I Am Divine: Docu About John Waters Star

This interesting feature documentary tells the story of Divine, aka Harris Glenn Milstead, from his humble beginnings as an overweight (over 300 pounds), and bullied Baltimore youth to internationally recognized drag superstar through his collaboration with filmmaker John Waters.

I saw “I Am Divine” at its world premiere at the 2013 Provincetown International Film Festival, where it was greeted with huge applause. The docu now opens theatrically for a limited run.

The significance of Divine as a performer and an icon goes way beyond strictly defined cinematic functions. Critiquing the status quo of body imaging, gender identity, sexual orientation and practice, and preconceived notions of beauty, Divine was the ultimate outsider turned underground phenomenon. With a completely committed in-your-face style, he blurred the line between performer and personality, and revolutionized pop culture. “I Am Divine” is a biographical portrait that charts the legendary icon’s long journey, emotional complexities, rise to infamy, acting methos, and loyalty to peers and friends.

The director Jeffrey Schwartz was inspired by the heroic figure as well as his cultural and ideological significance in the 1970s and 1980s. Schwartz sees Divine as a man who fought against what society considers conventionally beautiful. But his film also deals with the achievement of fame and the quest for national spotlight and artistic respect.

Divine’s ultimate ambition was to be recognized as a serious actor, not just to be admired as a campy phenomenon. To that extent, he was willing to eat for real a dog’s feces at the end of his most (in)famous film, Pink Flamingos (in 1972).

Divine’s complete devotion to acting and his unparallel commitment to expressing himself perhaps may have done more to promote notions of artistic freedom and personal and social acceptance of outsiders and minority members than he ever knew or imagined. Through his battles and successes, he paved the way for other misfits, both gays and straights, to fulfill them selves on any number of levels.

The cult (midnight) director John Water has given his blessing to the new documentary, “I Am Divine,” produced and directed by award-winning Jeffrey Schwarz. In his interviews, he has captured succinctly the screen image and cultural significance of the accomplished actor, who died in 1989. Waters proudly states: “Divine was my close friend and fearless muse. Who else could convincingly turn from teenage delinquent to mugger, prostitute, unwed mother, child abuser, fashion model, nightclub entertainer, murderess, and jailbird? All in the same movie?” Indeed!

Jeffrey Schwarz’s previous films include HBO’s “Vito,” about the beloved gay activist and film scholar Vito Russo, “Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story,” about the legendary Hollywood showman, and “Wrangler: Anatomy of an Icon,” about the 1970s porn film star Jack Wrangler. He is currently in production on “Tab Hunter Confidential,” about the 1950s screen heartthrob who lived a double life until he came out in the 1980s. Waters teamed Tab Hunter and Divine in his 1980 picture, “Polyester.”