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John Waters teases ‘Polyester’ reissue

Baltimore native claims no children were hurt making his films

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Polyester movie, gay news, Washington Blade

John Waters, Divine and Tab Hunter on the set of ‘Polyester’ in 1981. The camp classic will be reissued in a deluxe DVD and Blu-ray edition by The Criterion Collection in 2019. (Blade archives photo courtesy New Line Cinema)

“Polyester” is the next John Waters movie that will be released on DVD and Blu-ray and the Baltimore-based filmmaker is hoping an updated version of his Odorama card will go along with it.

“I want to add the 11th Odorama odor: Wig odor,” Waters told an audience in New York City at a Q&A last month. “glue and sweat.”

Appearing at the IFC Center for sold-out screenings of “Hairspray” and “Female Trouble,” Waters confirmed that “Polyester” will be restored and distributed in 2019 as part of The Criterion Collection, following re-releases of “Multiple Maniacs” and “Female Trouble.”

“They are going to do ‘Polyester’ next year, so I am excited about that,” Waters said. “They are a Class A company. I think they do an absolutely beautiful job.”

“Polyester,” starring Divine and Tab Hunter (sadly, both now dead), tells the story of suburban house frau Francine Fishpaw (Divine), stuck in a dreary marriage, and how her life changes after she meets dashing Todd Tomorrow (Hunter). Filmed in Greater Lutherville for $300,000 and released in 1981, it was part of Waters’ suburbia-based “Trash Trilogy,” along with “Hairspray” and “Cry Baby.”

“Polyester” became known for its Odorama card, which contained 10 scents that movie goers could scratch and sniff as they watched. They ranged from air freshener and roses to smelly sneakers and flatulence. Inspired by the Smell-O-Vision device from the 1960 movie “Scent of Mystery,” the Odorama card was touted with the lines: “It’ll blow your nose!” and “Smelling is Believing.”

Other original smells were: model airplane glue, pizza, gasoline, skunk, natural gas and new car smell. Glue was taken off the card when a LaserDisc version was released.

“Polyester” received positive reviews from critics such as The New York Times’ Janet Maslin.

“Ordinarily, Mr. Waters is not everyone’s cup of tea, but ‘Polyester’ … is not Mr. Waters’ ordinary movie,” Maslin wrote. “This time, the comic vision is so controlled and steady that Mr. Waters need not rely so heavily on the grotesque touches that make his other films such perennial favorites on the weekend Midnight Movie circuit. Here’s one that can just as well be shown in the daytime.”

Known as the “Pope of Trash” and “Sultan of Sleaze,” the openly gay filmmaker came to New York to celebrate the 30th anniversary of “Hairspray” and the 2018 re-release of “Female Trouble.” He had appeared the week before at a “Hairspray” screening and cast reunion in Los Angeles.

At the New York event, moderated by the entertainment writer Michael Musto, Waters was joined by Leslie Ann Powers, the actress who played Penny Pingleton; Joann Havrilla, who played Prudence Pingleton; and Holter Graham, who played I. Q. Jones. Waters said he hadn’t seen Powers in decades and thought she was hiding in the “‘Hairspray’ witness protection program.”

The filmmaker said “Hairspray,” which follows teenager Tracy Turnblad’s efforts to integrate a TV dance show in the 1960s, is “the gift that keeps on giving,” because there have been so many versions of it.

“I say it’s radical because it snuck up on Middle America,” Waters said. “Even racists like it. I’ve been paid to write the sequel two times. There’s been talk of ‘Hairspray on Ice,’ ‘Hairspray in Space.’ What’s left?”

The running joke in the movie is that the 300-pound drag actor Divine, who died in 1988 and played Tracy’s mother Edna, is actually a man but no one knows it except the audience.

In real life, Divine “had no desire to be a woman,” Waters said. “He wanted to be Godzilla. …We created Divine to scare hippies.”

