I Am Divine
Lovers of all things "trashy" are breathing a bad-taste sigh of relief today, thanks to Automat Pictures’ and Wolf Video’s DVD release of the long awaited documentary "I Am Divine" (The True Story of the Most Beautiful Woman in the World) by filmmaker Jeffrey Schwarz. This love letter to actor Glenn Milstead, known more famously as "Divine," is a compelling peek into the heart of a bigger-than-life persona.
A chubby kid attending school in Towson, MD, Glenn Milstead was harassed, bullied, beaten up, and intimidated; but "Divine" took everything that he hated about himself (and what some other people hated about him) and "turned it into a style." He wanted to be taken seriously as a character actor. "Divi," as many of his friends and co-stars called him, was seeking the respect of other serious actresses of the time like Elizabeth Taylor and Meryl Streep. He had the ear and support of authors and artists. (Warhol himself offered to fund the next project by John Waters after "Pink Flamingos" became a midnight sensation.) He played to sold out theaters in New York in "Women Behind Bars" and "The Neon Woman," and had an illustrious music career. Sadly, even a strained relationship with his parents, past drug use, and a debilitating food addiction couldn’t keep Divine on the Earth as long as her fans wanted her to be here, and needed her to be performing.
The highlight of the documentary is interviews with Mrs. Frances Milstead, Divine’s mother, who passed away at the age of 88 in March of 2009. Mrs. Milstead speaks fondly of her days with "Glenny," and adds a real insight for the viewers what is was like to grow up a closeted child in the late 50s and early 60s. It was only after meeting other hairstylists and male make-up mavens that he eventually befriended Baltimorean John Waters, and became Waters’ "femme de plume," named first as "Lady Divine" by Waters, and then just "Divine."
"I Am Divine" is packed full of Home Movie footage and photographs from Divine’s childhood and footage from the early days of Waters’ films. There are also countless interviews with costars and inspired industry performers; Mink Stole, Tab Hunter, Sue Lowe, Mary Vivian Pierce, Ricki Lake, Waters’ casting guru Pat Moran, Bruce Vilanch, Miss Coco Peru, Peaches Christ, Holly Woodlawn, and more, speaking fondly of those days when, as Waters puts it, "We were doing hideous things on film. It was ’Early Reality.’ "
The DVD comes with Bonus Materials which include film trailers, commentary, and 30 Minutes of deleted scenes. The bonus footage is fun and informative; It includes Divine’s mother talking about Divine’s early days doing hair for the "Hair Hoppers" in Baltimore; Pat Moran sheds light on who owned the dog whose poop was "heard-round-the-world"; and Sue Lowe’s baby in "Female Trouble." The DVD’s audio commentary features the voices of Director/Producer Schwarz, Mink Stole, and Producer Lotti Phariss. The anticipation for this film on DVD extends because of the outreach it can now have to "the masses." As of April 1s, "I Am Divine" is also now available for digital download. Fans of Divine can only hope that if and when "I Am Divine" gets its Blu-ray release, there will be even more bonus features to enjoy.
The film "I Am Divine" was in the works for over half a decade, as it tried to get a definitive amount of interviews, archival footage, and funding so Shwarz’s work could be shared with the public. After shooting hours of countless footage with the people that were the closest to Divine, "I Am Divine" released one of the most visible, and successful film related Kickstarter campaigns to date. It raised over $51,000, donated by friends, family members, and worshipers of what is the legacy of John Waters’ fans, but especially fans of Divine. Since playing to a limited Film Festival release and earning less than $100,000 at the box office "I Am Divine" claimed the Audience Award at Cinema Q in Denver, and FilmOut San Diego; Favorite Doc Award at Seattle’s Lesbian & Gay Film Festival; Festival Favorite award from Cinema Diverse in Palm Springs, and Best Documentary at Dallas’ Q Cinema Festival. This DVD release is a chance for the film to really shine, as Divine always did, reaching millions of liquid eyeliner mainstreamers, where those fans normally wouldn’t have access to "The Reigning Queen of Sleeze’s" full story.
Schwarz’s mission for "I Am Divine" is to keep Divine "alive," exposing her to a new generation to whom Divine was and whom she’ll never stop being for years to come in the annals of independent shock value cinema. "Hurt is hurt," says Pat Moran. "We wish there had been a better ending to the story, but there wasn’t." Perhaps Schwarz’s documentary is just waiting to choose an unknown troubled kid looking to be inspired by another misunderstood boy who took his desires and love for making people laugh, breaking the rules of drag, and helping them find a chosen loving, supportive family, albeit a little dysfunctional. "A young person could be inspired (by Divine) to do what you want, anything’s possible," says Waters. "Be obsessed... you gotta take giant risks; and you gotta believe in yourself."
"I Am Divine"
DVD with Bonus Materials
Wolfe Video $19.95