By Alex Guadagno
The neck is instantly recognizable, but something is conspicuously missing. “I use photography, but I’m no Ansel Adams,” says filmmaker John Waters as a series of movie stills he calls Sophia Loren, Decapitated appears on a Powerpoint presentation behind him. The series features Loren in some of her most poignant scenes, minus her head (which appears to have been haphazardly cut out of each frame with safety scissors). Waters’s current art exhibit, Rear Projection, opens April 3 at the Marianne Boesky Gallery and will contain stills from other classic films presented in a righteously bizarre new light.
“People don’t remember movies they saw. They remember the stills used to promote them,” said Waters. Through editing or rearranging certain images, Waters explained how a new narrative was born. “I’m trying to think of every way to get inside a movie that is not really how you’re supposed to watch it.” He spoke at the 92nd Street Y on Lexington in New York City on March 31, offering attendees a preview of his exhibit and the self-professedly “filthy” mind that created it.
Waters explained that "Rear Projection" is derived from the antiquated film technique where foreground action is combined with prerecorded background action: for example, an actor drives a car as the previously recorded landscape appears to roll past the vehicle’s back window. Taking the term to its literal new level, Waters presented some stills of classic rear projection scenes – with the projection edited to actually fit on someone’s anonymous rear end. “You have no idea how much porn my assistants and I had to watch to find rears with just right sizes and shadowing,” he said. The 92nd Street Y audience, approximately 150 members strong that night, consisted of Upper East Side art connoisseurs, gender-bending club kids, and everything in between. The crowd swelled with appreciative laughter as Waters earnestly scrolled through his works featuring famous faces and superimposed posteriors.
“Waters uses an insider's bag of film tricks and trade lingo to celebrate the excess of the movie industry,” says a press release. “These one time classic, respected, even honored movies are now assaulted, elevated, subtitled and startlingly altered into a new kind of equality; a cult film that only needs one viewer – John Waters himself.”
Though Rear Projection may seem derisive of the works it features, Waters’s vision for his newest exhibit truly sprung out of a love for cinema. “There’s no such thing as a bad movie,” said Waters in his talk. “If you’re bored, just watch the lamps. You get obsessive and you look for the details.” This obsession is apparent in some of his works like Dorothy Mallone’s Collar, which features Mallone in various films, collar always upright. Waters explained how he began watching Mallone’s films just to make sure that her collar was indeed up, foregoing any period movies since he knew there was no chance she’d wear a collared shirt.
His love of all things cinema extends to what Waters calls the “sad, pitiful side of show business, when you’re sitting in some tiny office judging the success of your movie by counting up the popcorn receipts.” Rear Projection not only recognizes this side of the business that many filmmakers deny, it celebrates it. Waters has made his name in film by glorifying the depraved side of human nature in films such as Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble, and Pecker. It is in this same vein that he uses this exhibit to broach the topic of a life in show business.
Waters’s movies solicit laughs from a shared understanding of life on the fringes of mainstream culture. “Rear Projection necessitates a certain degree of insider knowledge too, and that’s what it’s about,” he said. “As well as how depressed normal people must be not to be in on the joke.”