Born Harris Glenn Milstead, Divine off-screen was nothing like Divine onscreen, Waters noted. “He was a kind, gentle man who was a pothead and liked to eat.”

Though he and Divine were good friends, Waters said, Divine eventually wanted to do more than John Waters movies, especially after the scene in “Pink Flamingos” where he ate dog poop.

“He got weary of being with me … because people couldn’t get over the whole eating-shit thing,” Waters said. “He got so sick of talking about that. … He wanted to get away from me and do things without me.”

During a separate Q&A session following the “Female Trouble” screening, Waters reported that none of the child actors in his movies was traumatized by the experience.

“All the kids in my movies turned out fine,” he said. “The little girl that I locked in a refrigerator (in Desperate Living)? She’s fine. … There was nothing weird or anything. They memorized their lines. They’re fine.”

“Female Trouble” focuses on Dawn Davenport (Divine), who turns to a life of crime after she didn’t get cha cha heels for Christmas, kills her daughter Taffy and ends up frying in the electric chair.

Waters said he originally wanted Divine to play both the mother and daughter but concluded it wouldn’t work because of Divine’s age. Instead, he had Divine play both the mother and the father, which means Divine rapes himself.

The famous line delivered by the late Edith Massey: “the world of the heterosexual is a sick and boring life,” had a double purpose aside from its comedic punch, Waters said.

“That was market testing. I wanted to see how many gay people were in the audience.”

Ever the name dropper, Waters said he loves the director Ingmar Bergman because “he had the first puke scene.” He said he met Elizabeth Taylor toward the end of her life and “she looked like Divine.” He said he considered casting Roseanne Barr as the lead in “Serial Mom,” back when she was “a complete liberal,” but eventually chose Kathleen Turner.

Waters said he used to visit courtrooms during criminal trials but can’t anymore “because people recognize me.” He disclosed that Dawn Davenport’s character was inspired in part by Alice Crimmins, a New York woman and Casey Anthony forerunner who was convicted of killing her two children in 1965.

Musto said he had a treat for Waters. “Big surprise,” he said. “Alice is here with us tonight!”

The conversation eventually came down, as it often does, to cha cha heels and Christmas.

Musto asked Waters if the dialogue about them — “Those aren’t the right kind. I told you cha cha heels, black ones!” and “Good girls don’t wear cha cha heels” — aren’t the most quoted lines from a John Waters movie.

Waters said the scene in which the Christmas tree falls over on Dawn’s mother was inspired by a time when a Christmas tree fell on his grandmother.

“I remember the handyman screaming, the maid crying and me being, ‘Is my present hurt?’ She wasn’t injured, but I was obsessed by it.”

He said a lot of his fans seem to have stories about falling Christmas trees.

“It’s usually dogs or liquor.”

Waters said his family always had real trees when he was growing up, never artificial, and his mother frowned on those who decorated with multi-colored lights.

“She was all white lights,” he said. “She would go around the neighborhood and look in windows” and make disparaging remarks about families with multi-colored lights.

Waters marvels that his movies are so embraced today since mainstream studios shunned them initially.

The Criterion Collection, which will distribute “Polyester,” is affiliated with Warner Brothers, one of the largest entertainment companies in America.

“Warner Brothers distributes all of mine now,” Waters said. “Who would have imagined?”

More John Waters fun!

Polyester, gay news, Washington Blade

Michael Musto, left, with John Waters in New York on July 27. (Photo by Ed Gunts)

He’s no longer making new movies but there are still ways to enjoy the John Waters sensibility.

John Waters: Indecent Exposure,” billed as the “first major retrospective of Baltimore native John Waters’ visual art,’ opens Oct. 7 at the Baltimore Museum of Art (10 Art Museum Drive, Baltimore) and runs through Jan. 6. The show will “examine the unapologetic cultural force’s influential career through more than 160 pieces of his work dating back to the early 1990s.” Details at artbma.org.

Waters makes his annual trek to the Birchmere (3701 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria) on Thursday, Dec. 20 for “A John Waters Christmas,” his comedy stand-up show. Tickets are $55. Details at birchmere.com.

