Review: ‘Divine’ harrowing and harwarming bio

Aug. 08, 2013 @ 02:32 PM

“I Am Divine” will screen today at 5:10 p.m. in Cinema Two of the Carolina Theatre, and Sunday at 3:05 p.m. in Fletcher Hall.

When Glenn Milstead’s family moved into the same Baltimore neighborhood as future filmmaker John Waters, he took on the stage persona Divine. Beginning with “Roman Candles,” Divine went on to star in Waters’ films “Pink Flamingos,” “Polyester,” “Female Trouble” and the more mainstream hit “Hairspray.” Director Jeffrey Schwarz has created a sometimes harrowing, but also heartwarming, biography of Divine.
Schwarz makes extensive use of archival footage and artifacts, and interviews with Waters, Tab Hunter, and other film colleagues. The most touching interviews are with Diana Evans, who dated Divine in high school, and Divine’s mother Frances Milstead, who discusses their estrangement and later reunion (and to whose memory this film is dedicated).
Divine ate voraciously, and pioneered plus size drag performance. With “Hairspray,” Divine also began to get film roles as male characters. One of his ambitions was to be remembered as a character actor. Before his death in 1988, Divine was cast in the TV series “Married with Children,” and Schwarz’s film makes us ponder what might have been.
The director also has some delightful animation – check out the visual manipulation of Divine’s old high school yearbook.

--Cliff Bellamy