It all started with an idea.
Friends and longtime Baltimoreans—Michal Makarovich and Alex Fox—heard the enthusiasm of lots of city residents and visitors who were curious about John Water's 1972 cult film Pink Flamingos. Specifically, fans wanted to visit the exact location of the (in)famous final scene where Divine, a 300-pound transvestite playing “The Filthiest Person Alive,” eats dog shit off a Baltimore sidewalk.
From these humble beginnings sprung an idea: why not create a piece of public art to mark the spot? Besides providing a way for the curious to find the location (and possibly take selfies), it could serve a greater purpose of honoring a performer, director, and film that have all become an essential part of Baltimore's cultural history.
Mr. Hess is a sculptor who works primarily with found materials which he refers to as “rescued objects.” These rescued objects are repositories for the history and cultural narrative that inform his work. His sculptures can be found in numerous private and public collections including the collections of The American Visionary Art Museum, Baltimore Museum of Industry, Johns Hopkins Hospital, Sinai Hospital, and Thurgood Marshall Airport. Visit davidhess.net for more.
From a passion born while studying the artistic masterpieces of Florence, Italy, Sebastian Martorana approaches his stonework as interplay between the persons, environs, and material objects shaping our lives, working from his studio at the Hilgartner Natural Stone Company, America’s oldest operational stone company. His works have been featured at The Walters Art Museum, the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and on numerous buildings throughout Baltimore City. Visit sebastianworks.com for more.
One of the co-owners of Church & Company, a Hampden performance venue, Alex Fox and fellow organizer Michal Makarovich were the first to come up with the idea of using a piece of public art to celebrate Pink Flamingos.
The owner of Hampden Junque and a native Baltimorean, Michal assembled the members and artists to make this idea a reality.
Mr. Pugh is a teacher at the Baltimore Design School and owner of a rowhouse that is very close to the spot where the scene was filmed.
Ms. Saranj is helping with internet fund-raising and has successfully crowdsourced a portion of a memoir she is currently writing about coming of age in the post-revolution Iran.
A Baltimore-based software engineer, James Stevenson created and maintains the web presence for the monument.
An independent Balitmore filmmaker, Yeager is best known for his documentary on the making of Pink Flamingos, Divine Trash, which won the Filmmaker's Trophy for Best Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival in 1998. Steve is also a co-author of the book My Son Divine with Glenn's mother, Frances Milstead.
Tyson Street, the location of the monument, is located in the "Read Street" area of Baltimore. This neighborhood has an intriguing history and stood out as one of Baltimore's most iconoclastic areas during the 1960s and 70s. It was known as Baltimore's Beat Street, and was home to coffeeshops and stores that catered to a beatnik and hippie crowd. You could buy drug paraphernalia, bell-bottoms, and vintage collectibles and it was just a short stroll down the block to Baltimore's best known and oldest gay bar, Leon's.
The first Read Street Festival was held three years before the filming of Pink Flamingos and was one of Baltimore's biggest countercultural events.
A second festival attracted thousands in 1972 and featured music, performance art, and dancing in the streets.
The Read Street neighborhood's stock declined somewhat in the ensuing decades, with some businesses and residents moving out. Locals decided to revive the Read Street festival in 1993. "Our goal was to showcase the neighborhood, to want to come back," recalled Joe Pitta, who co-chairman the event and is the co-owner of Neal's hair studio, one of Read Street's longest-running businesses.
The last ten years have seen the beginnings of a renaissance for the neighborhood. The Hotel Brexton, an architectural gem that had languished for years, was renovated. Students and young professionals began to move back in, and with them new businesses have sprung up among the veteran Read Street institutions that have anchored the neighborhood.
The Divine Monument is intended to honor the quirky, pioneering spirit of the neighborhood and the role it has played in the cultural history of Baltimore.
John Waters made Pink Flamingos on what was, even for the time, a shoestring budget of around $10,000. The film was shot mostly on weekends in and around the City of Baltimore in 1972. No synopsis can really do justice to Pink Flamingos, but the film follows the exploits of the legendary drag queen Divine (played by John Waters’ high school friend Harris Glenn Milstead) who lives in a pink trailer with her egg-loving, mentally-challenged mother Edie, chicken-fetishist son Crackers, and “traveling companion,” Cotton. The conflict that drives the increasingly unhinged plot is the rivalry between Divine and a couple named Connie and Raymond Marble over who deserves the title of “the filthiest person alive,” which Divine cinches in the film’s infamous final scene. Show more
John Waters made Pink Flamingos on what was, even for the time, a shoestring budget of around $10,000. The film was shot mostly on weekends in and around the City of Baltimore in 1972. No synopsis can really do justice to Pink Flamingos, but the film follows the exploits of the legendary drag queen Divine (played by John Waters’ high school friend Harris Glenn Milstead) who lives in a pink trailer with her egg-loving, mentally-challenged mother Edie, chicken-fetishist son Crackers, and “traveling companion,” Cotton. The conflict that drives the increasingly unhinged plot is the rivalry between Divine and a couple named Connie and Raymond Marble over who deserves the title of “the filthiest person alive,” which Divine cinches in the film’s infamous final scene.