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Rodriquez scores historic win at otherwise irrelevant Golden Globes

Award represents a major milestone for trans visibility

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Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, on right, and Billy Porter in 'Pose.' (Photo courtesy of FX)

HOLLYWOOD – Despite its continuing status as something of a pariah organization in Hollywood, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has managed to cling to relevance in the wake of last night’s behind-closed-doors presentation of its 79th Annual Golden Globe Awards by sole virtue of having bestowed the prize for “Best Leading Actress in a Television Series – Drama” on Michaela Jaé Rodriguez for her work in the final season of “Pose” – making her the first transgender performer to win a Golden Globe.

The ceremony took place as a private, no-press-or-audience event in which winners were revealed via a series of tweets from the Golden Globes Twitter account. No celebrities were present (not even the nominees or winners), although actress Jamie Lee Curtis participated by appearing in a video in which she pronounced her continuing loyalty to the HFPA – without mention of the  longstanding issues around diversity and ethical practices, revealed early in 2021 by a bombshell Los Angeles Times report, that have led to an nearly industry-wide boycott of the organization and its awards as well as the cancellation of the annual Golden Globes broadcast by NBC for the foreseeable future.

While the Golden Globes may have lost their luster for the time being, the award for Rodriquez represents a major milestone for trans visibility and inclusion in the traditionally transphobic entertainment industry, and for her part, the actress responded to news of her win with characteristic grace and good will.

Posting on her Instagram account, the 31-year old actress said: 

“OMG OMGGG!!!! @goldenglobes Wow! You talking about sickening birthday present! Thank you!

“This is the door that is going to Open the door for many more young talented individuals. They will see that it is more than possible. They will see that a young Black Latina girl from Newark New Jersey who had a dream, to change the minds others would WITH LOVE. LOVE WINS.

“To my young LGBTQAI babies WE ARE HERE the door is now open now reach the stars!!!!!”

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As You Are Bar and the importance of queer gathering spaces

New bar/restaurant poised to open in 2022

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As You Are Bar had a pop-up venue at Capital Pride's "Colorful Fest" block party in October. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

More than just a watering hole: As You Are Bar is set to be the city’s newest queer gathering place where patrons can spill tea over late-morning cappuccinos as easily as they can over late-night vodka-sodas.

Co-owners and founders Jo McDaniel and Rachel Pike built on their extensive experience in the hospitality industry – including stints at several gay bars – to sign a lease for their new concept in Barracks Row, replacing what was previously District Soul Food and Banana Café. In a prime corner spot, they are seeking to bring together the disparate colors of the LGBTQ rainbow – but first must navigate the approval process (more on that later).

The duo decided on this Southeast neighborhood locale to increase accessibility for “the marginalized parts of our community,” they say, “bringing out the intersectionality inherent in the queer space.”

Northwest D.C., they explain, not only already has many gay bar options, but is also more difficult to get to for those who don’t live within walking distance. The Barracks Row location is right by a Metro stop, “reducing pay walls.” Plus, there, “we are able to find a neighborhood to bring in a queer presence that doesn’t exist today.”

McDaniel points out that the area has a deep queer bar history. Western bar Remington’s was once located in the area, and it’s a mere block from the former Phase 1, the longest-running lesbian bar, which was open from 1971-2015.

McDaniel and Pike hope that As You Are Bar will be an inclusive space that “welcomes anyone of any walk of life that will support, love, and celebrate the mission of queer culture. We want people of all ages, gender, sexual identity, as well as drinkers and non-drinkers, to have space.”

McDaniel (she/her) began her career at Apex in 2005 and was most recently the opening manager of ALOHO. Pike (she/they) was behind the bar and worked as security at ALOHO, where the two met.

Since leaving ALOHO earlier this year, they have pursued the As You Are Bar project, first by hosting virtual events during the pandemic, and now in this brick-and-mortar space. They expressed concern that receiving the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) liquor license approval and the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, or ANC, approval will be a long and expensive process.

