Having dabbled in the filmmaking community with some short amateur films (both behind the scenes and in front), the process of movie making has always been of interest to me. With advances in technology and easier access to equipment, it has become much more conventional to see people putting together their own projects. But I’m awed by the commitment, energy, expense, and sheer scrappiness that fledging artists needed to make independent films in days gone by. Perhaps one of the more unlikely success stories was that of John Waters. In Baltimore, with a renegade band of misfits including the divine Divine, Waters started out as a gross-out counterculture visionary but transformed himself into a mainstream success. But it wasn’t an easy road. One of the people in the trenches with Waters and crew was Robert Maier, and this is his story as only he can tell it. It features many celebrities and known personalities in key roles, but this is about the journey that Maier chose to undertake.
The book starts with an introduction to John Waters and charts the tumultuous days of shooting the films “Female Trouble,” “Desperate Living,” and “Polyester.” With each film, the budget got bigger and Maier’s role expanded. There are a lot of harrowing and hysterical details about doing what needed to be done, at any cost of humiliation! Sometimes gross, sometimes excruciatingly unpleasant, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny–this is a real insider’s peek behind the magic of movie making. The book also details the periods between these films as Maier engaged in studio politics, hung out with Andy Warhol’s crowd, and took part in non-Waters films that shared some of the same production issues, if not more. Reunited for “Hairspray,” Maier and Waters found themselves in entirely new territory with studio involvement and it changed the course of their relationship forever. Maier ably demonstrates the sting of this new development, and much of the story plays out as a cautionary tale about success (and its cost) within the Hollywood machine.
As a personal memoir, scenes are filtered through Maier’s vantage point and perspective. I think that’s to be expected as Maier is the one and only source for these recollections. So don’t expect this to be a definitive portrait of Waters or even of the films it describes, just enjoy it as personal storytelling. It is a thoroughly engaging ride. Truthfully, I didn’t take anything as a hundred percent fact but that didn’t lessen my enjoyment of Maier’s tale. It showcases a lot of inherent truths about the filmmaking business, things that are just as true now as they were then. Anyone interested in Waters and/or independent movie making should appreciate this warts-and-all portrait of guerilla artistry. KGHarris, 1/12.