Writers: Cast: Divine, John Waters, Frances Milstead, Mink Stole, Holly Woodlawn
Running time: 90mins
The lowdown: Funny, engrossing and poignant documentary account of Harris Glen Milstead, who stormed the world as Divine – “the most beautiful woman in the world”. Most famous and infamous for eating dog-do on camera for Pink Flamingos, director Jeffrey Schwarz reveals Milstead as a true professional with a Herculean work-ethic, a shy personality whose alter-ego was an inspiration to outsiders everywhere. Trash glamour never looked so good.
The full verdict: The life path of anyone who describes eating dog excrement as “the best and worst thing that ever happened to me” will not follow a well-trodden trail.
And Divine, drag queen extraordinaire, John Waters’ muse and one-man Pride rally, lived far outside the everyday.
Jeffrey Schwarz’s documentary bio does stick to the standard template of talking heads, archive footage and film clips, in acknowledgement that no actor in a reconstruction could capture the shrieking, Liberace-on-acid persona of Divine.
Born to a middle-class family in Baltimore, Milstead hid his homosexuality throughout school, dating a local girl (interviewed here), before hitting adulthood and the drag scene. Finding freedom and fame in wearing women’s outfits unsuited to his Wellesisan girth, Milstead was christened Divine by Waters and the two became midnight movie sensations.
This led to an underground theatre career, back when the likes of Warren Beatty and Elton John would check out a show off-off Broadway, record contracts and film gigs.
The cult line up of talking heads includes Waters, Mink Stole, Warhol drag queen Holly Woodlawn, Ricki Lake and Divine’s mother, Frances Milstead, touchingly recalling the enstrangement and eventual reconciliation with her son.
Divine fans will relish clips of the early Waters shorts and archive footage of those experimental plays, plus a Top of the Pops appearance that got him banned from the show and on the front page of The Sun.
For all the shock value and dog-dirt, Divine’s biggest achievement was inspiring others through his fearlessness. That his life was cut short just as the recognition for an undeniable acting talent was beginning is a genuine tragedy.
Hairspray, Divine’s final film, encapsulates the man – larger than life, warmhearted, and a bloody good time.