REVIEW: I AM DIVINE / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: JEFFREY SCHWARZ / STARRING: DIVINE, MICHAEL MUSTO, JOHN WATERS, MINK STOLE, MARK PAYNE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Harris Glenn Milstead's rise from bullied outsider at school in Baltimore to international cult icon known as Divine is a story that has been touched upon in documentaries several times over the years. These were usually in relation to his association with Waters, but I Am Divine focuses the spotlight purely on the one they called The Most Beautiful Woman in the World. That is not to say that those wonderful counter-culture classics are not a massive part of the Divine story, but it's fantastic to see the other side of the larger-than-life character.
As well as footage from the well-known cult films, there is rare footage of her performing in off-off Broadway play Women Behind Bars, talk show appearances in which he insisted as showing up as Glen, much to the bemusement of the hosts who obviously wanted the 'freak show' act, and a later, rather successful, disco career. From early collaborations with infamous troupe of hippies and drag queens from San Francisco, The Cockettes to excessive drug taking and worse still for Divine - eating (and not that scene in Pink Flamingos).
Director Schwarz (who also made the superb Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story) took to Indiegogo to finish the production, and the attention to detail and assortment of interviewees is astounding. Glen's mother, Frances, talking not too long before she herself died, gives an emotional account of her difficulties with her son, but also how wonderful it was to be reacquainted in later life. From the film world, naturally, Waters and co-star Mink Stole are present, but so are Tab Hunter (Polyester) and Ricky Lake (Hairspray).
The real tragedy to Divine's untimely passing, other than what one would normally expect, was he was beginning to be accepted as an actor rather than just a drag queen, and that he never realised his full potential.
For a large part of the population, Divine means nothing. Some don't even realise the Hairspray musical is based on one of her films. To them, this is a must-see, if only to open their eyes to what is happening outside the mainstream. Those who already know and love Divine will cherish this documentary as both a tribute and testament to a great, much missed talent.
Expected Rating: 8 out of 10