Crackpot, originally released in 1986, is John Waters' brilliantly entertaining litany of odd and fascinationg people, places and things. From Baltimore to Los Angeles, from William Castle to Pia Zadora, from the National Enquirer to Ronald Reagan's colon, Waters explores the depths of our culture. And he dispenses useful advice along the way: how not to make a movie, how to become famous (read: infamous), and of course, how to most effectively shock and make our nation's public laugh at the same time. Loaded with bonus features, this new special edition is guaranteed to leave you totally mental.
Beneath the lewd exterior of punk filmmaker John Waters lies the discipline of gay novelist Jean Genet, and below that lies a tender humanity that some might even call saintly. In Crackpot, a reissue of Waters' 1986 collection of rants and reviews, originally published in Rolling Stone and elsewhere, the sweetness of the auteur's alleged perversity shines through on every page. Whether discussing the life story of Pia Zadora ("Pia Zadora is my kind of movie star. She's got balls") or the success of "Hairspray" on Broadway ("The real reason I'm praying that Hairspray...succeeds is that if it's a big hit, there will be high school productions, and finally the fat girl and the drag queen will get the starring parts"), Waters exhibits a moral heart buried in the garbage of celebrity culture. In his career as filmmaker, gallery artist, journalist and professional wit, Waters has always championed the loser with irrefutable panache. This document of his clever, searching mind will inspire old fans to laugh with renewed affection, and may win him a few new admirers. (Oct.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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October 20, 2003
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Excerpt from Crackpot by Brett Kahr
Chapter Two: Whatever Happened to Showmanship?
Liberace had a word for it. So did Variety. The word was "showmanship" -- but lately this term seems to have disappeared from movie moguls' vocabulary. After all, with so many bad movies around these days, couldn't the promotional campaigns at least be fun? What's happened to the ludicrous but innovative marketing techniques of yesteryear that used to fool audiences into thinking they were having a good time even if the film stunk? Did the audiences care? Hell, no. They may have hated the picture, but they loved the gimmick, and that's all they ended up remembering anyway.
Who's to follow in the footsteps of the great low-rent Samuel Z. Arkoffs and Joseph E. Levines who used to hype films? Why do today's producers waste untold millions on media junkets, national television spots, and giant print ads when they could come up with something as delightful and effective as handing out vomit bags at horror films? Or how about the high-profile but dirt-cheap antics of the producers of a 1977 redneck oddity entitled The Worm Eaters? Realizing that competition for attention from film buyers at the Cannes Film Festival was fierce that year, these ballyhoo experts blithely ate live worms from a bucket as startled distributors filed into their screening.
We can even go way back in history to Mom and Dad, a boring pseudo sex documentary from the forties brilliantly hyped by the great-great-grandfather of exploitation, Kroger Babb. Since the film contained footage of an actual birth of a baby, Mr. Babb realized this was a chance to legally show full-frontal female nudity. Did he figure the voyeuristic audience would just ignore the baby and focus on the anatomy? Four-walling a theater in each city, Babb picked up some added pocket change by having a phony nurse hawk sex-education pamphlets in the aisles before the feature began. He assured further controversy by sexually segregating the audience -- women only in the afternoon and men only at night. In what has to be the most outlandish publicity stunt in film history, he would start the film and turn off the ventilation. As the audience grew more and more uncomfortable, he would release noxious gas through the air vents and wait for the first person to pass out. Mr. Babb would immediately call an ambulance and the local media at the same time, then rush outside the theater to smugly watch the heavily photographed "rescue of a shocked patron," knowing it would be front-page news the next day.
Without a doubt, the greatest showman of our time was William Castle. King of the Gimmicks, William Castle was my idol. His films made me want to make films. I'm even jealous of his work. In fact, I wish I were William Castle.
What's the matter with film buffs these days? How could they be so slow in elevating this ultimate eccentric director-producer to cult status? Isn't it time for a retrospective? A documentary on his life? Some highfalutin critique in Cahiers du Cinema Isn't it time to get his marvelous autobiography, Step Right Up! I'm Gonna Scare the Pants Off America, back in print? Forget Ed Wood. Forget George Romero. William Castle was the best. William Castle was God.
The picture that first put Mr. Castle on the map was Macabre (1958). Well, not exactly the picture, but the gimmick. Macabre was a rip-off of Diabolique, and was filmed in just nine days at a cost of $90,000. Realizing that the finished product was nothing special, Castle came up with an idea that would succeed beyond his wildest dreams. He took out a policy with Lloyd's of London insuring every ticket buyer for $1,000 in case they died from fright. Mock insurance policies appeared in all the newspaper ads. Giant replicas of the actual policy hung over the marquees. Hearses were parked outside the theaters and fake nurses in uniform were paid to stand around the lobbies.