Tag Archives: lgbtq cinema

I Am Divine

I Am Divine posterContinuing my interest in cult movie documentaries, following the likes of Midnight Movies, Electric Boogaloo, Not Quite Hollywood and Jodorowsky’s Dune, I delved into Jeffrey Schwarz’s film about the ‘muse of John Waters’, Divine, aka Harris Glenn Milstead.

While my awareness of Divine was brief she was certainly a fascinating presence, known to me mostly for the early extreme films of John Waters but later finding a kind of mainstream-cult notoriety in Water’s Hairspray and a suitably surreal looking pop career.

I Am Divine then charts his/her life and career in some detail, not pulling too many punches but clearly coming from an affectionate viewpoint.

While I get the feeling this probably glosses over quite a lot of things, it does mean that many of Divine’s friends and colleagues are present as talking heads which adds a definite authenticity to the story.

Unsurprisingly Waters is a highlight among these whether in archive footage or interviews recorded for the film and it’s clear that the two shared a strange connection which gives much credence to the ‘muse’ notion.

Divine, out of costume

Divine, out of costume

That said there are a few moments where Waters, and others, come dangerously close to appearing to lead the rather naive and enthusiastic young Milstead into quite such a surreal position, particularly when it is revealed that Divine’s name and look were constructed by Waters and his crew of ‘Dreamlanders’, though for the most part it feels that Divine was fairly complicit in this too.

Generally the production of I Am Divine is fairly standard but given the less than standard story it tells this doesn’t really matter as the straight forward interviews reveal an honesty that is essential while the archive footage of Divine both in and out of character helps bring the stories to life.

Away from the Waters link particularly interesting are stories from Holly Woodlawn about Divine’s meeting with Andy Warhol, tales from the time Divine toured as a disco pop performer, including an appearance on Top Of The Pops where British tabloids typically declared the appearance as ‘worse than Boy George’.

Divine in Pink Flamingos

Divine in Pink Flamingos

As with the best of these kind of films it has encouraged me to look further into Waters’ and Divine’s films and gives those I have seen a somewhat new aspect based around the difference between Divine’s on and offstage demeanour.

While all of this is fascinating the thing that really makes I Am Divine something different from many similar profile documentaries is the family and personal story that is threaded through.

This is made all the stronger thanks to the participation of Divine’s own mother.

While this side of the story has its ups and downs it overall is one with as happy an ending as it can have given Divine’s ultimate fate.

In the end I Am Divine is a fascinating, surprisingly touching, film with a story that, while ultimately tragic in many ways, never fails to be uplifting and delivers much of the same message of pride espoused by much of the LGBT+ plus movement and, appropriately enough, the message of The Rocky Horror Show could easily be applied as a message to take from Divine’s life… ‘Don’t dream it, be it!’

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Channel Islands Pride Movie Nights – 52 Tuesdays and Cabaret

Fermain Valley cinema

The Fermain Valley cinema

Following the previous Saturday’s parade through St. Peter port, Channel Islands Pride week continued in Guernsey as Liberate staged a pair of film screenings of two rather different movies that’s fall under the ‘LGBTQ cinema’ banner, 52 Tuesdays and Cabaret, at The Fermain Valley Hotel’s small but well appointment private cinema (an ideal location for these kind of events).

The two films fall into very different areas of the ‘LGBTQ cinema’ canon but, in their own ways both tackle a host of issues while also having a far broader appeal than that specific cinematic niche may often thought to have.

52 Tuesdays is an Australian indie drama from director/co-writer Sophie Hyde, that tells the story of a teenage girl (Billie, played by Tilda Cobham-Hervey) going through many of the usual coming of age rigmarole seen elsewhere with the addition of her mother (James, formerly Jane, played by Del Herbert-Jane) is taking the first steps of transition.

52 Tuesdays posterOn paper this sounds like it could be a fairly heavy-handed conceit but, with the films largely verite-ish style it all just becomes part of the ebb and flow of Billie’s young, often confusing, life – though it’s interesting to note that the transition isn’t portrayed as the most confusing aspect of this experience.

