RevFest 2013 – I Am Divine

I Am Divine

Directed by: Jeffrey Schwarz

Starring: Divine, John Waters, Ricki Lake

Four stars

Review by: Julian Wright

Before people like Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian proved that worldwide fame can be achieved by doing nothing at all, fame was something that was earned, something that you worked hard for. For one particular person, this was true, but it was also by eating dog poo. Before drag sensation Divine came along, one would have thought that anyone documented chowing down on dog faeces would have been shunned by society, forced to hole up in their house and never be able to walk down the street or look anyone in the eye again. But it was that stomach churning act captured in Pink Flamingos (1972) that became drag queen  Harris Glen Milstead’s (as his alter ego Divine) key to notoriety and the success he dreamed of.

I Am Divine is an intimate love letter to the man, who died in 1988, who embraced the outrageous and became a sensation. Wiping away the drag makeup to reveal what drove and troubled the ambitious all-round performer, this documentary sheds light on the in-your-face talent through interviews with friends, family and ex-lovers and manages to communicate his appeal to those unfamiliar with his work. From his humble, small town beginnings as a teenager who struggled with his sexuality and an eating disorder (not just the dog poo), to appearing in rough home made movies for his pal John Waters and later a short lived music career, Harris was a bold fellow and unafraid to give anything a go. Through his eclectic showbiz career, he became the inspiration for generations of the gay community, an inspiration that he never had growing up.


Never afraid to let his freak flag fly, and always encouraging others to do the same, the bombastic and unapologetic diva touched many lives before his untimely death at 42, just as his career trajectory was taking him into the mainstream. While preparing for a recurring role in television sitcom Married…With Children, he passed away. But as it is revealed in I Am Divine, the bright makeup, outrageous wigs and impossibly high hair-line were often a cover for a man that was battling some demons. Testimonials offered to us from those that knew him best are thorough and insightful, but there is something missing. Despite some (very limited) interview footage of the man himself, this suffers from a lack of Divine’s voice. Archive footage is spliced in, but one can’t help but wish there was just a little bit more.

I Am Divine screens as part of Revelation Perth International Film Festival 2013 on July 8 and 13.

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