The film premiered in 1972 at the third annual Maryland Film Festival. From there it slowly began to take on a life of its own as an objet of cult cinema. It was picked up by New Line Cinema, at the time a tiny distributor of foreign and art films, and booked for a single screening at New York’s Elgin theater. The response was enough to gather a second and then third showing. The film ultimately ran there for the next year and was picked up in DC, Los Angeles, and Boston.
The film was met with outrage by critics and censors alike. Variety famously panned it as, “one of the most vile, stupid and repulsive films ever made,” and it was banned in Switzerland, some Canadian provinces, Australia, and many US cities. At the premier the move had been able to be shown in an uncut format under because it ran under the auspices of a film festival, however on its return to Baltimore after making a name elsewhere, the film was censored and several scenes were cut. Waters was nonplussed by all the outrage and welcomed the notoriety. He took the negative reviews as a compliment, suggesting that certainly Pink Flamingos was vile, but “joyously vile.” “You just get it or you don’t,” he suggested: “there’s not much in the middle.”
And indeed, for every outraged critic there plenty of fans. Fran Lebowitz reviewed it as “one of the sickest movies ever made and one of the funniest,” and William Burroghs dubbed Waters “The Pope of Trash.” Even Lee Atwater was a fan of the movie and invited Waters on a private tour of the White House. The movie continued to develop a cult following throughout the 1970s, and in 1981 was released on VHS. It was re-released in 1997 (when it became the second best-selling VHS for its week of release ) and again in 2004.
Over 40 years late, the film is as famous—or infamous as ever—and has become an iconic part of Baltimore history. And nowhere more so than in the film’s legendary ending. In order to cement her title as “not only the filthiest person in the world, but is also the world's filthiest actress,” Divine follows a dog down a Baltimore City Street and into an alley. She watches hungrily as it defecates and takes some of the shit into her hand and eats it, proving herself "not only the filthiest person in the world, but is also the world's filthiest actress.”
"Three decades later, it can still startle a 20-year old," John Waters said of the final scene. But at the time the cast and crew were more focused on getting the film in the can: “There was never much discussion,” John Waters would later recall. Divine, “just said he'd do it, and that would be that. It didn't seem like an issue. It was late and we were losing light. […] We just pulled over by the side of the road in Baltimore.” That road was Read Street, where the scene follows the dog around the corner into a small Baltimore City alley called Tyson Street. It was there film history would be made, and if one were to choose a spot to commemorate the film it would assuredly be there...
Baltimore visitors—some as far away as Montreal—have asked me where the final scene of Pink Flamingos was filmed; they wanted to take photos of themselves there. The exact spot is tough to find and there should be something explaining the significance of this spot to Baltimore history. There would be no other such monument in the world.
Baltimore Brew (February 18, 2016) — Divine Monument gets nod by arts panel
Fox Baltimore (February 17, 2016) — A Divine Moment: Monument of 'Divine' approved for Baltimore City
Death and Taxes (February 11, 2016) — Help these Baltimore artists build a memorial to Divine
Flavorwire (February 9, 2016) — Meet the John Waters Fans Planning Baltimore’s Outrageous Divine Monument
ABC Baltimore (February 2, 2016) — Local artists propose public monument honoring late drag icon Divine
LGBTQ Nation (February 1, 2016) — Baltimore mayor endorses Divine monument — complete with ‘dog poop’
360° (January 31, 2016) — Baltimore Veut un Lieu de Pèlerinage Pour Divine
Joe.My.God. (January 30, 2016) — Mayor Gives To Nod To Proposed Divine Monument (Including Bronze Dog Poop)
Gay Times Magazine (January 29, 2016) — There might be a monument honouring Divine in Baltimore
Flavorwire (January 29, 2016) — Baltimore Mayor Gives Support for Eight-Foot Monument to Divine, Feat. Dog Poop
Logo TV (January 28, 2016) — Monument Honoring Drag Icon Divine Gets The Support Of Baltimore’s Mayor
Out Magazine (January 26, 2016) — Fund This: Baltimore Artists Planning Divine Monument
Queerty (January 26, 2016) — Drag Icon Divine May Get The Baltimore Monument She Deserves
Pink News (January 26, 2016) — Baltimore could get a monument to drag icon Divine
Queer.de (January 26, 2016) — Ein Denkmal für Divine?
Wisconsin Gazette (January 23, 2016) — Fans plan a monument to Divine at the Baltimore site where famous ‘Pink Flamingos’ scene was filmed
The Washington Blade (January 19, 2016) — Fans push for Divine monument
CBS Baltimore (January 18, 2016) — Fans Of Divine Want To Build Monument Honoring Late Actor
Baltimore City Paper (January 18, 2016) — A monument to Divine is in the works, and here's the design
The Baltimore Sun (January 18, 2016) — Divine fans want to build a monument to late actor
The Chronicle Herald (January 18, 2016) — Fans of Divine want to build monument honouring late actor
The Baltimore Brew (January 15, 2015) — Shrine to Divine has a design
The Baltimore Brew (October 1, 2015) — A Divine idea for a Baltimore monument?
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