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February 01, 1985 - Image 6

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1985-02-01

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4

ARTS

The Michigan Daily

Friday, February 1, 1985

Page 6

Divine looms

larger than Life

By Dennis Harvey
I 've never actually witnessed a
celebrity supermarket appearance,
but Tuesday night's media happening
at the Nectarine Ballroom seemed like
a fair approximation. What was up for
grabs wasn't so much a real perfor-
mance as the presumed thrill of seeing
your screen deity in the flesh.
Quantities of flesh in the case of
Divine, the drag centerpiece of nearly a
dozen John Waters films and, more
recently, of some determinedly dread-
ful disco singles.
Such Waters faves as Pink
Flamingoes and Female Trouble are
the cultist's compromise between
Rocky Horror Picture Show and the
early Warhol Factory features like
Trash and Heat, with some of the for-
mer's pretentions toward campy but
polished structuring and the latter's
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wilfully crude home-movie-quality and
freak-show curiousity appeal. What
makes John Waters movies so
genuinely funny and unlike anybody
else's isn't their superficial
'outrageousness' (the gross-outs, like
Divine's famous dining on doggie poop
at the end of Pink Flamingoes, are
bound to seem dull spots to those not
permanently locked into sniggery
juvenile 'humor'), but the fact that he
creates a whole world out of the
netherland of the pubescent
imagination.
Divine, like all of Waters' 'stars,' was
amusing on screen mostly in the in-
spired-amateur way-in the context,
his brand of manic abrasiveness was a
more than adequate substitute for, uh,
technique. In the more polished -if
rather diluted as well), Polyester, he
did show real signs of developing comic
skill. But at the Nectarine Show, shorn
of the incubating perversity of the films,
Divine was rather what you'd ex-
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pect-just another old drag queen strut-
ting around in a fright wig, hurling out a
few well-worn dirty jokes, playing with
the fake boobs and phallic microphone,
and miming to a few disco tapes.
In this case, of course, there was ac-
tual singing more or less, although
about the kindest thing one can say
about Divine's singing is that, even as
pure camp, it makes The Shaggs sound
operatic. The jokes were on the level of
dead baby jokes, only they naturally
leaned more toward the "How big do
you think Blank's blank is? It's so small
he has to..." variety rathern than in the
direction of infant morality action.
Divine said what your grade school
teachers might have called 'the F
word' a LOT, which seemed to create a
big hit, although somehow the syllable
ceased to send me into seizures of
deliciously forbidden hilarity a decade
or so ago.
If this is all sounding rather dismal,
well, maybe it was, a little. Drag itself
has never been particularly funny or of-
fensive to me; either in its 'high'
beautiful-illusion form (La Cage Aux
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Folles) or in the Divine & Co. horror-
camp joke form, there's never seemed
anything all that amazing in itself about
a guy in girl-stuff. In Divine's case,
though, what's important is no longer
that he's a drag performer, but that
he's Divine-THE Warhol Superstar
for the '80's, a person whose name
ought to be followed by a trademark,
since he's not so much a talent as a con-
sumer novelty item. What made the
show, what was the Show at the Nec-
tarine, then, wasn't so much the mildly
amusing shenanigans on stage but the
Scene that went on around it. Since this
was Divine's only Michigan appearan-
ce, Detroit came up in force, and the
atmosphere was almost desperately
raucous-Divine was just an excuse for
a weekday in Playland, in the
agreeably tinselly surroundings of the
Nectarine.
The Ballroom is great for this sort of
thing; surrounded by so much gloss,
you can't take a performance seriously
as anything more than a premise for
the surrounding party. Those addicted
to the more earnest listening environ-
ment of, say, Joe's are bound to find the
Nectarine too chi-chi to stomach as a
concert space, but it's certainly a more
pleasant (if equally sweaty) alternative
to the old Second Chance-I'd rather
run the risk of having my lower torso
unwelcomely handled by people of
either sex than having my entire torso
abused wholesale by the Chance's
always-eager-to-be-cruel bouncers.
In any case, if not a night to remem-
ber, it was a fairly good passing joke. It
may seem curious to imagine saying in
20 years, "Ah yes, children, Uncle Den-
his saw Divine in a little club in
Michigan way back then!," but that's
what things like this are all about-one
goes in order to be able to say that
you've been.

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-Kathleen Carroll, DAILY NEWS

"A REFRESHINGLY QUIRKY COMEDY"
-David Ansen, NEWSWEEK
THE ADVENTURES OF TWO NEW YORKERS
ON THEIR DREAM VACATION TO FLORIDA
AND CLEVELAND ... IN THE DEAD OF WINTER

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Daily Photo by SCOTT LITUCHY
Waters' shocker Divine delivers a lukewarm performance at the Nectarine
Ballroom.
Plethora of etal
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