A movie for every day of the year – a good one
Divine born, 1945
On this day in 1945, Harris Glenn Milstead, aka Divine, was born, in Baltimore, Maryland, USA. Six months older than fellow Baltimore native John Waters, he became involved with Waters’ acting troupe the Dreamlanders in the mid 1960s and starred in Waters’ first four films, Mondo Trasho (1969), Multiple Maniacs (1970), Pink Flamingos (1972) and Female Trouble (1974). In fact it was Waters who gave Harris (or Glenn as he was known to family and school friends) the name Divine, after a character in Jean Genet’s debut novel, Our Lady of the Flowers. Waters was intent on making “the trashiest motion pictures in cinema history” and having an oversized drag queen (“the most beautiful woman in the world, almost” as Waters described him) on hand proved really useful to him. Divine had honed his drag skills dressing up as Elizabeth Taylor to host parties he held at his parents’ expense, after giving up his day job as a hairdresser (specialism: beehives). And after opening his own vintage clothing store, Divine Trash, he also had access to unusual clothes. It was Waters’ second film, Multiple Maniacs that first drew attention to Divine, but his third, Pink Flamingos, that gave Divine cult fame. Though he worked with Waters again after the first four films, Divine also branched out on his own, joining the psychedelic theatre troupe the Cockettes, starring in the play Women Behind Bars, working up his own nightclub routine (which included shouting “fuck you” at the audience and getting into a fight with another drag queen), and becoming a disco diva. The musical career yielded big results when Divine teamed up with UK production unit Stock, Aitken and Waterman. His film career without Waters (including a non-drag appearance in 1985’s noirish Trouble in Mind) was just beginning to hit its stride when Divine suddenly died, aged 42, of an enlarged heart.
Pink Flamingos (1972, dir: John Waters)
Described by its director as “an exercise in poor taste” Pink Flamingos is the most notorious movie made by Waters, and features the most infamous instance of suffering for your art by any actor. It’s the legendary “eating dog shit” scene, filmed in one uncut take, which shows a dog taking a dump, then Divine bending down, scooping it up and eating it. It’s the crowning moment of a film that’s all about being disgusting, with Divine playing Babs Johnson, “the filthiest person alive” according to the fictional local paper, who is then baited and stalked by jealous filthy wannabes Connie and Raymond Marble (old Waters hands Mink Stole and David Lochary). The plot also takes in women being kidnapped, inseminated and their children sold to lesbians, heroin dealers who sell smack to very young children, incidents of flashing, the famous scene in which a couple have sex on top of a live chicken (which tops the dog shit sequence for sheer grimness), as well as more routine dismemberment and cop-killing. Pink Flamingos became a cult hit on the midnight movies circuit, initially playing with Jodorowsky’s El Topo, receiving the cult seal of approval by being banned in a few countries and has still not been seen uncut in many territories. A sequel was planned, but Divine, having done his bit for posterity and art, refused to take part.
- The “eating dog shit” scene – once seen, never forgotten
- John Waters’s breakthrough movie
- A key signifier of middle class taste realigning towards genre and trash
- Props to Divine who gave the world the line “fuck you very much”
Pink Flamingos – at Amazon
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© Steve Morrissey 2013