By Laurie Coker
SXSW always offers gems in the documentary category, and I try my best to see at least a few, because I too often focus more on the narrative categories. I did, however, find a true tale Divine, on one trip to the screening library. I thoroughly enjoyed I am Divine the story of Haris Glen Milstead, born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1945, who struggle, like so many do in their youth, with his identity, and who would later become Divine, a bigger than life character, who lived life LARGE!
Directed by Jeffery Schwartz, I am Divine, takes us through the life chubby Haris Glen Milstead, to his alter-ego the vampy, audacious, and outrageous Divine. She became the larger than life star, whose friendship with John Walter’s and shocking behavior, won her/him fame. She even played duel male and female role in Female Trouble and the hit Hairspray, starring alongside Ricki Lake in the later. Divine’s sudden death at the age of 42, due to an enlarged heart, shocked the world and stole a huge comic talent.
Often chided for her filthy mouth and over the top characterizations, Divine struggled not only with her identity; she fought to be taken seriously for her obvious natural comic timing. Schwartz’s film wonderfully captures the heartache of being so big and so different in an often unforgiving and intolerant community. Using footage from Divine’s life, film and interviews of friends and colleagues, including John Waters, Schwartz chronicles a tumultuous life.
Engaging, enraging and inspiring, I enjoyed every minute with Divine. Schwartz plays perfect tribute to a pioneer who lived a brief life monumentally and with passion and zeal in a time when such goings on were totally taboo. I loved it! I am placing an A in my grade book. I wish he has given us more.