Cinema icon, queer icon, fashion icon, art icon, icon icon, John Waters received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame yesterday. The Baltimore legend, the so-called King of Filth, currently being lionized at the Academy Museum as the “Pope of Trash”, has been a boil on the butt of Hollywood since he made his directorial debut in 1964 with the short film, Hag in a Black Leather Jacket. His 1967 short, Roman Candles, put him on the map, but it was his run in the 1970s that made John Waters a legend. He’s one of those ubiquitous figures in American cinema—most people know his name yet have never seen his work, though he’s influenced generations of filmmakers. Quentin Tarantino, Pedro Almodovar, Harmony Korine, Sean Baker, Janicza Bravo, Fred Armisen, they all stand on Waters’ narrow shoulders.


With his signature pencil moustache and loud suit, Waters seemed genuinely happy to receive his star, putting him, as he said, “closer to the gutter than ever”. And, with his retrospective at the Academy Museum—the first to focus exclusively on Waters’ work—he declared he is “so respectable [he] could puke”. But yet, it’s been 19 years since he last directed a feature film, with 2004’s A Dirty Shame (about suburban sex addicts, naturally). Waters’ influence is impossible to ignore—The Lonely Island made an homage to him in their song “Creep”—but he still remains an outsider figure in mainstream entertainment. 

Nothing sums this up quite like Waters being snubbed for an invite to the camp-themed Met Gala in 2019. Waters is the king of American camp—and a notably weird yet dapper dresser—but he didn’t make the cut. It’s not surprising, exactly, John Waters, despite his massive influence, doesn’t really get invited to places like that. He doesn’t get invited to host the Oscars, he gets invited to host the Film Independent Spirit Awards, you know? (Though he should 100% host the Oscars.) 


His Walk of Fame star, too, is more about lifetime achievement than highlighting any recent work, because there aren’t any recent works. Though he continues to act, lately appearing in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and he continues to write, with a novel, Liarmouth, published in 2022, as a director, Waters remains on the sideline. If you want to talk cancel culture, Waters might just be a casualty of increased social sensitivity in the 21st century—I remember the brouhaha over A Dirty Shame, which is, honestly, watered-down Waters—and an era in which no one wants to make room for deliberate provocation. He doesn’t seem particularly bothered by it, keeping busy with his writing, art practice and curation, and the odd acting job here and there, but damn, I would like to see what kind of film he’d make in the 2020s.


We might get a chance to see it, finally, if Waters does, in fact, adapt his own novel, Liarmouth, into a film. It’s been so long since he’s made a new film, I won’t believe it till I see it, but I really hope John Waters comes back for one last film. The King of Filth deserves to reclaim his throne.

You can see John Waters’ full Walk of Fame presentation here: