Sold on Waters


John Waters wasn't the most anxious person at last night's premiere of his new movie, the NC-17-rated A Dirty Shame.

His father was.

"I'm waiting very nervously," John Waters Sr. said, as he waited in the lobby of the Senator Theatre for his son's movie to begin. "I'm told it's raunchy, but it's funny. I'm told you laugh your way through it. That's what I'm hoping."

By the time the movie had played for five minutes, the elder Waters was doubtless reassured; everybody in the theater seemed to be laughing - loudly. And since the 900-seat theater was sold out - which translates into about $80,000 raised for AIDS Action Baltimore - that created quite a din.

Once again, Baltimore's favorite black sheep brought a touch of Hollywood glamour to his hometown last night. Floodlights shot into the sky, a red carpet ran alongside York Road, limousines pulled up and disgorged bona-fide Hollywood stars (including Johnny Knoxville, sporting a red corduroy jacket, black shirt and a priest's collar).

All this for a film about a band of marauding sex addicts seeking to take over Harford Road. Only in Baltimore, hon.

(Literally, only in Baltimore. Unlike Waters' most recent movies, this one is opening in the director's hometown before it premieres in New York and Los Angeles. Those cities have to wait until next week while the Senator will screen it starting Friday.)

A Dirty Shame stars Tracey Ullman (who couldn't make it for last night's premiere) as an ordinary Baltimore mom who, after being hit on the head in a traffic accident, turns into a sex addict.

Knoxville plays a tow-truck driver who's something of a sexual messiah, while Selma Blair (who also was present at last night's celebration) plays Ullman's daughter, a stripper with fake breasts larger than her head ("My whole character was just a sight gag," she explained).

Few members of the audience knew what to expect, but no one except the director's father seemed apprehensive. For John Waters fans, the fact that the movie was rated NC-17, and thus was declared strictly off limits for children, proved a selling point.

"I'm expecting to be extremely appalled," said Engel Tomakin, whose boyfriend, Lance Baldwin, had a part in the movie. "But in a good way."

Added Baldwin, "I would expect nothing less from John."

Lauraville resident Edwin Wieczorkowski Jr., known to his friends as Mr. Wizard, has a small part in the film. As he waited in the theater lobby, he seemed unconcerned that the NC-17 rating might, in the weeks to come, prevent his 12-year-old daughter, Tiffany, from seeing her dad on the big screen.

"I'll get her into the movie," he said before the event started. "She looks like she's 16."

Both Knoxville and Blair, who took a few minutes yesterday afternoon to talk about the film, gushed over the opportunity to work with Waters. Both said they agreed to be in the film even before they knew precisely what it would be about.

"I just liked having lunch with him," said Knoxville. "To be in his film is, like, more than a dream."

Agreed Blair, "I would definitely be part of the John Waters camp, if he wanted me again."

Sprinkled among the crowd at the Senator were about 100 people who acted in the film. Among their ranks were 66-year-old Anne Hensler, a retired Roland Park Country School English teacher, who appears in a scene at a nursing home that should make anyone who sees it never listen to "The Hokey-Pokey" the same way again.

"It was the opportunity of a lifetime," said Hensler, with apparent sincerity.

As for Waters? The beaming director said he hopes the Harford Road neighborhoods depicted in the film serve as an inspiration for neighborhoods throughout Baltimore.

"There are neighborhoods everywhere just begging to be erotic," he said. "Everywhere is sexy. Sometimes it just has to be encouraged."

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