“I Am Divine,” the largely crowd-funded documentary directed by Jeffrey Schwarz, chronicles the life of none other than the Divine, John Waters’ muse who defined a generation of proto-punk films like “Pink Flamingos” and “Female Trouble,” and famously ate dog doo-doo in front of the camera.
Beneath the fierce — in the true sense of the word — makeup and drag he was Harris Glenn Milstead. Divine was just a day job, he insisted, but he ended up getting pegged for that alter-ego throughout his career until his death at age 42. The documentary covers his struggle to be taken seriously as an actor outside the larger-than-life Divine persona, meeting John Waters and other gay folks in Baltimore and, of course, his love of drugs and partying.
For Waters loyalists and Divine devotees, “I Am Divine” is pure pleasure start to finish. The talking heads-style doc features illuminating interviews with Waters, “Hairspray” co-star Ricki Lake (with whom Divine shared a rivalry on and offscreen), Mink Stole, Tab Hunter — about whom director Schwarz is making his next documentary feature — and several emotionally wrenching conversations with Divine’s once-estranged mother.
In 2011, Jeffrey Schwarz directed “Vito” for HBO, another biographical doc about a gay icon, Vito Russo, who authored the seminal queer cinema book “The Celluloid Closet.” “I Am Divine,” which played to acclaim at SXSW, Frameline and other festivals, is a worthy successor to that film, and hopefully portends more honest queer portraits to come from the director.