I Am Divine - but is this film?

   Attention and acceptance are two entirely different things. Whilst it may have appeared that the former was sought after by the three-hundred pound animal faeces-eating drag queen Harris Milstead, I Am Divine shows that, perhaps, acceptance was craved above all else.

   Taking the form of talking head-style hagiographic biopic ( as is the vogue style for modern non-fiction ), Jeffrey Schwarz's documentary is formally everything that the Divine character Milstead developed was not - formulaic, conservative and safe. Starting with a crowning glory (in this instance, the mainstream acceptance of Divine's movie Hairspray) before flashing back to the childhood that shaped the subject (and working chronologically forward from this point), I Am Divine is hardly radical. Tone and subject matter could not be further apart.

   Schwarz's film shows us the trashy, high camp, filth punk films John Waters developed in the 1960s with Divine as his muse - anything that was kitsch, sarcastic and purposefully shocking was embraced and substance discarded in favour of glamorous superfice wherever possible. An array of characters from the period take us behind the scenes and heartily reminisce about the greatness of these creations. A blast, no doubt, for those who enjoy Waters' filmography (which is visited in depth), but those who don't find obese men in drag being raped by giant lobsters inherently amusing may wonder what the fuss it about

  Despite this, however, Schwarz attempts to paint a sincere picture of one of the most flamboyant and unusual performers in American cinema. Yet Divine, and Milstead, lived in worlds of irony and detachment, sarcasm and controversy - was it wise or even possible to make a sincere documentary about a character who never was? A conservative film about a character who opposed banality? I Am Divine is a film which will get a fair degree of attention but, all things considered, should it be one which achieves acceptance?

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