It was a Friday night in my senior year of high school, I was at a grocery store (most likely buying a two liter of Mountain Dew and Sour Patch Kids), and their bargain bin was overflowing with VHS movies. I sifted through and found a tape that shaped the rest of my life. It was John Waters’ Pecker.
Pecker is about a young guy in the Hampden neighborhood of Baltimore that likes taking pictures of the people he loves. He snaps photos of his friends, family, and the townspeople and develops them in his own darkroom. His approach to his subjects comes from the heart and is never condescending. Hell, Pecker is never condescending in general. When his grandmother claims that a Virgin Mary statue has been talking to her, he calls it a miracle without a shred of irony.
Pecker arranges a small display of his work at the sandwich shop he works at and the locals are happy seeing themselves in his photos. But, everything goes to shit when Rorey Wheeler, a New York art dealer, decides to showcase his portfolio in a fancy gallery. Suddenly his subjects are analyzed to shreds, and his sincerity becomes corrupted. His work alienates his loved ones, and the increased attention to his work ultimately becomes an obstacle to creating art and to his relationships.
His girlfriend Shelley goes to the New York gallery exhibit, and when she busses it back to Baltimore she kisses the pavement. She is back in Baltimore after a glamorous trip to New York City, and she kisses the ground of her home town. That sweet two seconds from John Waters’ Pecker packs a punch and has always stayed with me.
Pecker is also compassionate to the pretentious New Yorkers as their vulnerabilities are exposed over the course of the film. Pecker holds a second exhibition of his work that scrutinizes the private moments of their lives and they are humbled. They experience the opposite end of criticism themselves, and in the end everyone is friends. It’s so happy!
A main aspect of the film that affected me was that Pecker flourished in a small town while a large cosmopolitan area actually sapped his creativity. Some people in the film thrived in Manhattan, so the message to the audience isn’t that people should avoid big cities; it’s that not everyone needs to be in a metropolis to produce great art.
Around the fifth time I saw Pecker, I began to look at my own hometown differently. Instead of the characters that milled around main street creeping me out, they began to seem lively, even integral to the clockwork of the town. The quietness of Haslett, which used to be depressing, started to charm me. After graduating college it was time to officially move on to somewhere new, but this concept of “loving where you’re at” has only seeped deeper inside me. It doesn’t matter where you live: there are wonderful and beautiful things there that do not exist anywhere else.
Since then I’ve lived in several places including Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor, and Chapel Hill, and I’ve made it a point to explore each place and to appreciate the local flavor as much as possible. And it’s made my life more fun.
A big thank-you to everyone involved in making such a marvelously wide-eyed film. To sum up Pecker: There’s no place like home, no matter where home happens to be.
On a related note: I don’t see it, but some people say my husband looks like Edward Furlong in this movie. So yeah, this movie got under my skin.