Just as the well-dressed throngs were surging into the art deco Senator Theatre on Baltimore's York Road last week for the premiere of John Waters's latest movie -- a "sex education" stunner of a film that has earned an NC-17 rating -- the neighborhood church bells started to ring.
It was a moment when the hometown director's movie-star red carpet met his authentic Baltimore. Yet another moment was evident just in front of the Senator, where the four searchlights announcing the glam affair sat beside The Wise Penny thrift shop, with its window displaying a bridal gown, two red prom dresses and a copy of comedian Paul Reiser's memoir.
Most movie premieres occur in far more sterile, slick venues. Not Waters's films, though. Near the front door of The Wise Penny, the shop heartily announced, "SENIOR CITIZEN DISCOUNT IS BACK!!!!"
Waters filmed "A Dirty Shame" in Baltimore's Hamilton neighborhood, on Harford Road -- an area described by residents who attended the premiere and its after-party at the Walters Art Museum as "middle class and blue collar" -- and the filmmaker who made "Hairspray" again celebrates his hometown on celluloid, even as he transforms Hamilton into an enclave of sex addicts.
As he introduced the movie last week, he gave special thanks to the member of his entourage who handled some of the movie's more outlandish props. Then he turned to his parents, who are in their eighties and attended the affair looking dapper, his mother wearing three strands of pearls, his father in a navy blazer and red tie emblazoned with pheasants.
"I told them," he said to the hundreds assembled before him, " 'If I wasn't your son, you would've never seen this.' "
Later, Waters's parents smiled indulgently about the film.
"Well, I'll tell you," Patricia Waters, 80, began, radiant with white hair and a coral jacket. "He wanted to get his old reputation back, and he succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. It was something."
"It was a little raucous," said John Waters Sr., 87. "I'm not sure I'd go see it tomorrow. It's just not what we're used to."
Starring some of Hollywood's alt-hit A-list -- Tracey Ullman, Chris Isaak, Selma Blair -- the movie opens with Ullman frying scrapple and then serving it to Blair, who plays her daughter, Ursula Udders. Ursula has, it seems, inspired rapt devotion from bikers at the nearby Holiday House, a watering hole.
When one of the bikers stops by to beg for her affections, anarchy ensues in the side yard, and Ullman and Isaak's new neighbors stand nearby, also rapt. The neighbors got one of the biggest laughs of the movie when they cried excitedly: "We sure didn't have this in D.C.!"
At the party afterward, men in tuxedos and women in such get-ups as a lime-green evening gown with matching boa or a silver lame dress with Dorothy-red slippers sipped martinis in plastic cups and chatted under a giant mosaic of Adam and Eve. Blair breezed through early on, constantly tugging at her couture black sweater, which slipped incessantly off her shoulder.
Another cast member, 25-year-old Baltimore native James Ransone, stuck around longer to drink in the experience of a movie in his home town. Ransone, who has gained some prominence on the HBO show "The Wire," which also films in Charm City, was dressed in a black blazer and sleeveless jail-striped shirt and drinking a Ketel One and tonic with lime. The whole premiere thing felt -- he paused -- "Weird? Like, I saw my next-door-neighbor growing up as a kid!"
His parents had come, too, and he recounted that his dad, a land surveyor, reacted to Waters's vision with surprise: "Talk about pushing the envelope. I think he put a stamp on it and sent it."
Ransone said he was baffled by the NC-17 rating -- "It's all alluded to!" -- but added: "Hopefully, John will do what he's always done. He'll change the norm. Look at 'Hairspray.' It's one of the best Broadways shows, but 30 years ago, they were calling it porn."
Yet it says something about "A Dirty Shame" that even the few dozen leather-clad bikers and Hells Angels inductees who came from the Holiday House to the premiere and its party were slightly stunned by Waters's material.
On many a Saturday night, the filmmaker stops by the bar, one of his favorite watering holes, said manager Vinnie Liberto.
"For years and years, he always said he was going to make a movie about it." Liberto paused. "I didn't know it would be about that, though."