John Waters exhibit to open at Academy Museum Sept. 17

The first comprehensive John Waters exhibit dedicated to the cinema contributions from the “King of Filthy” opens this weekend at the Academy Museum in Hollywood.

“John Waters: Pope of Trash” will explore his process, themes, and movie-making approach, while tracing the grotesque, daring, tacky, hilarious, and salacious elements that recur throughout Waters’ 60-year career of filmmaking. The exhibit also will show how Waters, who identifies as gay and his movies have redefined independent cinema.

“This is an exciting moment to reflect on John’s career,” associate curator Dara Jaffe told “Many of the socio-economic themes from his films, like class, taste and propriety, have undergone significant social transformation over the last several decades. A striking example is ‘Pink Flamingos,’ which faced bans in multiple countries and carried an X rating by the MPAA upon its release. In 2021, the Library of Congress inducted it into its National Film Registry.”

The John Waters exhibit will open Sunday and close Aug. 4, 2024.

Reservations are encouraged. General admission tickets range from $15 to $25.

Gay Bob doll came out of the closet in 1977

John Waters Exhibit Academy Museum

The first comprehensive John Waters exhibit dedicated to the cinema contributions from the “King of Filthy” opens this weekend at the Academy Museum in Hollywood. Photos: (top left) John Waters by Greg Gorman; (top center left) Jean Hill as Grizelda Brown in “Desperate Living” by Bob Adams; (top center right) clapperboard from “Serial Mom” by Owen Kolasinski/Academy Museum Foundation; “Pink Flamingos” cast (bottom left) photographed by Lawrence Irvine; (bottom right) dancing in the record shop film still from “Hairspray” provided by Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

The exhibit incorporates several parts.

  • Visitors will enter the exhibit through an introductory gallery featuring an abstract church setting that winks at several aspects of Waters’ personal history and filmmaking.
  • A gallery exploring his early life and works includes “Hag in a Black Leather Jacket” (1964) — Waters’ first film, an 8mm short made when he was 17 years old — “Roman Candles” (1967), and “Eat Your Makeup” (1968). 
  • At the center of the John Waters exhibit is an experiential gallery that highlights the recurring elements of music and dance in Waters’ films.
  • Several feature films spanning from 1969 to 2004 are examined through handwritten scripts, costumes, props, posters, correspondence, scrapbooks, photographs, and film clips. Those films include “Mondo Trasho,” “Multiple Maniacs,” “Pink Flamingos,” “Female Trouble,” “Desperate Living,” “Polyester,” “Hairspray,” “Cry-Baby,” “Serial Mom,” “Pecker,” “Cecil B. Demented,” and “A Dirty Shame.” 
  • The exhibit concludes with a gallery dedicated to Waters’ cult status, featuring fan art, and other nods to the filmmaker’s career.

A film-series retrospective starts on Sunday with “Eat Your Makeup” and “Serial Mom.” Waters will appear in-person at both films.

The  screenings will run through October and include “Polyester,” “Pink Flamingos,” “Hairspray,” among others.

An adjacent gallery installation, “Outside the Mainstream” will spotlight other radically independent filmmakers who identify as gay and also champion unconventional modes of film production and distribution, including Kenneth Anger, Jack Smith, Andy Warhol, Gregg Araki, and Todd Haynes.

The gallery focuses on examples from the American avant-garde, underground film, and New Queer Cinema movements.

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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