Hairspray (John Waters, 1988)
The original campy comedy that generated a Broadway hit musical and an average remake in 2007, John Waters’ Hairspray is a whole lot of fun. With the last appearance of the star of his trashy films like Pink Flamingo, Divine, Hairspray celebrates music and the evolution of tolerance in America.
Tracy (Ricki Lake) and Penny (Leslie Ann Powers) are two teenage girls living in a 1962 Baltimore rocked by The Corny Collins Show. They love the music and know the dances. Tracy and her friend dream of being on that show and dance on the television. However, Tracy is overweight but she goth er try and succeed. In the same time the racial segregation of African American is in full force and Tracy uses her popularity to bring the integration of black people and stop the segregation.
All of this is done with a background of music, rock n’ roll, and a whole musical genre vibe. Waters is far from being the greatest filmmaker of all time and he is the kind of director that makes films that he wants to watch and enjoy watching and making. I imagine the sets and shooting of this film like a big party where every actor has a blast. Waters always liked to have his lead be the outcast of society and out of the stereotypical college hero. He is a master of the kitsch and the campy but he manage to make it so much fun and entertaining that as the viewer we want to get up and dance along with the characters.
Cult films have this quality of being easily rewatchable and a tendency to have lines easy to memorize and Hairspray is clearly one. All along my viewing I had a big smile on my face and I loved Ricki Lake, Leslie Ann Powers, Divine, and in fact the entire performances by the cast. No Oscar material but such a wonderful achievement in making brilliant entertainment that is also intelligent.
Finally, I would have guessed that it was more highly regarded as a movie but it is more looked upon as a joke more than a serious movie. Well, you have to not take it seriously and let yourself dive into it, but I consider it as a memorable film that was probably judged severely at first and maybe not understood for what it was. Some filmmakers like Orson Welles and Peter Bogdanovitch’s films were also severely criticized at first because a lot of critics and people didn’t get the humour and the whole film. In the case of John Waters I believe that he is more than a camp movie director but a master of his own movie universe.