wed 24/07/2024

I Am Divine | reviews, news & interviews

I Am Divine

I Am Divine

Putting the 'yes' into Polyester: team players Divine - Glenn Milstead - and John Waters

Divine – Glenn Milstead - and John Waters: After them, cult movies were never the same again.

Divine is a lot more than dog poop. The minute you mention Divine – born Glenn Milstead in Baltimore, star of John Waters’ cult classics such as Multiple Maniacs, Pink Flamingos or Female Trouble – mention of the famous scene in Pink Flamingos where the performer actually does consume canine faeces is almost obliterated.

That almost is the door through which director Jeffrey Schwarz 
takes us, using archive stills, footage as well as new interviews with Waters, Mink Stole, Ricki Lake, Tab Hunter and many more. More effective than a DeLorean, we are right back in the day, when Divine was ploughing through stereotypes, barging onto the big screen (and vinyl) while making a new stereotype of his own. Divine was larger than life-sized and this documentary leaves room for Divine’s legend to grow. The potential for Glenn to moph into acting as a non-transvestite was to go unrealised. Here, the loss is felt deeply, especially if you lived in those heady years of the late 70s and 80s.

Harris Glen Milstead was too big for Baltimore, in almost every sense. He became the icon of bad taste movies after meeting renegade filmmaker John Waters at high school. As part a club of people who were bullied, both men delved into uber-low budget features designed to disgust – by that read “shock the suburbs”. Young people were enthralled, the middle class people was baffled, and older people just shook their heads. Both Waters and Divine had started something new – and, as Waters says, it couldn’t have happened without Divine’s total commitment and trust in him as a writer and director. Success beyond Waters came when Divine starred with Tab Hunter, the 50s heartthrob who played straight as an old flame to Divine's lusty woman in Lust In The Dust. Theatre, music and TV followed: even fans may not know how much Divine did in a truncated career.

It’s hard to convey Divine succinctly. It helps to see him/her perform. Saying he’s overweight, witty and overbearing belies his sense of good fun. Unlike those at celebrity roasts, Divine says the worst things in the funniest way, without a doubt that she’s kidding. The people who worked with Divine recall her fondly as a professional actor unrecognised for his talent out of a dress. (Divine didn’t like appearing “normally” as Divine: that persona stayed in a suitcase, he says.) Divine had star quality, charisma, verve. Entering a room, she had the undeniable something seen in Marilyn Monroe, Bettie Page and Elizabeth Taylor, of whom he said, "All my life I wanted to look like Elizabeth Taylor. Now Elizabeth Taylor looks like me".

Schwarz's documentary has the power to make everyone who watches it a believer, even those who don’t like transvestites, John Waters films or anything to do with the Eighties. Talent, fun and focus are compelling and those were Divine's innate gifts.

The film does speak about him in past tense. His premature demise is a sad one but not the typical Hollywood exit. That would have been too predictable. Shown as a man who loved everything the 70s and 80s had in store for a gay man of a certain ilk, Divine isn’t perfect. He’s vulnerable, always hungry yet always cheerful – and never dull. See I Am Divine and be illuminated by a history we tend to discount.

Talent, fun and focus are compelling and those were Divine's innate gifts


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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