Mr. Know-It-All: The Tarnished Wisdom of a Filth Elder By John Waters, 384 pgs.

Aug 05, 2019

Mr. Know-It-All: The Tarnished Wisdom of a Filth Elder is a memoir by John Waters, a filmmaker whose initial low-budget films centered on the lives of despicable but somewhat likable characters. His movies are notorious for exhibiting lewd conduct and illuminating bad behavior, if not downright cataloging it at times. Waters parlayed his unique point of view on life, fame, and the unusual nature of Baltimore natives into a Hollywood career; his biggest hit being 1988’s Hairspray, a comedy examining racial inequality on a regional Baltimore television show in 1962. The film was turned into a hit musical winning several Tony awards and is performed around the world.

Beginning with the filming of Polyester, Waters picks up where his first memoir, Shock Value (1981), left off. In Shock Value, the stories of decadence and chaos on the set of his independent films are described in detail with Waters’s uncanny ability to judge people’s character without using a standard moral compass. Know-It-All picks up in the years of Waters’s varying degrees of climbing the success ladder and traversing the more surreal landscape of Hollywood filmmaking and moderate fame. Some things never change as he lovingly recounts stories of his past glories and failures, graciously including love and praise to his greatest allies in the business while simultaneously giving hints to potential filmmakers as to what to expect along the road to potentially making a movie.

Now, as the author of several books, Waters has surpassed his legacy as a filmmaker in recent years. His previous books Role Models (2010) and Carsick (2014) both made The New York Times Best Seller list. Waters is a gem as a storyteller and comes across in his writing as one of the most affable people you could hear tell about show business. The road to Hairspray becoming a musical is filled with amusing anecdotes, but Waters’s writing is as congenial when recounting smaller and less successful events. There’s always a story and the large appeal in Waters’s writing is his ability to consistently appear to be having a good time. His stories about chaos are told with a guru level of calm. His life is very different from the rest of us, but he never lets you forget he takes a great interest in the world around him, particularly when that world takes place in Baltimore. –Billups Allen (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)