I Am Divine is a documentary directed by Jeffrey Schwarz about Divine, AKA Harris Glenn Milstead, the drag queen star of such John Waters classics as Pink Flamigos and Female Trouble. Divine is known primarily for A) her outrageous face make-up B) her psychotic and deranged screen persona C) eating dog shit at the end of Pink Flamingos and D) dying early of a massive heart attack. I Am Divine shows all of that, but is also a revealing portrait of a complex and highly flawed individual.
I Am Divine premiered back in March at South by Southwest. I watched the film on the sophomore night of Oklahoma City’s deadCENTER film festival.
I can’t imagine that this is the first documentary chronicling the times of the larger-than-life queer icon. If it is, it is certainly long overdue given Divine’s death in 1988. Thusly, I Am Devine’s measure of success is in how much more it can show the audience about Divine than a Wikipedia page.
The film proves to be thorough and definitive in the shear range of interviewees from Divine’s life. Of course there’s John Waters, and the various actors Divine worked with along with the obligatory experts on queer and drag culture. But I Am Divine also features testimony from Divine’s estranged mother, and his boyhood friends. This aspect of the film proves the most pathotic and memorable. Surprising in a documentary which features an entire section on the eating of dog feces.
I Am Divine is an intimate, human portrayal of the man behind the outrageously painted face. It’s not a film that is on the cutting edge of the documentary form. I Am Devine likely wont make huge waves in the documentary world because it’s a model documentary. It hits every beat such a film is supposed to, right down to the quirkily-animated transitions.
No, I Am Divine won’t shake the documentary film world, however, it is a human and passionate portrayal of a flawed — and fascinating — individual. It is, perhaps the ultimate homage to the venerable cult hero, who is still beloved by many, not for her outrageous screen antics or shit eating, but because the very persona of Divine was the ultimate representation of unrestrained freedom.