The professional

An old hand surveys new times.

MEET JOHN WATERS, Quote Machine. Tall, thin, dapper as you'd expect him to be, with his signature pencil-line moustache, the guy sports excellent shoes and socks that immediately mark him as being Not From Here. Well-versed in all manner of movie trivia and history, he's adept at jumping to any pop culture-related subject, as you'd expect from the chat-show veteran and author of four books.

In Seattle to discuss Cecil B. DeMented, his 15th film in 36 years, Waters says, "I don't think it's nostalgic in any way except for the fact that I liked terrorists when I was young. I liked going to riots. They were sexy to me. I really went because everyone looked good." He describes Cecil as "a fantasy about when filmgoing was political . . . when people had this fervor." He enthusiastically cites the Black Panthers, Red Brigade, and Weathermen as models for the Sprocket Hole gang.

Those are figures from the past, he acknowledges, like the dilapidated old marquees featured in Cecil. "It was a tour of the movie theaters of Baltimore," Waters continues, explaining how most have now closed. "Am I sad about it? No. It's a different time now."

Speaking of one memorably funny sequence in Cecil when the gang seeks refuge in the vanished communities of porno and martial arts theaters, he laments, "It is old-fashioned. There's no genre audiences anymore."

In their place, Waters praises the new Net-savvy fans of The Blair Witch Project—which he points to as a rare example of a fan-driven event movie. How have VCRs and the Web affected younger viewers' film experience? "They have more of a knowledge than my generation has about it," he muses. "More people have been able to see those movies," including cult films, experimental cinema, and—yes—porn. "It's made it better, not worse," he says optimistically of contemporary film culture. "The Internet is their secret world as much as our midnight movies were ours."

 
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