Review: I Am Divine

It is rare that a documentary chronicling the life of a popular culture figure actually feels comprehensive, but Jeffrey Schwartz's I Am Divine gets right into the heart of its subject with passion and rich detail.

I Am Divine chronicles the life of Harris Glen Milstead - the cinematic muse of cult filmmaker John Waters and the actor who would go on to become the drag phenomenon known as Divine. Schwartz delves into Divine's work with Waters, his recording career and his struggles (from his early school life to his relationship with parents and food).

Schwartz has crafted a truly immersive look at Milstead's life - showcasing how this effeminate yet staggeringly caring and generous Baltimore teen turned into an anarchic drag icon. Waters' aficionados may be well aware of much of the details discussed - but fortunately I Am Divine tackles a lot of fresh ground from alternative perspectives. A variety of talking head interviews with Waters, France Milstead (Glen's mother), and co-stars and admirers like Tab Hunter, Mink Stole, Mary Vivian Pierce, The Cockettes and Holly Woodlawn add to this full documentary.

Whilst it is a delight to see behind the scenes of the Waters' productions which made Divine a star - mainly Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble, much of the new ground in I Am Divine comes from detailing Milstead as a person and his work between Waters' collaborations. Details of his romantic relationships with gay porn star Leo Ford or relationships with friends like David Lochary shed some light on the person that Milstead was off screen. Further insight comes from looking at the gap between Female Trouble and Polyester where Divine began to star in off-Broadway shows The Neon Woman and Women Behind Bars. Schwartz brings in some rare footage of these madcap theatrics which look wonderfully chaotic and flamboyant.

I Am Divine also dips into Divine's successful career as a Hi-NRG recording artist and explores his tours through clubs around Europe and the strain this had on his health. Archive footage of Divine performing hits like You Think You're A Man, I'm So Beautiful, Native Love and Walk Like a Man prove that the cult star was not simply a one trick pony. Schwartz even devotes a chunk of time detailing Milstead's non-Waters' productions like Lust in the Dust and Trouble in Mind.

I Am Divine is an immersive and joyously entertaining glimpse into the live of Harris Glen Milstead. No stone is left unturned whether it be detailing the Waters' collaborations, Milstead's stage and recording careers, or breaking the cult titan down to a raw human level by detailing his personal struggles and character. I Am Divine is a masterpiece.

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