I was at a meeting in Baltimore yesterday. A small workshop hosted by my boss and her two colleagues. As part of a four day annual meeting of one of our sister associations, it marked the opening day of the meeting and attendance was, not surprisingly, ridiculously small. These meetings are like conferences, so the attendees submit papers to present at the meeting, or workshops, or act as panelists for other discussions.
I scanned the program given to me in my token canvas tote bag – the staple of the non-profit – and didn’t find much I would have been interested in attending. It looked as though many of the academics there were going to present on the usual subjects… inequality, violence, sexual identity and so forth, that puts a very disconnecting academic spin on real world topics. I got a laugh reading the title of one… “Social Inequality at Luxury Hotels.” That certainly is specific. But I did find one I was interested in attending, it’s subject being the films of the wonderfully outrageous director, John Waters. We’re in Baltimore, which might be the only obvious link to the meeting and so something like this being discussed in our discipline, as opposed to a room full of film critics and art students, isn’t all that surprising.
He came to mind on the drive up, just as I was circling around downtown for a decently priced parking garage. His style of parodied life could still survive in the imagination of someone living in Baltimore, as opposed to say, New York City, which has become gentrified and cleaned up to the point of being almost robbed of that great culture it was so well known for at one time. “The Mecca and Hub” to be exact, according to Matthew Lilliard’s character in SLC Punk. In Baltimore, their is still that grim urban setting that breeds the kind of paradoxically bohemian parody that John Waters made his career on. A world full of serial killing suburban mothers, sensitive gang leaders, and guerrilla filmgoers. He’s a great subject of study, too, since he never had formal training before breaking into filmmaking. Editing, and other techniques were completely lost and developed more naturally, later on. And the films themselves were centered on plots that were meant to be outrageous. Maybe childishly so at first, like the movie where Divine actually eats shit, but eventually, with a real sense of what it reflected about the world they saw around them: the true comedy. I figured there was a chance he was invited to this meeting, and there’s an even better chance he might attend!
As we were sitting in the room waiting for participants of our workshop to begin, my boss and her colleagues had been browsing the program, noting that John Water’s film, Cry Baby, was scheduled for screening later that night. My boss said she might watch it if she was awake (it was schedule for a 9pm showing) and she and the other women asked whether it was a good movie, I quickly assured them that “It is!”
“Well… if you like John Waters’s humor.”
“I do!” said another. “Plus, it ain’t too bad to be looking at Johnny Depp.”
The other women synchronized their agreement with this, smiling and nodding.
Unfortunately, I missed the discussion on John Waters that followed our workshop, having gone to a working lunch with my boss, coworker, and colleague where I ate an overpriced bowl of soup and wondered about the suspicious waiter who gave the impression that we were inconveniencing him.