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Truly Divine: John Waters’s Muse Divine Gets a Retro at BAM

Truly Divine: John Waters's Muse Divine Gets a Retro at BAM

Harris Glenn Milstead AKA Divine, the actor that provided John Waters with inspiration for some of his boldest films, such  “Pink Flamingos” and “Female Trouble,” is getting a retrospective of films at BAM.  Divine also plays the mother of Tracy Turnblad in “Hairspray,” a role reprised by John Travolta in the movie musical adaptation of the film.  

The series includes those three films, the Waters’ film “Polyester,” Joseph Losey’s “Boom!,” a film that inspired Waters and Divine throughout their tenure together, and the New York premiere of Jeffrey Schwarz’s documentary “I Am Divine.”

Here’s the retro’s lineup:

Film Descriptions and Screening Days, supplied by BAM

Boom! (1968) 113min

Directed by Joseph Losey. With Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Noel Coward. 

According to John Waters, “It’s the best failed art film ever. It’s a ridiculous re-title of the Tennessee Williams play The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore with Elizabeth Taylor as the richest woman in the world. It is the ultimate drag queen role… It really influenced Divine and I. Elizabeth Taylor was Divine’s idol… I used to show it on first dates. If they didn’t like it I could never go out with them again.”

Wed, Oct 3 at 8pm

Female Trouble (1974) 89min

Directed by John Waters. With David Lochary, Mary Vivian Pierce, Mink Stole, Edith Massey.

“I hate you, I hate this house, and I hate Christmas!” All that Dawn Davenport (Divine) wants for Christmas is a pair of cha-cha heels. When Santa fails to deliver, she embarks on a path of felony and depravity that ultimately leads to an electrifying demise. Never funnier, Waters still revels in trash, but embraces narrative coherence as never before, and with a dazzling performance by his plus-size diva Divine, crafts a moving piece of melodrama about American society’s sordid underbelly.

Sat, Sep 28 at 2, 4:30, 7, 9:30pm

Hairspray (1988) 92min

Directed by John Waters. With Ricki Lake, Divine, Debbie Harry, Sonny Bono. 

Waters and Divine scored their biggest commercial success with this high trash, pop art musical satire. In 1960s Baltimore—in which the bouffant rules and every week a new dance craze is launched—overweight teen Tracy Turnblad becomes a local dancing sensation on The Corny Collins Show—and uses her newfound celebrity to become a crusader for civil rights. As Tracy’s mother, Divine (in her final film) steals the whole glorious, retro-schlock shebang. “When she’s onscreen, the movie has something like the lunacy of a W.C. Fields in drag,” wrote Pauline Kael.

Tue, Oct 2 at 4:30, 7, 9:30pm

I Am Divine (2013) 90min NY Premiere!

Directed by Jeffrey Schwarz. 

This new documentary charts how Harris Glenn Milstead, a chubby, misunderstood, gay teen from Baltimore, transformed himself into cult icon Divine, John Waters’ muse and the star of Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble, and Hairspray. Through interviews with Divine’s collaborators and friends, including the ever-entertaining Waters, Ricki Lake, Tab Hunter, and Mink Stole, I Am Divine shows how Milstead’s brash, boldly confrontational style broke barriers and gave a voice to outcasts everywhere.

Wed, Sep 25 at 7:30pm Q&A with Jeffrey Schwarz and friends

Pink Flamingos (1972) 93min

Directed by John Waters. With David Lochary, Mary Vivian Pierce, Mink Stole, Danny Mils, Edith Massey. Waters’ incendiary adventure in bad taste showcases the battle between two factions as they compete for the title of Filthiest People Alive. Divine does her part to come out on top, doing everything from licking furniture to, in an infamous scene, eating dog excrement. No matter how squeamish, everyone should see this film at least once.

Thu, Sep 26 at 4:30, 7, 9:30pm

Polyester (1981) 86min

Directed by John Waters.

After bursting on the scene in 1972 with the bad taste manifesto and midnight cult classic Pink Flamingos, Waters gradually refined his craft while losing none of his brilliantly subversive wit. In 1981 he released Polyester, with its resurrection of Smell-O-Vision, foot-fetish teenagers, and Divine as a housewife trapped in a suburban nightmare. Waters’ outrageousness meets Douglas Sir’s melodrama in Reagan America, resulting in one of his most entertaining films.

Sun, Sep 29 at 2, 4:30, 7, 9:30pm

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