Hairspray [Motion picture, 1988]

Hairspray (1988)

You may have seen the musical.  You have most likely seen the movie starring John Travolta, Queen Latifah, and Nikki Blonsky, but have you see the movie that started it all?  The original 1988 comedy Hairspray, directed and written by John Waters, featured Ricki Lake as Tracy Turnblad and Divine as Edna Turnblad.  This movie has a grittier, earthier feel than either the musical or the 2007 movie.   This is not too surprising as Hairspray was the first film by John Waters to receive less than an “R” rating.  Prior to this film John Waters had been justly known in Hollywood as “The King of Bad Taste.” Hairspray was the first John Water’s films to even attempt to appeal to the general public. 

Set in the early 1960’s Hairspray is described in the Internet Movie Database as being about a “pleasingly plump teenager who teaches Baltimore a thing or two about integration after landing a spot on a local TV Dance Show.”  This might be a good general description of the movie, however, it is not complete, the 1988 film deals heavily with not only integration but interracial relationships and the issues of body image, peer rejection, and acceptance.  Issues which the musical and the more recent movie touch on less deeply.    It was this movie that brought about the tradition of having the role of Tracy’s mother Edna played by a male in the stage plays.   The movie and the musical play this for a certain amount of laughs, but this movie has Divine play the role straight.  I am not a fan of Divine, but I will say that he/she is perfect for the role of Edna Turnblad, so much so that I have trouble seeing anyone else in the role.   Of the three versions of the story, this is my personal favorite.  Even though many of the parts are somewhat stereotyped there is a sense of realism in this version that the others seem to lack. This film is also not a musical in the strictest sense of the word and so the music, when used, is more in line with the time period during which it is set.  One piece I especially miss in the newer versions involves Tracy Turnblad demonstrating a dance called the Cockroach. 

If you haven’t seen this film I encourage you to do so.  Hairspray inspired the musical, much the same way that Mel Brooks’ The Producers inspired the later musical version of The Producers.  I won’t say that you will think it is better, but I am sure you will find it interesting and different.