She’s a Hair Hopper, That’s What She Is


The 1988 film Hairspray was John Waters’ most mainstream film, and the first to receive a PG rating. It lacks the blatantly shocking humor and much of the cynical viewpoint of his earlier movies, and instead is a quite positive story of an overweight girl who gains fame as a dancer on a local Baltimore television show in the early sixties. There’s also a strong theme of speaking out against racism. That said, there’s still quite a bit of Waters’ weird directorial style. Most lines are delivered in a declaratory fashion with an unusual turn of phrase, and there are quite a few absurd moments. I’ve seen the movie a few times, but it wasn’t until last night that I watched the 2007 musical version, adapted from the stage performance that started in 2002.

Beth had seen it in the theater, but didn’t really care for it. I could definitely see where she was coming from. That’s not to say it wasn’t well-produced. The songs were fun, and most of the acting was good. I’d have to say John Travolta was an exception, though. First of all, Waters has said he liked the idea of a Hairspray musical because it would give fat girls a chance to play the lead role, so isn’t it a bit hypocritical to put another character in a fat suit? Even putting that aside, what kind of accent was he going for? Waters’ movies often have characters talk in exaggerated Baltimore accents, which aren’t otherwise that familiar outside of the area. My grandparents grew up near Baltimore, and they didn’t have them. But with Travolta, it kind of seems like his direction was, “Just pronounce words oddly.” More importantly, however, it pretty much totally dispensed with the absurd humor. Written out were the beatnik characters originally played by Pia Zadora and Ric Ocasek, Prudy Pingleton freaking out when walking through a black neighborhood, the bomb in Velma von Tussle’s wig, the quack psychiatrist with a hypnotic circle and an electric prod (played by Waters himself), and the recurring accusations of cockroaches in Tracy’s hair. And only a little bit of Waters’ original dialogue was kept in. It’s kind of strange considering that musical adaptations of movies often go way more over the top, while this one was much more subdued. There were some odd changes to the story, particularly with Velma, who became the station manager, and at one point tried to seduce Wilbur Turnblad in order to sabotage Tracy’s career. Her husband, played by Sonny Bono, didn’t appear; and neither did Divine’s villainous character of Arvin Hodgepile. I guess these changes didn’t affect the overall flow of the story that much, but they’re strange to see when you’ve just watched the original. I suppose I’d say it wasn’t a bad musical, but it also wasn’t a great adaptation.

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This entry was posted in Humor, Music, Prejudice, VoVat Goes to the Movies and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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