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John Waters's Baltimore: see Maryland's greatest city through the eyes of the king of bad taste.

"I would never want to live anywhere but Baltimore. You can look far and wide, but you'll never discover a stranger city with such extreme style. It's as if every eccentric in the South decided to move North, ran out of gas in Baltimore, and decided to stay." And so John Waters, one of Baltimore's best-known sons, describes his beloved city. For many filmgoers and travelers alike. Waters single-handedly and squarely placed the city on the cinematic map. It's hard to think of Baltimore without referencing him. Where else on earth could Divine, the Egg Lady, Mink Stole, and all the twisted gang trample and rampage through the streets undeterred?

Sure, Baltimore is also famous for the prestigious Johns Hopkins University and the Peabody Institute, but "any town that gave you [world-renowned atheist] Madalyn Murray O'Hair and Spiro Agnew has to have something going for it," Waters writes in his book Shock Value. "Baltimore madness is highly original. Some of the local eccentrics impress me More than any celebrity I've ever met and fascinate me so much that I resist getting to know them for fear I'll discover they aren't as happy as they appear."

Waters, who has been openly gay for years, filmed every one of his 16 movies in Baltimore, beginning with 1964's Hag in a Black Leather Jacket, shot in his parents' house when he was 17, all the way up to his latest release, A Dirty Shame, starring Tracey Ullman as a blue-collar convenience store owner turned sex addict, (While casting the role, Waters told Variety: "I wish Meryl Streep would do it, but I don't think she would. I always say Meryl Streep because I imagine her in Baltimore doing a Baltimore accent.") The movie costars Chris Isaak, Selma Blair, and of course, longtime Waters accomplice and former heiress-terrorist extraordinaire Patricia Hearst.

Every filmmaker has his muse, and For Waters it's obviously Maryland's largest city. "If I'm thinking about a film, I go out on the streets of Baltimore for a little inspiration. One memorable day I was doing costume research by sitting on some white marble steps and watching strangers' shoes as they passed by. As I concentrated on an amazing authentic pair of white go-go boots coming my way, I looked up and saw a harried motorist toss from his car window, directly into my face, all the soiled carryout wrappings from a Chinese dinner for six. As I wiped the soy sauce from my hair and reflected on what a great scene this would make, I realized I was a very lucky man to be able to live in Baltimore and experience firsthand all those beautiful moments of truth."

Waters refers to his beloved Baltimore as the "hairdo capital of the world" and suggests the best "hairdon't" area is Eastern Avenue in the eastern part of the city, where "you can usually see women struggling to fit their huge heads into their cars as the wind blows old newspapers and garbage up against them."

Debbie Dorsay, who has worked as location scout on four of Waters's films, explains: "John likes to shoot a whole film in one neighborhood, using real locations. He wrote a lot of A Dirty Shame sitting in his car on Pinewood Avenue in Hamilton. Locales are his big Inspiration."

Take yourself on a homemade tour of Waters's Baltimore by checking out the pivotal sites listed at right.

(1) The first thing one does in Baltimore is pay homage to the 20-foot statue of the ultimate Maryland diva, Divine. It presides over south Baltimore's harbor and the American Visionary Art Museum (800 Key Hwy., 410-244-1900). Many fans also visit her grave site at Prospect Hill Cemetery in the northern suburb of Towson (the grave reads HARRIS GLENN MILSTEAD).


(2) Holiday House (6427 Hartford Rd. at Pinewood Avenue) is a real biker bar in the working-class 'hood of Hamilton. Selma Blair's character in A Dirty Shame, Ursula Udders, works as a well-endowed topless dancer here, and many real motorcycle riders were used in the filming. Be sure to pop in to the Hell Bent for Leather store one door down.

(3) The circa 1956 Bengies Drive-in Theatre (3417 Eastern Blvd., 410-687-5627), one of only a few remaining theaters of its kind on the East Coast, is where Melanie Griffith defiantly set her head on fire at the climax of Cecil B. Demented.


(4) The darkly lit Drinkery (205 W. Read St., 410-225-3100) in the Mount Vernon area is one of Baltimore's oldest gay bars. Just outside is where Divine performed the infamous dog feces-eating scene at the end of Pink Flamingos.

(5) The Harbor Court Hotel (550 Light St., 410-234-0550) on Baltimore's inner harbor is the site of much action in Cecil B. Demented. It's also where real-life movie stars often stay when they're in town (yes, they do come to Baltimore).


(6) The Parkville Convenience Store (7501 Hartford Rd.),called the Park 'n' Pay in A Dirty Shame, is where Tracey Ullman's character works. Dorsay tells us, "It was run by a wonderful Indian family who didn't have a clue who we were until we hired a translator to explain what we were doing." Stop by and spend the day playing the state lottery, just like the locals do.


(7) And last but not least, a John Waters tour of Baltimore would not be complete without a stop by Club Atlantis (615 Fallsway, 410-727-9099), a low-down gay club with erotic dancers where the infamous teabagging scenes in Pecker were filmed (real performers from the club were used). In true Waters style, it's located right next door to the Baltimore City Penitentiary.
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Title Annotation:People Who Travel
Author:Link, Matthew
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 17, 2004
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