They have already received notice that some neighbors intend to protest As You Are Bar’s application for the “tavern” liquor license that ABRA grants to serve alcohol and allow for live entertainment (e.g. drag shows). They applied for the license on Nov. 12, and have no anticipated opening date, estimating at least six months. If ABRA and the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board give final approval, the local ANC 6B and nearby residents can no longer protest the license until the license comes up for renewal.

Until approval is given, they continue physical buildout (including soundproofing) and planning their offerings. If the license is approved, ABRA and the ABC Board can take action against As You Are Bar, like any bar, at any time if they violate the terms of the license or create a neighborhood disturbance that violates city laws such as the local noise ordinance.  In the kitchen, the duo snagged Chef Nina Love to develop the menu. Love will oversee café-style fare; look out for breakfast sandwiches making an appearance all the way until close. They will also have baked goods during the day.

McDaniel and Pike themselves will craft the bar menu. Importantly, they note, the coffee bar will also serve until close. There will be a full bar as well as a list of zero-proof cocktails. As with their sourcing, they hope to work with queer-, minority-, and women-owned businesses for everything not made in-house.

Flexible conceptually, they seek to grow with their customer base, allowing patrons to create the culture that they seek.

Their goal is to move the queer space away from a focus on alcohol consumption. From book clubs, to letter-writing, to shared workspaces, to dance parties, they seek an all-day, morning-to-night rhythm of youth, families, and adults to find a niche. “We want to shift the narrative of a furtive, secretive, dark gay space and hold it up to the light,” they say. “It’s a little like The Planet from the original L Word show,” they joke.

Pike notes that they plan on working closely with SMYAL, for example, to promote programming for youth. Weekend potential activities include lunch-and-learn sessions on Saturdays and festive Sunday brunches.

The café space, to be located on the first floor, will have coffeehouse-style sofas as well as workstations. A slim patio on 8th Street will hold about six tables.

Even as other queer bars have closed, they reinforce that the need is still present. “Yes, we can visit a café or bar, but we always need to have a place where we are 100 percent certain that we are safe, and that our security is paramount. Even as queer acceptance continues to grow, a dedicated queer space will always be necessary,” they say.

To get there, they continue to rally support of friends, neighbors, and leaders in ANC6B district; the ANC6B officials butted heads with District Soul Food, the previous restaurant in the space, over late-night noise and other complaints. McDaniel and Pike hope that once nearby residents and businesses understand the important contribution that As You Are Bar can make to the neighborhood, they will extend their support and allow the bar to open.

AYA, gay news, Washington Blade
Rachel Pike and Jo McDaniel signed a lease for their new concept in Barracks Row. (Photo courtesy Pike and McDaniel)
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Need a list-minute gift idea?

Books, non-profit donations make thoughtful choices

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‘Yes, Daddy’ by Jonathan Parks-Ramage is the story of a young man with dying dreams of fame and fortune, who schemes to meet an older man.

You knew this was coming.

You knew that you were going to have to finish your holiday shopping soon but it snuck up on you, didn’t it? And even if you’re close to being done, there are always those three or five people who are impossible to buy for, right? Remember this, though: books are easy to wrap and easy to give, and they last a while, too. So why not head to the bookstore with your Christmas List and look for these gifts.

And if you still have people to shop for, why not make a donation to a local non-profit in their name? A list of D.C.-area suggestions follows.

BOOKS: NONFICTION

If there’s about to be a new addition to your family, wrapping up “Queer Stepfamilies: The path to Social and Legal Recognition” by Katie L. Acosta would be a good thing. In this book, the author followed forty LGBTQ families to understand the joys, pitfalls, and legalities of forming a new union together. It can’t replace a lawyer, but it’s a good overview.

