Complete A-Z list

I am Divine


Stars: Harris Glenn Milstead aka Divine

Director: Jeffrey Schwarz

I imagine that seedy cinematic icons from Baltimore are relatively rare and largely unheralded.

The good citizens of largest city in Maryland are probably more proud of such all-American media greats as Larry Adler, Philip Glass, Mildred Dunnock, Barry Levinson, Oprah Winfrey and Frank Zappa among many.

So three cheers for director Jeffrey Schwarz for his eminently entertaining and fascinating biopic of Baltimore-born movie icon Harris Glenn Milstead who, happily gay, overweight, a lot less than Hollywood-handsome and bullied at school, was determined to become a movie star. And, catalyzed by fellow Baltimorean John Waters he succeeded as the celebrated drag superstar Divine who memorably found eternal fame eating dog faeces in ‘Pink Flamingos’ and, under Waters’ direction, finally achieved multiplex stardom in the same film.

Schwarz’s film is pure (actually, that should probably be impure) pleasure from start to finish. He makes true his comment, “A documentary could honour Divine in just the way he always craved – as a serious artist and immortal star” in a series of interviews, clips and comments that vividly illustrate the metamorphosis of Harris Glenn Milstead into a fat, foul-mouthed and eminently entertaining independent cinema icon.

Schwarz balances behind-the-scenes reality – notably Divine’s estrangement and ultimate reunion with his mother as well as extraordinary footage from the making of his cult successes – with still stark scenes from his films with John Waters, sequences that could easily raise hair on the heads of totally bald middle-aged men and their spouses.

Milstead/Divine emerges as a splendidly filthy minded, one-of-a kind cross-dresser whose relatively few films provide fine evidence of his unique ‘talents’. How many ‘actors’ can you think of who can be seen (on film, of course!) being raped by a giant lobster? Waters rightly is allocated a considerable amount of fascinating-to-watch footage in praise of his discovery Tab Hunter, looking pretty hale, also gives evidence, and Divine’s mother frequently grounds the proceedings with maternal rather than intellectual analysis.

Even if you’ve never heard of Divine, this documentary makes really fascinating viewing illuminating its central character and his extraordinary and unique theatrical and cinematic achievement.

Alan Frank

USA 2014. UK Distributor: Peccadillo. Colour.
90 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 3, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 0, Swearing 3.

Review date: 20 Jul 2014