I Am Divine (Wolfe Video, NR)

iamdivine 75And I trust all of you enough to let you in on my favorite actor: Divine. If you think I’m joking, I’m not.

i-am-divine 500

Being a film critic, a common question from people who don’t know me very well is “What’s your favorite movie?” The answer to this question for me is the same as it is for almost all film critics: “I don’t have one.” I do have other favorite things, though; if you ask me my favorite movie from last year, or my favorite movie so far of the new millennium, or my favorite director, or my favorite actress, etc., you may get an answer, depending on how much I trust you. And I trust all of you enough to let you in on my favorite actor: Divine. If you think I’m joking, I’m not.

One would hope that you already know why Divine is. If not, a primer is that Divine was born Harris Glenn Milstead, and came to prominence as the memorable 300-pound transvestite lead of most of John Waters’ early films (Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble, Polyester, etc.). Known for playing female roles, as Divine’s career progressed he became more interested in being known as a character actor, which he was more than capable at, and late in his career he won acclaim for his supporting role in Waters’ 1988 movie Hairspray. He also memorably played a male character in Alan Rudolph’s 1985 film Trouble in Mind, and died abruptly in his sleep in 1988 on the eve of filming a role as a guest performer on Married with Children.

There have been documentaries that Divine has featured heavily in before, mostly notably the two Steve Yeager made on the Dreamlanders (the collective title of John Waters’ team of regular collaborators), 1998’s Divine Trash and 2000’s In Bad Taste, but Jeffrey Schwarz’s new film I Am Divine is the first straightforward biographical documentary about Divine. If you’re a big Divine fan like myself, you probably won’t learn anything new from it, but if you’re someone who either doesn’t know who Divine is (for shame!) or know who he is but don’t see why anyone takes him very seriously, I Am Divine is an extremely accessible film that will help clear up these questions for you—in fact, I’d go so far as to say that non-Divine fans will get more out of the film than Divine fans, though the latter seems the much more likely category to see this film in the first place.

After a grand total of one theatrical screening in St. Louis, which occurred last summer as part of QFest (it got a more traditional run in other cities), I Am Divine is finally being released on DVD and on demand. The DVD is worth picking up for the special features; there aren’t a ton, but they’re good ones. There’s a full thirty minutes of deleted scenes, which are nicely polished and well worth watching, though unfortunately there’s no menu to help you sort through them. Second, the DVD features a commentary track by Schwarz, producer Lotti Pharriss Knowles, and Dreamlander and Divine friend Mink Stole. This commentary is more specifically for hardcore Divine nerds than the film proper is, and also somehow marks the first time the great Mink Stole has appeared on a commentary track, which alone should be enough to sell you on the endeavor. Knowles kind of gets in the way sometimes, as of the three she’s far and away the least knowledgeable about John Waters and Divine folklore, but her presence perhaps would make the commentary go down easier for those who may be being introduced to Divine for the first time in this film.

One last bonus fun fact: I Am Divine was produced by St. Louis native Lance Robertson, aka DJ Lance Rock, of Yo Gabba Gabba! fame. I love this detail, but couldn’t find a direct way to work it into the main text, given how seemingly out of left field it is. | Pete Timmermann

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply