That Time John Waters and Andy Warhol Unknowingly Parodied JFK’s Assassination at the Same Time

John Waters photographed by Gus&Lo for Interview‘s September 2018 issue.

That Time When is Interview’s weekly trip through the pop cultural space-time continuum, where we return to some of the most overlooked moments from issues past. In this edition, we revisit our 2014 interview with John Waters: filmmaker, artist, and savior of the sinful.

John Waters is no stranger to transgression. With the nicknames “Pope of Trash” and the “Prince of Puke,” the filmmaker has built a career on celebrating all that is disgusting, depraved, and perverse. While Waters is best known for 1988’s hit musical Hairspray, his earlier work carried more of an edge. Bursting onto the mainstream with his masterful X-rated Trash Trilogy—comprised of Pink Flamingos (1972), Female Trouble (1974), and Desperate Living (1977), Waters became a hero of the underground with his trademark mix of extreme hilarity and outrageous indecency. In our 2014 interview on the occasion of his retrospective at Lincoln Center (his first complete film display in the US), Waters recalled Andy Warhol’s decidedly obscure 1966 film Since:

COLLEEN KELSEY: Well, retrospectives are the kinds of places you can luck out and see all those nuggets you wouldn’t usually.

JOHN WATERS: You definitely can. You can see, like in Hag in a Black Leather Jacket, a Ku Klux Klan [member] performing a wedding of a white woman and a black guy on the roof of my parents’ house. We used my mother’s wedding dress without asking her, and she was mad. But when I look back, my parents were so supportive for allowing us to do this. I mean, in Eat Your Makeup, there’s a scene where we do the Kennedy assassination, Divine [actor, singer, drag queen, and star of every Waters film from 1966-74] crawling up the trunk of a car in a pink pillbox hat and suit and everything. That was on my parents’ street. 

I was really amazed to find out, especially since this is Interview, that Warhol made a movie the exact same time we were making Eat Your Makeup called Since (1966), where they shot the Kennedy assassination. It was never even shown until a couple years ago. I never even knew about it or heard about it. They had a couch as the car. We had an even bigger production than Warhol. That was amazing! At least I rented a limo. I loved that idea that Mary Woronov, who’s one of my favorite Warhol stars, played JFK. I loved the idea that we were completely, without knowing it, doing the exact same thing at [the] same time.

Including scenes of Kennedy’s death merely three years after it occurred is perhaps the definition of “too soon.” Eat Your Makeup was almost as elusive as Since, never seeing a proper release and screened at just a handful of touring exhibits. While they are perhaps among the most inaccessible films by two of the most esoteric filmmakers in history—and not necessarily enjoyable—their brazen crossing of lines unquestionably opened the floodgates for more subversive cinema in the following decades. Waters’s praise of Warhol’s films beautifully sums up his admiration for our fearless founder. “I think Chelsea Girls is a complete masterpiece, and I think Andy’s films are equally as good as the art,” Waters added in the 2014 interview. “I think one day they will be considered equal. They aren’t yet. They will be.”