I Am Divine
He was born Harris Glenn Milstead but you know him better as Divine. Offering a rich collection of contributors who narrate his life with warmhearted and funny poignancy, I Am Divine charts the journey that saw a bullied child rise to stardom as cult filmmaker John Waters’ muse before battling again to break free of his drag queen persona. An untimely death robbed him of the opportunity, but Jeffrey Schwarz’s film presents a fascinating window into the heart of a controversial and complex figure.
Growing up in conservative Baltimore, he was picked on for his effeminate nature and weight before meeting John Waters and lunging into the local underground movement. With contributors ranging from Waters, many of his colleagues, his mother and Divine himself, Schwarz tracks the artist’s emergence as a powerfully flamboyant performer in early Waters classics like Mondo Trasho and Pink Flamingos (and yes, the infamous dog turd scene is covered). Soon he’s meeting Andy Warhol, befriending Elton John and embarking on a successful stage and music career.
Given the larger than life nature of his star, Schwarz judges the tone perfectly weaving in a series of often filthy anecdotes; this is after all a performer who would enter the stage throwing dead mackerel from a shopping trolley into the audience. But he was also a man frustrated that so few people could see past the glamorous outfits and oversized wigs to the craft behind it all. His colleagues talk almost ruefully of the way he strove to carve out a legitimate acting career, a struggle he was starting to win before overeating and under-exercising caused him to suffer heart failure aged only 42.
Moving seamlessly through each stage of his life, I Am Divine demonstrates a high degree of technical accomplishment. It’s all conventional documentary making, something that sits slightly oddly beside the uncompromising and unique theatricality Divine brought to his varied performances, but there are also moments of real emotional immediacy that shine through alongside the humour: a family reunion after years of exile can’t fail to tug the heartstrings. By the end, Schwarz has served up laughs and tears as he succeeds in revealing the man behind the makeup. And, like the man himself, it’s simply divine.
I Am Divine is released nationwide on 18th July 2014.
Watch the trailer for I Am Divine here: