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Role Models Hardcover – May 25, 2010

4.1 out of 5 stars 61 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The director of the gross-out epic Pink Flamingos and other cinematic provocations salutes the people he finds inspiring—himself foremost among them—in these self-regarding essays. Waters's role models range from icons like Johnny Mathis and Tennessee Williams to a gay reality-porn auteur, a lesbian stripper called Lady Zorro, and ex-Charles Manson groupie and murderer Leslie Van Houten. When he pays attention to them, Waters produces vivid portraits of his subjects, especially those with really lurid backstories, but he's happier when the spotlight is on him and his studied outrageousness. He discusses celebrity (I've... gone out drinking with Clint Eastwood, and spent several New Year's Eve parties in Valentino's chalet in Gstaad, but what I like best is staying home and reading) and the graphic pornography on his walls, and regales readers with scatological scandals, disdaining religious beliefs while graciously tolerating people who hold them. In the end, Waters's war against the tyranny of good taste feels tired, his taboo-breaking rote, his kitsch-mongering snobbish (taken on a tour of the Vatican, he refuses to leave the gift shop and its hideously pious cards). (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

As familiar as Waters' obsessions have become over the years, writes the Onion AV Club, "he remains an affable, enthusiastic tour guide to the sort of beauty found only at the edges of good taste." Such beauty includes the profane, the violent, and the shocking, but it's par for the course for this once transgressive filmmaker and his insightful, obnoxious, and entertaining essays. Only the essay "Leslie," about Waters's friendship with Manson follower Leslie Van Houten, serving a life sentence for murder, raised debate. A few reviewers found the essay reflective, while others condemned Waters for dodging "the murky moral issues of her story" (Los Angeles Times). Role Models isn't for everyone--but even "dilettantes at liberty to skip around will find a lot to charm them" (New York Times Book Review).

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1 edition (May 25, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374251479
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374251475
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.2 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #425,460 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Waters is an American filmmaker, actor, writer, and visual artist best known for his cult films, including Hairspray, Pink Flamingos, and Cecil B. DeMented. He lives in Baltimore, Maryland.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: MP3 CD
Waters is a fantastic narrator and his new book is absolutely hilarious (but also very touching at points). I've honestly been forcing anybody who rides in my car this week to listen to the section about Lady Zorro and I'll start forcing everybody to listen to the section on Esther Martin next week. Honestly, despite other reviews that talk about his trashy side, I'm amazed how sweet and kind he comes across. From one bleeding heart liberal to another, I absolutely love this book :)
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Format: Hardcover
John Waters always has elicited strong opinions from people and that seems evident here in the early reviews. Anyone who has seen or heard Waters being interviewed or seen him emcee a show will recognize the tone and style here. He rambles entertainingly through the book, with on-target observations that integrate references that range from the absurd to the refined. The chapters vary in their quality. Some passages are laugh out loud funny, but some sections drag. The chapter on Leslie Van Houten becomes rather tedious and didactic, in places, although Waters raises worthwhile questions about rehabilitation and the grandstanding of prosecutors. The section on his art collection betrayed perhaps a need to be taken seriously even as he collects pieces that most people who find academically interesting, at most. Waters' parents do not get their own chapter, but they are always present and come across as people who supported Waters' development and work in surprising ways while remaining very much the conventional parents of their time. At the same time, Waters confronts the problems and limitations of some of the eccentric Baltimore characters he had idolized, like Zorro, the lesbian stripper whose daughter somehow thrived despite a chaotic, problem-ridden environment. Despite focusing on role models, Waters creates a world where neither nature nor nurture seem to triumph. His conservative, conventional parents wound up with "The Pope of Filth" for a son, while Zorro winds up with an apparently very conventional, well-adjusted daughter. Waters lives in a world where the classic 1950s songs of Johnny Mathis co-exist with a fringe gay pornographer like Bobby Garcia, and Leslie Van Houten of the Manson Family. Somehow the only really discordant note was the repeated mention of Elton John who seems neither fringe nor conventional, nor particularly interesting.
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Format: Hardcover
Role Models is John Waters's tribute to those who have influenced him throughout his life. I had already read two of his earlier books, Crackpot: The Obsessions of John Waters and Shock Value: A Tasteful Book About Bad Taste, so I knew what I was in for: I was ready to laugh myself silly.

Waters describes himself as "a cult filmmaker whose core audience, no matter how much I've crossed over, consists of minorities who can't even fit in with their own minorities.". One can see how the people who have influenced him the most fit in with this self-assessment.

The first major influence on John as a little boy was "Clarabell, the psychotic clown on The Howdy Doody Show, whose makeup later inspired Divine's, had been my role model.". One can't miss the similarities when comparing the two:

The chapter entitled Leslie is perhaps the most serious piece of work Waters has ever written. In it, he talks about his twenty-five-year friendship with Leslie Van Houten, the member of the Manson family who was sentenced to death for her role in the LaBianca murders in 1969. Waters makes a very convincing case for the parole of Van Houten, who has been incarcerated for over forty years. He also apologizes for exploiting the Manson family murders in his early film career:

"I am guilty, too. Guilty of using the Manson murders in a jokey, smart-ass way in my earlier films without the slightest feeling for the victims' families or the lives of the brainwashed Manson killer kids who were also victims in this sad and terrible case."

This was quite a revelation from Waters: that of guilt.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This work is so entertaining and good hearted and funny, I immediately ordered a copy for a friend. There were times when I had to phone people to read out passages so we could laugh together. It is perhaps not for everyone, but if you already know and like John Waters, you will love this book; it was so absorbing and delightful, I had to read it almost straight through. If you don't know John Waters (where have you been?), and have a sensitivity to language as spoken and heard away from church, your mind may be too pure to process his special brand of "filth" which includes interviews with criminals, celebrities of special note, trivia, information and particular advise on how to realize or expand your own personal filth. I wish he lived next door; it feels as if we are friends already. I'd love to have him over for a drink.
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Format: Paperback
Words like "memoir" and "autobiography" should not be used anywhere near this book. While John Waters ties in bits of his past, this is ultimately a long form rant about stuff he loves. It's frequently funny and occasionally illuminating. However, if it wasn't by Waters, it would be met with shrugs.

The standout chapters are those in which Waters hunts down obscure character's from Baltimore's history and outsider porn legends. In discussing these peoples' degeneracy alongside their humanity, he gets closest to the aesthetic he's established in his films. The weakest chapters devolve into lists of his favorite books and the art in his various homes, with more description than insight.

This probably isn't worth reading unless you're a bit more hardcore in your Waters fandom.
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