Thursday, February 18, 2010

Waters Watch - Day 2: She's a HAIR-HOPPER! That's what SHE is!

Long before Harvey Firestein was Big, Blonde, and Beautiful and Nikki Blonsky made her debut performance in film, John Waters made an unintentional family comedy in Hairspray.  Hairspray was never intended to be a mainstream hit, nor was it supposed to hugely popular, and it certainly wasn't intended to become one of the most popular musicals of all time.  Waters mainly wanted to write about segregation and discrimination, and wanted to do it in a less obvious way than most films had done by 1988.  He also wanted to write an homage to Baltimore's "Buddy Dean Show" which was the local answer to "American Bandstand" and which he loved as much as the rest of Baltimore's teens.  However, he couldn't help noticing how there were rarely any black dancers on the show and this seemed to him a wonderful backdrop for a story about segregation.  However, he needed a better in that some clean-cut white, attractive white person to notice the injustice and set out to change it (like in the past).  So he asked himself, who is just as discriminated against as a black person?  Certainly not gays, the film world wasn't ready for them yet.  Who else was there?  Of course...a FAT GIRL!  And Waters' biggest hit was born.

Tracy Turnblad (Ricki Lake) is a pleasently plump girl living in 1963 Baltimore, Maryland who watched the local dance show "The Corny Collins Show" so much that she feels she should try out for it.  The thin, pretty girls who are on the show are incensed that she would even consider doing such a thing...but her huge dance talents land her a space on the show.  She becomes hugely popular, as many home viewers can identify with her image problems.  However, once she gets on the show she finds the injustice of Negro Day completely intolerable and sets about to integrate the show.  Along for the ride is her friend Penny Pingleton (Leslie Ann Powers) who falls for the black Seaweed Stubbs (Clayton Prince) who is the sun of Negro Day host Motormouth Maybelle (Ruth Brown).  Also featured are Tracy's progressive parents Edna (Divine) and Wilbur (Jerry Stiller) who start out afraid of their daughter's outspokenness but soon jump on her dancy bandwagon, and the Von Tussles (Debbie Harry and Sonny Bono) who want to keep the show segregated and make sure their daughter Amber (Colleen Fitzpatrick) wins Miss Auto Show.

Its a simple and quirky story that has just enough of Waters' weirdness to identify it as his own work, but also it features a warmth and heart that has been absent from his earlier work.  Before this, none of his films had ever earned a PG rating, but this one wasn't just less crude than his past work it was also considered family appropriate.  It had a wonderful message and showed that Waters had fully moved past his midnight movie beginnings and was heading to more mainstream (yet still refreshingly quirky) things.  He would dip back into exploitation territory with A Dirty Shame later on, but for this point on Waters was high profile.  He managed to get Johnny Depp in Cry Baby and Kathleen Turner in Serial Mom, if that tells you anything.  I love this film and it is always fun to watch if you don't feel like watching the longer musical version.  Frankly, I feel that the musical improved on this version in every way...but to ignore the original is to ignore the genius of Waters.  Besides, both versions are so different from each other that there really is no reason to try to compare them.  If you've only seen the musical version, you really should pick this up.  There's no singing by the stars, but it'll definitely leave you with a spring in your step.

1 comment:

Jess @ Frugal with a Flourish said...

Would you still love me if you told you that I have never seen this?