John Waters: Movie-Mad Teen Runaway at Anthology Film Archives

02/02/2011 4:00 AM |

On Friday, February 4 at 7:30pm, in support of Anthology Film Archives‘ s 40th anniversary, filmmaker (and Ann-Margret aficionado) John Waters presents Kitten With a Whip at the theater he says he says he owes his career to. In this film, Ann-Margret, with her copper-colored nimbus that looks occasionally as if she’ s been shocked, is possessed, demented and so pretty as a dangerous juvenile delinquent with a heart of gold. Over the phone, Waters chatted delightfully about Ann-Margret, his past as an art film teenage runaway, and countless other objects of enthusiasm.

So, Kitten with a Whip is a personal favorite of yours…

It is!

And I’ve never seen it since I paid to see it in 1964. But I did watch it this week since I’m gonna introduce it. But it held up to me in a very, very different way. The title is hilarious and campy and sounds like a midnight movie, but it isn’t really.

It’s almost like a film noir art movie, but with juvenile delinquency thrown in and Ann-Margret’s just amazing beauty.

What do you find so fascinating about her performance in it?

I think she never looked better. There are shots in it that are just so stunning, of her being a movie star. And I love a bad girl. You know, I’ve always loved a bad girl. All my movies are about bad girls. That’s what Divine’s whole career was based on.

And Carroll Baker—who I also love in Baby Doll—made one called Something Wild that’s very similar at trying to be an art film.

Yeah, I was thinking of that film a lot while watching this one. It’s similarly uncategorizable, kind of noir-ish…

In black and white… Yeah, but at the same time it does work. There are some great, great moments in the film. I’ll show that next time, maybe.

And so I’m showing this movie hoping that people who like art movies will see it in a hallowed atmosphere—which is what Anthology Archives is to me, it’s like going to church. And I think that once you’ve shown there it is now officially art, just by the fact that it’s being screened there, nothing to do with me. And so I’m trying to, in a way, make this not a camp movie, because it isn’t to me. It’s not so bad it’s good. It’s great.

Do you have other favorite Ann-Margret moments?

Well, when I made Cry Baby I showed Amy Locane all the Ann-Margret scenes in Bye Bye Birdie. And when she sang in the Elvis Presley movie—that’s a great one, Viva Las Vegas.

Her dance with Elvis was traumatizing to me when I saw it as child.

Why traumatizing? To me it would be liberating. She was possessed by the spirit of Elvis Presley.

Yeah, she’s very responsive. She does whatever he does.

That pelvis! She was Kitten with a Whip there, in that movie, actually.

She’s so jittery. It’s amazing.

She’s a cat on a hot tin roof! Kitten with a Whip!

You know, Kitten with a Whip is actually a good movie. I’m not showing this in any way to laugh at it.

No, absolutely. And it also has some great touches, like a zoom onto a stuffed animal…

Well, that’s so Mike Kelly! That’s just like the art of Mike Kelly. It’s a great art movie. And the credits are very Saul Bass. And the music is great, and it has a downbeat ending. It just worked for me. It held up for me. I wonder what Ann-Margaret thinks of this movie? There’s nothing to be embarrassed by.