For the parent who wants to ensure that their child grows up with a lack of bias, “Raising LGBTQ Allies” by Chris Tompkins is a great book to give. It’s filled with methods to stop bullying in its tracks, to be proactive in having That Conversation, and how to be sure that the next generation you’re responsible for becomes responsible in turn. Wrap it up with “The Healing Otherness Handbook” by Stacee L. Reicherzer, Ph.D., a book that helps readers to deal with bullying by finding confidence and empowerment.

If there’s someone on your gift list who’s determined to get “fit” in the coming year, then give “The Secret to Superhuman Strength” by Alison Bechdel this holiday. Told in graphic-novel format (comics, basically), it’s the story of searching for self-improvement and finding it in a surprising place.

So why not give a little nostalgia this year by wrapping up “A Night at the Sweet Gum Head” by Martin Padgett? It’s the tale of disco, drag, and drugs in the 1970s (of course!) in Atlanta, with appearances by activists, politics, and people who were there at that fabulous time. Wrap it up with “After Francesco” by Brian Malloy, a novel set a little later – in the mid-1980s in New York City and Minneapolis at the beginning of the AIDS crisis.

The LGBTQ activist on your gift list will want to read “The Case for Gay Reparations” by Omar G. Encarnacion. It’s a book about acknowledgment, obligation on the part of cis citizens, and fixing the pain that homophobia and violence has caused. Wrap it up with “Trans Medicine: The Emergence and Practice of Treating Gender” by Stef M. Shuster, a look at trans history that may also make your giftee growl.

FICTION

Young readers who have recently transitioned will enjoy reading “Both Sides Now” by Peyton Thomas. It’s a novel about a high school boy with gigantic dreams and the means to accomplish them all. Can he overcome the barriers that life gives him? It’s debatable… Pair it with “Can’t Take That Away” by Steven Salvatore, a book about two nonbinary students and the troubles they face as they fall in love.

The thriller fan on your list will be overjoyed to unwrap “Yes, Daddy” by Jonathan Parks-Ramage. It’s the story of a young man with dying dreams of fame and fortune, who schemes to meet an older, more accomplished man with the hopes of sparking his failing career. But the older man isn’t who the younger thinks he is, and that’s not good. Wrap it up with “Lies with Man” by Michael Nava, a book about a lawyer who agrees to be counsel for a group of activists. Good so far, right? Until one of them is accused of being involved in a deadly bombing.

For the fan of Southern fiction, you can’t go wrong when you wrap up “The Tender Grave” by Sheri Reynolds. It’s the tale of two sisters, one homophobic, the other lesbian, and how they learn to forgive and re-connect.

NON-PROFIT GIVING

Like nonprofit organizations throughout the country, D.C.-area LGBTQ supportive nonprofit groups have told the Blade they continue to rebuild amid the coronavirus pandemic, which disrupted their fundraising efforts while increasing expenses, at least in part by prompting more people to come to them for help.

This holiday season, if you’re looking for a thoughtful gift, consider making a donation to one of our local LGBTQ non-profit organizations in someone else’s name. This list is by no means exhaustive, but a good place to start your research.

Contributions to the LGBTQ supportive nonprofit organizations can be made via the websites of these local organizations:

• Blade Foundation, which funds local scholarships and fellowships for queer student journalists, bladefoundation.org

• DC Center, our local community center that operates a wide range of programming,  thedccenter.org/donate

Food & Friends, which delivers meals to homebound patients, foodandfriends.org

HIPS, which advances the health rights and dignity of those impacted by sex work and drugs, hips.org

• SMYAL, which advocates for queer youth, smyal.org

Wanda Alston Foundation, which offers shelter and support for LGBTQ youth, wandaalstonfoundation.org

• Whitman-Walker Health, the city’s longtime LGBTQ-inclusive health care provider, whitmanwalkerimpact.org

Casa Ruby, which provides shelter and services to youth in need, casaruby.org

• Us Helping Us, which helps improve the health of communities of color and works to reduce the impact of HIV/AIDS on the Black community, ushelpingus.org/donate

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