A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

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.

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October 15, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , ,

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