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NONFICTION : CRACKPOT by John Waters (Macmillan: $14.95; 192 pp.).

November 16, 1986|Patrick Goldstein

A connoisseur of American junk culture, John Waters is best known for directing such schlock-classics as "Pink Flamingos" and "Polyester." But with this delightful collection of 15 essays--on such disparate topics as Christmas and Pia Zadora--Waters proves just as gifted as a satirist as a film maker.

Full of shrewd advice for every occasion (discussing his adventures on the banquet circuit, he counsels: "Avoid lecturing in discos"), he emerges as something of a cross between Evelyn Waugh and Miss Manners, the sort of fellow who happily subscribes to both the New York Review of Books and the National Enquirer. Obsessed with the pratfalls of pop culture, Waters loves show-biz eccentrics, especially mad geniuses like William Castle, the godfather of exploitation films, whose publicity stunts are lovingly chronicled in one of the essays here. Noting that Castle once came to a premiere in a hearse, signaling his arrival by popping out of a coffin, Waters marvels: "Was this not the ultimate in auteurism? Would Jean-Luc Godard have arrived in a wrecked car to promote 'Weekend?' "

Blessed with an eye for telling detail (when he visits Pia, he notes she was wearing a pair of white boots with the price-tag still on), Waters gleefully lampoons our age's fascination with hype and celebrity. He's also such an oddball tourist that you wish he'd write more travel pieces (when in Atlanta, he rushes off to the street-corner where Margaret Mitchell was run over by a taxi). But while his humor is often campy and outrageous, his outlook is more affectionate than mean-spirited. After all, who else could be so in the thrall of bad art that he wishes "The Breakfast Club" was "eight hours long."

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