John Water’s Film Series Takes First Stab with “Serial Mom”

Trashy, vulgar, spontaneous. These words and more describe the films of John Waters, who has been one of the most cult friendly directors since he first gained popularity in the 1970s.  FIlms like “Multiple Maniacs” and “Pink Flamingos,” Waters was known for highlighting counterculture with an independent and loving spirit, which soon gained him a dedicated following.

Forty years later and Waters now spends most of his time making appearances and going on the road with various storytelling series. The latest is “A John Water’s Christmas,” which comes to Richmond’s Byrd Theater on Dec. 20 and is hosted by   Chop Suey Books and Movie Club Richmond.

In preparation for the event, both companies have teamed up to curate the “John Waters’ Film Series,” where a film of his is shown once a month in various locally-owned Richmond theaters until Waters arrives in December.

Last Monday, the series began with the horror comedy “Serial Mom,” which is one of two films directed by Waters produced within the Hollywood system.

“We can’t imagine doing this without showing the movies,” said Andrew Blossom, one of the organizers for Movie Club Richmond. “We can begin the experience early by just celebrating his films.”

Blossom and his partner Anna Wittel started the movie club four years ago to serve as a repertory theater of sorts. They show a variety of films, ranging from older cult classics like “The Fly” to newer favorites like “Oldboy.”

“Movie Club is a little bit of everything, we try to have it not be one thing,” Blossom said.

This John Waters film series came about from Blossom and Ward Tefft, who work together at Chop Suey books. After they managed to bring Waters to Richmond two years ago, they decided to do it again, while taking the opportunity to celebrate his work and introduce Waters to people who may never have heard of the director.

“His name is one that is fading, he’s not as relevant to the younger crowd as he should be,” Tefft said. “Even for the older crowd, he’s not a household name.”

“Serial Mom” itself is a bizarre film full of goofy 1950s Americana troupes mixed with violence and vulgarity. It’s an absurdist film falsely claiming to be based on a true story, playing on the satirical nature of the affair.

“The way of taking social conventions and idealized life and breaking them apart from the inside really found a hook in the American psyche.” Blossom said.

The audience seemed to understand the satirical tone, laughing at the campiness of the dialogue and the absurdity of the violence. Blossom believes that this goofy and likable tone is what keeps Waters relevant.

“I adore his work and how committed he is to celebrating all sorts of people,” Blossom said. “No matter how tame or out there, these movies are just joyful.”
The next film in the series is the original 1980s version of “Hairspray,” showing Nov. 21 at the Byrd Theater. Three days before the live performance, they’ll show “Female Trouble”, Water’s 1974 film that dark-comedy the explores the violent and abusive life of a mother-daughter duo,  Strange Matter on Dec. 17.

“Do yourself a favor and come out and see [Waters] live,” Tefft said. “It’ll honestly be one of the best performances you ever see.”

Samuel Goodrich, Staff Writer

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