John Waters guides MTV crew through offbeat streets of Baltimore

April 08, 1994|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

Flashback is the kind of store where odd things seem to congregate as a matter of course. It's full of used LPs, kitschy knickknacks, ancient curios and exactly the sort of movie memorabilia you'd expect in a shop that was once co-owned by Edith Massey.

It's a perfect place, in other words, to show off the quirkier side of Baltimore's character. That's why John Waters took MTV News anchorman Kurt Loder and a camera crew to the Fells Point store yesterday.

This weekend, Baltimore will be the backdrop for "The Week in Rock," MTV's half-hour news show (it airs tonight at 7:30, at 12:30 and 6 p.m. tomorrow, and at 8:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Sunday).

Waters will be the focus for much of the show -- he's being interviewed and taking the camera crew around town to see some of his favorite haunts and meet some of his favorite people -- but it will also include pieces on an AIDS benefit in Boston and singer Tori Amos. Linking it all together will be Loder, who will tape the set-ups and transitions in various locations around the city, including the waterfront and Obrycki's Crab House.

Why Baltimore? "We just all saw John's movie the other night and thought it was hilarious," Loder explains. "We thought, 'Hey -- let's go to Baltimore!' I've never been here before, so it's been interesting for me."

For the moment, though, they're in Flashback, where Waters is talking about his new movie, "Serial Mom" (which opens April 15). The idea is to share a few anecdotes with Loder, who will then cut to a clip from the film. So Loder asks his questions, Waters responds wittily, and in less than a minute, the sequence is done.

Or maybe not.

"It was good," says MTV director Michael Alex, "except for the look at the end."

"Well, that's the important part," laughs Loder. "[Expletive] the content."

This being TV, though, they go through the sequence again. And again. Eventually, Alex is satisfied with the look, the content and the timing, and they move onto another shot, this one featuring Waters and Flashback's owner, Bob "Pogue" Adams, who mentions that his hottest-selling items at the moment are autographed photos of actress (and Waters regular) Traci Lords. "They go for $40," he says, sounding as if he can barely believe it.

Before shooting at Flashback, the MTV crew was at Waters' house, where, among other things, Waters' parents were interviewed.

"My nieces and nephews were thrilled to hear that their grandparents were going to be on MTV," laughs Waters.

There are only a couple of actual MTV-ers along for this trip; the camera, sound and lights are handled by local free-lancers (Richard Chisolm, Len Schmitz and Christine Rollo, respectively). This is only a quick visit, after all.

"We'll go back to New York tomorrow," says Loder. "Then a producer will take all of this stuff and produce it, and I'll take the rest of the day off."

Loder clearly enjoys doing interviews like this but seems less enamored of the cosmetic aspects of life on TV.

Before one take, when the director stops to adjust the collar on Loder's jacket, the newsman appears annoyed.

"I can't worry about things like that," he says later. "But there are always people in television to worry about that for you -- always people fluffing your hair or touching your collar or something. It drives you crazy."

After a final sequence at Flashback, the crew packs its gear and heads off for the next stop -- but not before Loder buys a carving of a seated monk.

"I'm giving you the starving artist discount," jokes Adams as he rings up the purchase.

Next on the itinerary is Vince Peranio's prop warehouse. Peranio is oncrutches -- a pile of props fell on his leg, Waters explains -- but they're unusually elegant ones, with the sort of lean lines and black-metal construction associated with Italian furniture.

"I made them myself," says Peranio. "I wanted something that would look good with a tuxedo -- something more sinister than pitiful."

Peranio's crutches don't make it onto MTV, however.

Alex has already gotten the dummy Kathleen Turner runs over in "Serial Mom" into the scene, but he wants more. "Got anything really disgusting?" he asks Peranio. "Got any liver?"

Peranio calls out to one of his assistants. "Jeff, get the meat!"

And sure enough, Jeff reappears a few minutes later with what looks like a large side of ham (but is, in fact, carefully painted plastic foam). It assumes a place of honor on the makeshift set.

Loder, Waters and Peranio run through the sequence, but Alex isn't quite satisfied.

"Could you do something with this?" he asks, indicating the fake ham. "Could you say, 'This is my piece of meat'?"

"What is this -- a porno movie?" laughs Waters.

Later, they're in the Daily Grind on Thames Street. As Waters tells Loder how easy it is to find actors in Baltimore, a young couple starts into the coffee shop. Seeing the camera crew, they start to turn away. "They're doing a commercial," says the young man. "Let's go somewhere else."

He looks again. "Oh, wait -- that's not a commercial. That's John Waters!"

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