Hairspray (1988)

Written and directed by Jon Waters
(number 444)

I have seen this movie twice, the first time was with the Muppet Club in university! a.k.a. The place where I first really became friends with Svend, Morgue and Pierce (well, maybe not Morgue so much) but yes. It was like nerd club and they gave us milk and cookies and we watched Muppets and also some other vaguely related movies. I watched again a few years ago too…and I remembered most of it but I think I got it a lot more than when I was 19.

Watching it again with Anna was pretty fun because she’d only seen the much newer musical version with Zefron in it. She missed the songs but she laughed and enjoyed all the same. We did have to put the newer version on straight afterwards so that that she could sing along, but it was quite awesome because you could see the echoes. Michelle Pfeiffer wears the same dress as Debbie Harry in the original.

How amazing is it that Debby Harry plays Velma von Tussle though? It’s brilliant. Jon Waters is a creeper for sure, I mean he has to play the creepster psychiatrist that uses hypnosis and electric shock therapy on poor Penny for loving black boy Seaweed.

This movie is a black as black comedy, (no pun intended) using the political movement of integration in Baltimore to send up American class systems with music and dance. Tracy is sent to special education because her hair is ratted up too high, and then special ed is full of black kids being kept back and other hair hoppers.

Does it make me love the people? How can you not love Tracy? She’s self confident, an excellent dancer and an integration agitator. Then Link just loves her straight away so you gotta love him too and yeah, it’s great. Lots to love! The villains are very over the top on account of the level of satire, but it’s absolutely great.

What’s sad about this whole thing is that this movie was made in the late 80s as a sort of parody of how silly the segregation of the races is, something to laugh about. When Seaweed is beaten by cops and Tracy bundled into a paddy wagon it’s a little shocking but it’s mostly played for laughs. Here we are nearly 30 years after this movie was made and black people are being murdered in America by cops who don’t even get indicted…. so weirdly, the message of Hairspray is more important than ever. It’s sobering, and it sucks.

Bechdel test: Yes, many times over. And really early on too, because Penny and Tracy talk about dancing and how good at dancing is. Also Penny and her mother Velma talk about how important it is that Penny be the lead dancer, etc. Over and over again, it’s a great movie for the Bechdel test actually! Every now and then the girls talk about the boys but mostly it’s about music, integration or girl on girl fighting.

Best lines:
Tracy Turnblad: How do you get your hair so straight and so flat?
Beatnik Chick: With an iron, man. I play my bongos, listen to Odetta, and then I iron my hair, dig?

Edna Turnblad: It’s the times. They are a-changin’. Something’s blowing in the wind. Fetch me my diet pills, would you, Hon?

State of Mind: A really good fun movie, which is a nice change it feels like, from all the stuff I’ve been watching off this list lately. We watched the remake right after and I found the changes to be a bit weird but the songs are pretty catchy.

Watched movie count


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