In I Am Divine, a worthy documentary tribute to the drag queen icon, trash king John Waters recalls hatching Pink Flamingos‘ infamous dog-shit scene: “What can we do that isn’t against the law—yet?” Waters snickers.
That dangling “yet” reminds viewers that Divine’s life and career is now being considered from the safety of hindsight. In the film, Divine (né Glenn Milstead) is first an icon, then a person. As director Jeffrey Schwarz’s bubbly gallery of talking heads observes, Divine had mixed feelings about his early collaborations with Waters. Divine couldn’t find steady work as a character actor in later years because he was best known for gobbling feces.
But he also understood that when you celebrate bad taste as much as he did, you look at the world in a uniquely grotesque, context-free way. So it’s gratifying to see Divine praised for being outrageous, as when film critic Alonso Duralde gushes that “[nobody] in the history of cinema is going to top [eating shit.]” But it’s even more exciting to hear anecdotes about Divine’s love life, or his experiences acting opposite boyhood idol Tab Hunter. Mink Stole may be right to remember that “when you were with Divine, it was a grand moment of excess.”
But late Pink Flamingos co-star David Lochary could have summed up Divine’s life when he said, “But once [the process of making movies is] finished, it’s all gravy from there, sort of. I love it once it’s done.”