Art, Music, & Film: August 2007 Archives
I've always liked John Waters's films. I don't know why--perhaps because I haven't seen the earliest--perhaps because I have seen that he has an extraordinary penchant for puncturing the worst of human foibles with a smile. He looks at the insanity of the world around him, grins, and holds up a mirror.
The original Hairspray was a film in this genre. The new one, secondarily derived from the original via a Broadway Musical has a lot to offer and a lot to think about. I enjoyed it tremendously after I got over a few deep-seated reservations. The reservations were not about the film itself--although there are some of those that I'll get to in a moment. They were about how I felt about the subject matter and how difficult it is to explain to a young man why some people used to treat people with brown skin differently from the way they treated people with white skin and why that still happens too often in the world today.
But the movie takes on the old view of prejudice and thereby introduces a new one that is both subtle and starkly disturbing. Taking on the purity of the late fifties/early sixties, the movie producers end up equating the liberation of the civil rights movement with the liberation of the sexual freedom movement. Throughout the film there are subtle but clear messages that those more in touch with the sexual nature of human beings (people of color) were repressed for this very earthiness which is clearly next to godliness. This was the one element of the film that kept bothering me. We've replaced the old prejudice of inferiority due to skin color with the new prejudice of superiority due to lack of moral inhibition. Neither are true for an entire group of people--both are prejudices, and both are harmful.
Okay, now that I have my preaching over with, on with the show. The movie is delightful--the songs, the message (with the exception of the caveat above), the fact that the heroes triumph in a completely nonviolent fashion and that the whole film resolves itself neatly without undue angst, trauma, bodily injury, or profanity. In addition, it has Queen Latifah. I don't know what this woman is like in real life, but every time I see her on the screen, I think, "Now there's a woman I'd really like to know in person." There is a warmth and a genuineness about her that gives a punch to lines like, "If we get any more white people in here, this will be a suburb."
John Travolta is amusing in Divine's role. Does he do as well? I couldn't really say--he brings something different to the role and the difference is amusing and entertaining in itself--so I suppose one might say that he does as well in his own right.
The movie is delightful, insightful, genuine, and warm. It has the single flaw I noted above, and perhaps that was a flaw resulting from too close a "reading" of the film. I can recommend this to all and it would serve as a good place to start talking to children about how we need to let people be people and love them where they are and as they are. After all, that's what God does isn't it? And that's what we, as the bearers of God to those in the world need to learn to do better. I think this movie helps to teach that a little bit.