The Senator Theatre was overcome by a merciless attack of bad taste last night. Mismatched patterns, truckloads of mascara, beehive hairdos and sequins of every imaginable unnatural color. It was all there, and it was all awful.
Of course, suspicion immediately fell upon John Waters, but this time out, the master of trash was only an accessory before the fact. The Senator wasn't premiering a film by John Waters but a film about John Waters. Turns out, the dress ensemble for one works just as well for the other.
"Divine Trash," Baltimore moviemaker Steve Yeager's documentary on Waters and his early career, won the coveted Filmmakers Trophy for best documentary at this year's Sundance Film Festival. The award landed Yeager and co-producer Cindy Miller a distribution deal with Stratosphere Entertainment, which will release "Divine Trash" in selected cities in the fall.
But first came last night, the one-night-only Baltimore premiere, which filled the Senator with fans who find Waters endlessly captivating. "There are so many plastic people and plastic politicians and plastic people reading the news on television," said Zippy Larson, a Baltimore historian and tour guide who found just the right feathered cap for the occasion. "To find someone who's different, who's authentic, who's clever. It's a hoot. It's worth the $80."
Waters, dressed in a black tuxedo, climbed out of a limousine at 7 p.m., arriving with his best friend Pat Moran, the casting director for all Waters' films and for the television program "Homicide."
"It's like 'This Is Your Life,' " Waters said of the evening. "It's like looking through your lunatic high school yearbook."
Many of the lunatics who have appeared or worked in Waters' films were on hand for the premiere, including set designer Vince Peranio, makeup artist Van Smith, and actors Mary Vivian Pearce and Susan Lowe.
Also attending the screening were Waters' parents, John and Patricia Waters, who have still never seen his trash masterpiece "Pink Flamingos." Since "Divine Trash" concerns the making of "Pink Flamingos" 25 years ago, the Waterses were steeling themselves as they walked into the Senator last night. "We're prepared for the worst, so maybe it won't be so bad," said John, the elder.
"Divine Trash" also originated 25 years ago. At the time, Yeager was an aspiring filmmaker working at Maryland Public Television. He was also a member of a small avant-garde film community in Baltimore. Waters, with two feature films already behind him, was the star of that circle. Yeager decided to film Waters in action for an eventual airing on public television.
Yeager's footage from the sets of "Pink Flamingos" never made it to television, but instead languished in boxes for nearly a quarter of a century, until Yeager excavated them three years ago, resolved to finish his documentary. Now, those "Pink Flamingos" outtakes are the centerpiece of Yeager's award-winning film.
They portray a long-haired, emaciated-looking Waters soberly rehearsing some of the most shocking scenes in film history, most notoriously the climax of "Pink Flamingos" when Divine scoops up dog poop and, without the camera turning away or off, gobbles it up. The film also explores the cinematic influences on Waters, including gore and exploitation films and the underground cinema.
As much as "Divine Trash" is an appreciation of Waters, it is also an homage to his most outrageous creation, Divine, a 300-pound actor who dressed in drag and chewed up scenery in film after film. "Divine Trash" includes touching interviews with Divine, dead now 10 years, describing how tickled he was over his popularity after a miserable adolescence in Towson and Lutherville, where he was an outcast.
The film also includes footage from Yeager's interview with Divine's mother, Frances Milstead. Milstead, who now lives in Florida, flew to Baltimore to attend the premiere as Yeager's guest. Earlier yesterday, she confided her nervousness about the event, and about mastering her emotions.
For nearly 10 years during Divine's life, he and his parents were estranged. His parents didn't even know their only child (whose real name was Glenn Milstead) was Divine. Frances, who moved to Florida with her husband Harris, found out when she stumbled across an article in Life magazine after she had moved to Florida. Afterward, she went to see the Waters film "Female Trouble," in which Divine plays a murderer who is eventually electrocuted.
"I loved it," she said.
Soon after that, she sent a conciliatory note to her son, and he called. "Mom," she remembered him saying, "Can I come home again? Can we be a family again?"
That was in 1981, and the two remained close until his death from heart failure seven years later. Frances accompanied Divine to premieres in Miami and in Baltimore for his last film, "Hairspray." He died the next month.
She laughed yesterday as she reminisced, remembering that whenever she woke her son from a catnap, he would greet her with a soft smile on his lips. Then she excused herself; it was time to get dressed for the premiere, where she would see her boy remembered on film.
"I just hope it's done in good taste," she fretted.
Pub Date: 5/06/98