A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 229 – Hairspray (1988)

Hairspray (1988) – October 15th, 2010

We lost this movie. We bought it several months ago and then it disappeared. We went to put it in and looked where our catalog said it should be and. No. No Hairspray. The new one was there but the old one wasn’t. So we checked the other rooms. We checked all the shelves and racks and stacks and piles. Nowhere to be found. So we marked it missing in our catalog and debated buying it again whenever we talked about what else we need for the collection. But we never did, because we bought this! We bought it and must have gotten it home cause it was in the catalog with a running time and a location and everything. And then the other day Andy found it deep under the bed. Why was it under the bed? No clue. But what a relief that it really was here all along. So we tossed it in tonight.

I admit, I’d never seen the original before tonight. I knew about it, sure. I’d seen a few bits and pieces. But I’d never seen it through, or seen enough to claim to know it. And I’ve got to say, it was a blast to watch. It’s clearly recognizable, having seen the musical, but it’s also entirely its own thing in a way I loved. It’s much more raw than Cry Baby, but shares the unique Waters touch. Watching it now, I can see how much in it was smoothed out and cleaned up and polished in order to make the recent musical version. And to be honest, while I do greatly enjoy the musical, compared to the original it’s just lacking a certain Waters-esque flair. It’s very shiny, and it kept the vast majority of the plot and general story arc, as well as a lot of little nods and references to the original. But there’s something too slick about it. Waters’ original has a roughness and grit to it that makes it special.

So let’s talk about the roughness and grit. In the original the Corny Collins Show is peppy and all, but has a distinctly low budget feel to it, all cramped into a small studio with spray painted stars on the floor. Tracy doesn’t get sent to detention, she gets sent to Special Ed – where the principal stashes troublemakers. The story takes Tracy onto the Corny Collins Show and into a relationship with one of its stars, Link, and a rivalry with another star, Amber. Eventually things get messy, with the station manager (played by Divine, who also played Edna, Tracy’s mother) refusing to integrate the show and race riots eventually erupting. Tracy gets arrested and tossed into reform school. Tracy’s friend Penny gets locked up in her room and stuck in a straightjacket for wanting to date out of her race. In the riots Link’s kneecaps are smashed. Penny’s boyfriend Seaweed gets beaten fairly severely. Motormouth Maybelle and Little Inez storm the governor’s mansion and handcuff themselves to him until he pardons Tracy. Amber’s mother has a bomb stashed in her wig! The actions and consequences are at the same time extremely dark in places and then also extremely cartoonish in others. It’s a juxtaposition that Waters manages well.

There’s more dirt in the movie in other places too. Rats and roaches (though the actual roaches don’t show up in the version we’ve got – is there a version with the roaches-in-the-hair scene?) on top of reform school and riots. But there’s also lots of dancing and fancy dresses and a car show and clouds of hair spray. Much like the aforementioned Cry Baby, the movie manages to be both a complete joke and some serious social commentary. That’s what makes great satire. And of course it’s a Waters satire, full of his usual pals and lots of gross-out bits and it certainly makes fun of itself while making fun of everyone else.

One of the things I noticed about the original version in relation to the musical is that it’s definitely not trying to be a big revolutionary piece. Yes, it addresses issues of racism and integration and people doing things that they’re not necessarily expected to do. And that’s great and it definitely captures a very Waters view of the time period. But it’s not trying to make a sweeping message. Racism is bad. But there’s a lot more time spent poking fun at the villains of the movie and showing them to be the sorts of laughable fools who’ll obviously lose out in the end, and dramatically so. There’s a lot more effort at characterization for the entire Turnblad family in the musical, as well as a message about not just acceptance of people regardless of race but regardless of size, and it makes the musical a little more ambitious. But that’s not a criticism of the original. This movie wasn’t trying for that and it didn’t really need to do all of that. It aimed at being a movie about foolish people refusing to move with the times and acknowledge that what they’re doing is wrong and getting their comeuppance delivered by a young woman in a pink dress covered in cockroaches. That’s some specific targeting right there, and its aim is true.

October 15, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Hairspray (1988)

October 15, 2010

Hairspray (1988)

It is with the greatest of joy that we embark upon John Waters’ subversive masterpiece Hairspray. What’s to amazing about this movie is not that it toys with issues of race or body image and treats them in a light-hearted manner. What’s amazing is that this is a mainstream movie with a big budget and high production values that is nonetheless a John Waters movie through and through.

There’s a scene about halfway through where Tracy is making out with Link in a dirty alleyway outside an all-negro hop that they’ve gone to. She exclaims to him about how romantic the moment is and a rat falls on her head. She laughs and shakes it off and goes right on making out. This one little moment so perfectly captures for me the strange world of John Waters. His characters inhabit a land full of filth and things that would make people from our world uncomfortable but for them these inconveniences are just part of the charm.

John Waters is steeped in the the outsider world of film trash. Heck, he practically invented his own corner of that world. Look at the great scene where Tracy, Link, Seaweed and Penny find themselves in a hep beatnik lair. It pokes fun at the way that beatniks and drug use were depicted in the films of the fifties. In a single scene Waters does for Reefer Madness what Tim Burton did for Plan 9 in his Ed Wood movie. It’s celebration and spoof all at the same time.

The entire movie plays on Waters’ sense of the strange being the norm. It’s all about the larger than life Tracy Turnblad who is a natural dancer and longs to be on the Corny Collins show on local Baltimore TV. In the world of John Waters everybody instantly recognises Tracy’s talent and doesn’t even notice that she’s plus sized. The only people who object to Tracy in any way are small-minded bigots.

Of course the bigotry is not limited only to size-ism. The owner of the station that broadcasts the Corny Collins show is violently opposed to racial integration of his program, while Tracy feels that integration is the next big thing. The results are a race riot at an amusement park, the jailing of Tracy as a ring-leader and eventually the peaceful abduction of the Governor of Maryland. It all culminates in the 1963 auto show where the parents of Tracy’s chief rival plan to set off a bomb hidden in a ridiculous hairdo.

The movie is also filled with fantastic fifties and sixties music. You can’t help bopping along, and since it’s a movie about a girl who only wants to dance that’s a good thing. I’m tempted to see if there’s a soundtrack album for the movie on iTunes or something.

My favorite thing in the movie, though, is the one thing I most missed from the later musical film adaptation. In a word: Divine. As in Female Trouble she plays dual roles in this movie both as Tracy’s mother Edna and as the angry bigoted Arvin Hodgepile. She’s hilarious and enormous and impossible to look away from. It’s really funny to me that Divine seems to be in drag when she’s playing a man and not the other way around. I simply love that John Waters put an outrageous drag queen in a mainstream PG rated film about racial integration. Only he could have created this strange, funny, and oddly touching movie.

October 15, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment