John Water's ''Pecker'' made movie news the week of September 25, 1998

GROSS NATIONAL PRODUCT Back in the ’70s, when John Waters was revolting unsuspecting moviegoers with the sight of a 300-pound, cross-dressing diva noshing on…ugh, we can’t even bear to say it…in Pink Flamingos, Baltimore’s proud and preening poster boy for gross-out humor could take comfort in the fact that he had a monopoly on bad taste. But with his latest odious opus, Pecker, Waters may be shocked to find out just how mainstream bad taste has become.

In the four years since the lowbrow provocateur’s last movie, Serial Mom, those sibling savants, Bobby and Peter Farrelly, have cranked out their scatologically laced trilogy: Dumb and Dumber, Kingpin, and this summer’s There’s Something About Mary — the last of which has already raked in close to $140 million. Thus, Waters’ twisted fate hangs in the balance: Will the man who once subversively split sides with Odorama and hicks copulating with chickens seem tame by today’s standards? Or will audiences welcome Pecker with even more enthusiasm?

Alas, if the Beavis-friendly title of his satire of the New York art world is any indication, Waters may be on the right track, even if the title actually refers to the childhood eating habits of the title character (Edward Furlong) rather than its more obvious brown-wrapper connotations. Meanwhile, Waters himself (who says he hasn’t seen Mary, but plans to) seems unfazed by the changing times. ”My goal has always been to just make movies that look professional enough to trick regular people into watching them,” he says.

Waters’ street-cred rep as an out-there indie maverick is still strong enough to attract a virtual who’s who of hip young stars (as well as Waters regulars like Patricia Hearst, who plays a cleavage-revealing member of the Gotham glitterati). Pecker stars Furlong as a young Baltimore shutterbug-turned-Manhattan art-world sensation, Christina Ricci as his Laundromat-obsessed girlfriend, and Lili Taylor as an art dealer. ”It’s stating the obvious to say that there’s no one else who makes movies like him,” says Martha Plimpton, who plays Pecker’s older sister, an all-male-strip-joint employee. ”If there’s something John Waters can show you, he’ll show it, barring…well, barring nothing.”

True enough. Even though Cameron Diaz is still packin’ ’em in with her frontal Alfalfa formed with X-rated hair gel, Pecker fires back with plenty of taboo one-upmanship. Pecker’s Baltimore is a bizarro world populated by sugar-crazed tykes, Virgin Mary ventriloquists, and fashion-conscious homeless people; a place where pit-beef sandwiches are a delicacy and old toothless geezers unwind at a lesbian strip dive called The Pelt Room (where some unsettling close-ups take place). But the ultimate irony for the man who oozes the stuff from every pore of his body is that he’s now regarded as the Godfather of Gross. ”I’m flattered when a young person says they’re a fan,” says Waters. ”I want to make friends with as many young people as possible. I mean, who else is going to wheel me around and get my groceries for me when I’m old?”

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