It was a fan’s wet dream: the godfather of filth himself, John Waters, taking over the Sydney Opera House’s Playhouse Theatre for a weekend to present eight of his favourite films, handily paired up as four ‘Double Features From Hell’.
The Star Observer attended two sessions — Saturday evening’s ‘Goddess’ and Sunday’s ‘Sex’ — and Waters didn’t disappoint, introducing these camp classics with relish and answering audience questions after each film.
Saturday’s Goddess session was a particular treat, with Waters’ long-professed love of difficult women on show. First came Boom!, Joseph Losey’s disastrous 1968 Tennessee WIlliams adaptation.
Starring Elizabeth Taylor as the richest woman in the world and Richard Burton as the Angel of Death visiting her on her isolated clifftop manor, it was a ridiculous, overacted mess.
The audience howled at poor Taylor’s commitment to lines like “Monkey. Off. Terrace!” and “Pain! Injection!”, all delivered to her long-suffering army of butlers and maids.
As Waters gleefully said after the credits rolled, he couldn’t understand how it ever got made — although rumours that cast and crew enjoyed morning cocktails each day on set went some way to explaining the dismal outcome.
Just as unintentionally hilarious was Fuego, a 1969 Argentinian sexploitation film starring Isabel Sarli’s mighty bosom. Waters introduced it as “wonderfully politically incorrect”, and he wasn’t wrong.
Sarli plays Laura, a woman struck down with nymphomania, unable to quench her thirst for men despite the presence of a loving husband at home. She even jumps the fence and hooks up with her maid (their sex scenes are particularly bizarre, as the shrewish older woman tickles a nude and nubile young Sarli with a feather and tenderly licks her inner thigh).
Special mention should be made of the film’s frequent awkward kissing scenes — Sarli spends almost half her screen time locked in uncomfortable embrace with a variety of men, their pursed lips smashed together for minutes at a time.
After Laura’s ‘condition’ is confirmed via a thorough fingering from several concerned male doctors and she’s pleading with her husband to kill her to put a stop to all this nymphomania, you can see why Waters lists Fuego as one of his favourite films — and as a strong influence on his muse, Divine.
Sunday’s ‘Sex’ session started with what Waters described as one of the weirdest documentaries ever made, Robinson Devor’s 2007 film Zoo. This jaw-droppingly sympathetic documentary is about a group of men in America who have one thing in common: their zoophilia, or attraction to animals.
The men’s secret lives, meeting up at an isolated country farm to have sex with horses, is exposed when one of them dies in one such encounter. Suddenly, their story is front-page news across the country.
It was an odd film, with arthouse pretensions that ultimately detracted from the unbelievable story, but as all good documentaries should, it provided an insight into a hitherto unseen world.
As one elderly woman in the audience told Waters in the post-screening Q&A, “My daughter bought me a ticket and I didn’t want to come — but that was really sensitive”.
The mood brightened with Waters’ final pick for the festival, his own most recent film, 2004’s underrated A Dirty Shame. This sex addiction comedy features Tracey Ullman, Johnny Knoxville and Selma Blair at their comic best, plus one of the all-time-great lines in Waters’ oeuvre: “Someone left a dildo in my neighbour’s wishing well!”