TORONTO - Traditionally, the idea behind film festivals is to introduce audiences to wondrous works of uncommercial cinema filled with provocative ideas from far-flung lands.
Obscurity and profundity aren't essential in that mix, but film-festival movies are expected to have a measure of quality. It's kind of a rule.
Don't tell that to Baltimore auteur John Waters, though, who a little over a week ago foisted the legendarily awful Liz Taylor-Richard Burton 1968 camp indulgence, "Boom!" onto the 23rd annual Toronto International Film Festival, North America's most significant orgy of movies.
"You applaud me now, but will you applaud in 112 minutes?"
Waters said, greeting the crowd of about 400, adding, "This may be the biggest audience this film ever had."
Waters' appearance was part of the festival's "Dialogues" program, in which directors discuss the works of other filmmakers - generally, films with a redeeming value or two, unlike "Boom!"
It was a busy day for Waters, who in addition to subverting film-fest etiquette also premiered his latest cinematic venture, "Pecker," infinitely more palatable than "Boom!" to a wildly enthusiastic crowd of around 2,000. Not bad for a guy who started his career making films that shocked audiences so badly he probably wouldn't have been allowed into a film festival as a moviegoer.
Worst things first. "Boom!" boasts a screenplay by no less than Tennessee Williams, who adapted his play "The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore." Taylor plays the world's wealthiest - and most annoying - woman, who is visited on her private island by Richard Burton's allegedly enigmatic poet.
Williams' shockingly stupid dialogue eventually disassembles into sheer pretentious babble, as Taylor veers pointlessly back and forth from something almost recognizably human to epic petulant hysteria.
Taylor says, "Without champagne, my origins are a mystery to me." And, "What's human or inhuman is not for human decision." And, "I live in the naturalness of nature." Director Joseph Losey struggles mightily to give the film the sort of hilariously self-important "artistic" tone that could only have come the year after the Summer of Love.
Nonetheless, Waters is an unabashed fan, saying, "I show it to every person I think I'm falling in love with - if they hate it, I don't talk to them anymore."
He added that he actually met Taylor last year at her Labor Day cookout. "I told her, 'I love "Boom!" ' and she got mad - she treated me like a stalker,"
Waters confessed - or was it boasted? "She didn't ask me back this Labor Day."
Waters said that Williams' play was revived once, for one evening back in the '60s, in Baltimore, with Tallulah Bankhead and Tab Hunter. "My parents didn't take me, which I consider child abuse. It was like a gay Beatles concert - every time Tallulah said a line, the whole balcony screamed."
jTC Later, Waters was joined by star Edward Furlong for a showing of "Pecker," which had its American premiere Thursday at the Senator Theatre. "Pecker" is the story of an ebullient Baltimore photographer whose snapshots of life in Hampden become the toast of the New York art world, much to the consternation of his friends and family, the subjects of his photos.
In keeping with Waters' oeuvre, there are some comically shocking moments - his writer/director credit is shown over the image of two humping rats. But the film is a generally cheerful affair, not the kind of bizarre, angry work that first earned the filmmaker his reputation (though, certainly, his good-natured side has shown through in earlier films like "Hair Spray" and "Crybaby").
An audience member asked about the change in tone in Waters' films. "I'm a pretty happy man, so why not try to reflect that?" Waters asked the crowd. "To some, 'Pink Flamingos' was sweet. People have been saying [he's gone mainstream] since 'Female Trouble.' No one eats [excrement], so if that's going mainstream, count me in."
Pub Date: 9/20/98