Following is the transcript of the remarks made by John Waters and Vincent Peranio at the Maryland Film Industry Coalition’s Reel to Real gala November 15, 2019 at the Lord Baltimore Hotel.
I always knew that Vince Peranio was great. Everybody knows that. But it’s nice to get awards, and especially from your peers, especially in your hometown.
I was recently reminded of his incredible talent when I was watching the newly restored version of Polyester that Criterion has put out. I’m watching this movie, and I’ve seen this movie many times, and I noticed something I had never seen, right in the scene when Edith Massey and Divine are splitting an entire cake. It’s a pretty funny scene. I noticed the most ridiculous paper towel rack that I ever saw in my life, upstaging both of the characters. I’ve seen the movie a thousand times and I had never noticed it. It was the perfect detail. So awful. So funny. And so brilliant. And this is Vincent’s work . It’s beyond production design. It’s over-the-top art directing, into a realm of screen lunacy that becomes movie madness at its best.
I met Vincent — Sue Lowe introduced me to him — at Pete’s Hotel in Fells Point. Vincent practically invented Fells Point. No one went there that I ever met before he did. He lived in a commune called the Hollywood Bakery, where my gang met his gang, and we were kindred spirits right from the beginning.
The first thing Vincent ever did for me was he made Lobstora in Multiple Maniacs, a giant lobster that attacked Divine. Not only did he make it, he was in it. You can see his legs sticking out in the scene, with his brother. Now is this the highest level or the lowest level entry show business job you’ve ever heard of?
And then Pink Flamingos. That’s when he joined us full time. He did the trailer, the famous trailer that burned to the ground at the end of it, that Divine lived in. We went through hell with that trailer. It cost $100, and Vincent turned it into something that is still remembered today.
It was magic, and until recently that burned-down trailer was still up there in the woods in Phoenix, Maryland, for almost 50 years. I used to go up there and show it to people. The weeds had overgrown it and everything. No one took the carcass away. Many years later, I took a press team up there. Oh my god, it’s all McMansions now. I couldn’t believe it. It’s like, where’s the trailer? It’s gone. They took it away. But the grass is still discolored, right where it was. Like an elephant graveyard. Maybe it’s a magic spot. I knocked on the McMansion’s door. I thought, I better tell them about this.
There was another woman who lived in the house at 3900 Greenmount Avenue, where we made Pink Flamingos [the home of villains Connie and Raymond Marble.] She said, ‘I never saw that movie.’ I said ‘Watch it.’ The next time she said, ‘Oh my god, Divine was licking my banister.’ And she moved. So I hope the fumes of filth are still flowing up from the ground [on the trailer site] and they had a juvenile delinquent kid who smelled the fire of film rebellion and was encouraged by the odor.
Female Trouble. Oh God. Dawn’s apartment, Vincent did that wallpaper. Fans send me paintings of wallpaper that Vincent discovered. And that little stage where Divine shot up eyeliner, all because of Vincent. He was as important to that film’s success completely as was Divine and the cast.
And Desperate Living? Maybe that was his masterpiece. He built a whole town out of garage. Completely. This summer at the John Waters Camp [in 2019] they built another Mortville in honor of that as a tribute.
In Polyester, well, he proved that he could do real life too. French Provincial furniture never looked so scary.
And Hairspray? The real Buddy Deane Committee, that we based it on, showed up on the set and said, ‘This is like being in the Twilight Zone, it’s so authentic.’ And even the big Broadway musical used the exact design from the movie in their stage design.
Cry-Baby, the 50s drape movie: He grew up in Cadillac Homes in Glen Burnie and believe me, that came in handy.:
And Serial Mom. We moved the whole production to Towson, my old stomping grounds. And he caught the horror of good taste perfectly, too.
And Pecker. Recently, they had a big fundraiser for the Hampden Star Walk, where all the locations of the movie…put a star out front. That’s his locations, that’s what they’re honoring. Only once did I ever see Vincent upstaged, and that’s when we looked at a house that was going to be Pecker’s house in Hampden, and when we walked in it was so hideous that there was not one thing he had to do. So then he built the Pelt Room up the street, the stripper bar…Three minutes after the sign went up, people were lined up trying to pay to get in.
Cecil B. Demented: We were shooting in the bombed-out Town Theatre, and it was completely abandoned, and we squatted there and he made a terrorist lair that was incredibly scary and realistic.
And in A Dirty Shame, we took over the community of Hampden. What other production designer makes friends with the neighbors and then puts penis bushes on their lawn? They sprang to life like hard-ons. They were so sensual Johnny Knoxville had sex with a tree. An old lady, I heard her say, ‘I don’t mind telling you, this is making me horny. What other production would bring out that reaction from the neighbors that way? That was because of Vincent. He was friendly and crazy and hit the nail right on the head every time.
I’m proud, Vincent, to give you this Reel to Reel Lifetime Achievement Award. You’ve been a huge part of my success and of course many other directors’ too. The work you did for Barry Levinson and David Simon. I mean Liberty Heights, Homicide, The Corner, The Wire, will live forever as will the countless other movies and TV shows that have been lucky enough to have you work for them. Just look at his resume without me. He worked with Don Knotts! And a lot of the films he made, and TV shows, made way more money than mine did.
So Vincent, you’re the best, the smartest, the most clever. A real team player who could always make a dollar holler. I’m proud to have worked with you and Dolores Deluxe on so many projects and equally proud of having you both as friends for 50 years.
What a wild ride this career has been. Thank you for everything. You know, John got me in this business. I never considered filming. And then once I raped Divine, it was a natural.
I always loved Baltimore, my city, and was pretty stubborn about it, that, why do I have to go to Hollywood or New York to do films, you know? Over 47 years of doing this, I’ve watched the film industry continually grow. It’s really amazing tonight to see so many people gathered here. So many great crews.
I was the only production designer in Baltimore. It was a lot better than being in LA. There were hundreds of them there. So, we would just hang out and wait for the little producers to come into town, and then, like a spider in a web….
But I would have never had the opportunity to do so many great, creative, meaningful films anywhere else. I’ve been to every corner of the city. Somebody asked me today, did you film here in this ballroom? And I said, “I must have. I’ve filmed everywhere.” So thank you all very much. We’ll treasure it.