The title of the film stems from the fact that Billie and James meet weekly on Tuesday evenings and the construction of the film follows this showing us (mostly) only what happens on these Tuesday evenings.

This gives the viewer the chance to see, and the filmmakers a chance to show, aspects of James’ transition over the course of a year rather than a more compact period so it allows exposure to many more ‘day to day’ aspects than I had previously seen depicted, and it never suggests that this snapshot of a year is the complete process.

Along with this we get Billie’s transition into young adulthood and the two are juxtaposed and played off each other very well, even if Billie’s side of the story occasionally has the whiff of soap opera. This is counteracted by the style of the production and the performances which never feel anything less than real.

52 Tuesdays - James and Billie

James and Billie

While not perfect 52 Tuesdays is an energetic and engrossing real life drama that largely steers clear of the stereotypical tropes of soap it could easily veer into and highlights the disconnect between the reality of these situations and that usually depicted through mainstream media while also highlighting the issues faced by those transitioning in a way that isn’t like watching an educational film.

The addition of the coming of age storyline then gives the film an added accessibility away from what might be perceived as a niche, one note, ‘issue’ film, making for something that I couldn’t help but feel could connect with a wider audience if they were just given the chance.

Cabaret movie posterFrom low-budget indie drama to a mainstream award-winning film regularly cited as a classic but still falling firmly into the LGBTQ cinematic canon, Bob Fosse’s startling and unique musical, Cabaret.

Set in the dying days of Weimar-era Berlin it follows English student Brian Roberts (Michael York) on his journey into the city’s hedonistic nightlife led by cabaret performer Sally Bowles (Liza, with a Z, Minnelli).

From the off the style is almost entirely in contrast to 52 Tuesdays as Fosse uses what, at first, feel like almost Brechtian verfremdungseffekt alienation techniques by situating all the music with the Kit Kat Club cabaret, almost commenting on the surrounding action. Here Joel Grey as the master of ceremonies (often referee to as ‘Emmcee’) provides a standout performance at once welcoming and sinister as the story progresses and we get scenes of chaotic decadence juxtaposed with the brutal rise of the Nazi party.

Running alongside the cabaret scenes we get the story of Brian and Sally’s apparent affair which is, for the most part more naturalistic – although the presence of a lot of soft focus keeps it at something of a distance.

Cabaret - Max, Brian and Sally

Max, Brian and Sally

It’s here a more open side of LGBTQ representation and general sexuality appears, away from the potentially seedy and heightened world of the cabaret club, as Brian at first appears to be gay, then later bi or pan, while he and Sally enjoy an explicitly polyamorous affair with playboy baron Maximilian von Heune (Helmut Griem).

Even today this is dealt with in surprisingly straight forward fashion and it’s no surprise this raised more than eyebrows in the early 1970s, though equally it is all a bit idealised in its way.

More shocking now is the depiction of the rise of nazism in Germany with racial abuse, violence and a clear depiction of the kind of creeping nastiness that I can’t help but see reflected in the world today. This is brilliantly portrayed in a scene at a very typical looking country fair type event as the crowd join in with a youthful, blonde haired Nazi in singing a song dedicated to the fatherland.

Cabaret - Joel Grey

The Master of Ceremonies

The culmination of what feels like three nearly independent threads comes in surprisingly melancholic fashion for a big musical with Sally drawn back into the world of the cabaret but with the decadent Weimar audience replaced with brown shirts with red armbands as Brian returns to England.

This leads to an ambiguous feeling of the end of innocence pervading Sally’s haunted delivery of ‘Cabaret’ before the credits roll in silence and we ponder what we all know came next.

As a double bill to show as part of Channel Islands Pride Week 52 Tuesdays and Cabaret were interesting choices but ones that spanned a surprising breadth of LGBTQ issues and experience in their own way and I couldn’t help but think it would be great to make screenings like this a more regular part of Liberate’s work, although the question of how to encourage more than just an already familiar audience into the cinema would be the biggest issue.

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