Waters gives librarians dose of free speech

March 31, 2007|By Joe Burris | Joe Burris,sun reporter

John Waters poked fun at Jackie Onassis. He knocked the Catholic Church. He urged African-American youths to listen to country music -- simply to drive their parents crazy.

And, as usual, the Baltimore filmmaker said a lot of other things that we cannot print here.

Indeed if anyone thought that Waters, who yesterday addressed the annual convention of the Association of College and Research Libraries, might censor himself -- in deference to the finer sensibilities of a roomful of 2,500 librarians -- he thought wrong.

This is, after all, the man known as the "Master of Sleaze." The director of Hairspray, Female Trouble and Pecker. The filmmaker renowned for his legendary battles with the Maryland Censor Board.

The 60-year-old artist's hour-long speech, given at the Baltimore Convention Center, was as sexually explicit as his films. He exorted audience members to stand up for freedom of expression and offered suggestions about how to bolster library attendance.

Librarians, he said, should dress provocatively and highlight explicit passages in books.

"We need to make books cool again," he said. "I had a plumber come into my house, and he said, `Did you read all these books? I hate reading: Turn the pages, right to left, right to left.' I was astoundedy at his militancy.

"There's a book for everyone," Waters added. "You have to remember that it is impossible to commit a crime while reading a book."

Although during the speech about a dozen people left the room, most audience members guffawed and chuckled, sometimes shaking their heads as though in disbelief.

"I think it was a very engaging speech," said Pamela Snelson, president of the ACRL and a librarian at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa. "It was a clear representation of freedom of speech. He's not afraid to approach controversy. He struck a note with the audience."

But Anne Schwelm, a librarian from Cabrini College in Radnor, Pa., who walked out during the address, said she was offended by its vulgarity. "It was shameless self-promotion. A vaudeville act would have been more interesting. I came not knowing what to expect, but generally [in a keynote address], there's a message."

Some crowd members seemed taken aback when Waters described his next project: a children's Christmas adventure movie titled Fruitcake. "It's a children's film, but it's about special children with special parents," the director said.

Initially, it was as if many in the room wondered if he were joking again. Then Waters added that he hopes to begin filming in Baltimore in November.

joseph.burris@baltsun.com

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