Documentary is simply Divine

March 31, 2000|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

Everything you'd ever want to know about what makes John Waters so fascinating, as both filmmaker and personality, are on display in "Divine Trash," Baltimorean Steve Yeager's delightfully worshipful look at the early days of Waters' career and their lasting effect on underground and independent cinema.

Yeager's film mixes footage he shot during the making of "Pink Flamingos" (for an MPT documentary that never aired) with commentary from the inhabitants of Waters' world. That includes not only the director himself and his cast of regulars (Mink Stole, Mary Vivian Pearce), but also fellow filmmakers Jim Jarmusch, Ken Jacobs, Hal Hartley and George and Mike Kuchar.

The entire early Waters legend is there: the screenings in church basements, the shots filmed just one step ahead of the Baltimore police, even the war of wills with state film censor Mary Avara (who's interviewed to great effect) and the infamous dog-feces scene that ends "Pink Flamingos" -- and had Divine convinced he was afflicted with small white worms.

Winner of the documentary prize at the 1998 Sundance Festival, "Divine Trash" was to be released that year, but differences between Yeager and the film's distributor -- which objected to some cuts Yeager made after Sundance -- left the film in limbo. But now Artisan has the rights, a DVD and video release is planned for the summer, and the film gets a limited engagement at the Senator beginning today.

Yeager's film is also a loving remembrance of Glenn Milstead, better known to film audiences as Divine, the outlandishly proportioned drag queen who starred in just about all of Waters' earlier films. Here's betting you leave "Divine Trash" missing Divine, who died in 1988, more than you thought you would.

"He was a good actor who started his career as a homicidal maniac and ended it playing a loving mother," says Waters, "which is a pretty good stretch, especially when you are a 300-pound man."

`Divine Trash'

Starring John Waters and Divine

Written and directed by Steve Yeager

Released by Winstar Cinema

Unrated (Language, nudity, genial perversity)

Running time 87 minutes

Sun score * * * *

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