As a film director, artist, and personality, John Waters (b. 1946) has worked at the forefront of American cinema for nearly forty years. Waters began making films in his hometown of Baltimore in 1964. His first shorts such as Hag in a Black Leather Jacket and Mondo Trasho demonstrated an innate talent at capturing the hideous and crude and elevating it to art. His cast of actors, the Dreamlanders, were featured in every subsequent film. The Dreamlanders would include his diva and partner-in-film, Divine, who would go on to star in Waters's most familiar works. Waters broke through to national acclaim with his "trash trio," Pink Flamingos (1972), Female Trouble (1974), and Desperate Living (1977). These films showcased poor taste, obscene cinema, and transformative approaches to politics, gender, and art. The films cemented Waters's status as a cult favorite and continue to play at college campuses and art house theaters to this day. Waters soon entered the mainstream with Polyester, the first movie filmed in a revolutionary new process: smell-o-vision. The film starred Divine as an unhappy housewife who romances a former teen idol played by Tab Hunter.
Waters's commercial breakthrough, Hairspray (1988) told the story of Baltimore's televised sock-hop program, The Corny Collins Show, and how one brave girl (Ricki Lake) used her platform as a dancer to end segregation in her town. Waters would continue to write and direct films that pleased the mainstream but also showcased his unique approach to filmmaking. These would include Cry-Baby, Serial Mom, and Pecker. His recent work, such as A Dirty Shame, has veered toward his earlier obsessions with trash and obscenity. As a visual artist, he was given a retrospective at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in 2004 and shown at galleries around the world.