his fall from mainstream grace. Waters discusses everything from his wide-ranging musical tastes, which include the Nutty Squirrels, jazz vocalists who predated Alvin and the Chipmunks, to his latter-day yippie political leanings. He also shares his fantasies of his perfect “Stalinist chic” home and dispenses remarkably sound advice on how to invest in art made by monkeys. A lifelong “drug enthusiast,” Waters tells the story of an LSD trip he took at age 70. Aware of—and perhaps reveling in—the gruesomeness of his own mortality, he includes a letter to his “son,” a plastic baby doll named Bill, and a meditation on a “lunatic resurrection” after death as the “Duke of Dirt.” Comic and rude but always compulsively readable, Waters' book demonstrates that he is not only first among Filth Elders; he is also a keen observer of American culture.

Wickedly smart and consistently laugh-out-loud funny.

Pub Date: May 21st, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-374-21496-8
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2019


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