Despite its many iterations — musical, movie musical, live televised musical — John Waters’ original version of Hairspray, released in 1988, remains the best. Now, I’m a fan of musicals, and I’ll admit the Tony-winning Broadway version is pretty damned solid, with opening number, “Good Morning Baltimore,” being the best of the bunch. I’ll even cut some slack to “You Can’t Stop the Beat,” despite it being almost insipidly cloying. That said, Waters’ film is just so perfectly bizarre and fun and joyous, with a perfect selection of Cameo Parkway R&B sides soundtracking everything. The plot, if you’ve never seen any of the various iterations, revolves around Baltimore teenager Tracy Turnblad getting on The Corny Collins Show, dancing, then becoming more racially aware, dancing, fighting for integration, and more dancing.Read the From the Stereo to Your Screen column on Rachel Sweet and Hairspray at Cinepunx. Published 1/10/17
Robert Elder's The Best Film You've Never Seen: 35 Directors Champion the Forgotten or Critically Savaged Movies They Love (out now via Chicago Review Press) is a mixed bag. The interviews are, categorically, excellent. Elder presents everything as a dialogue between himself and the director to which he's speaking, allowing for reaction to what's being said, and questions that dig deeper than something like an essay would. That being said, while the directors' candid comments regarding their films -- some of which are more than obscure, they're outright unknown -- are illuminating, the value to some of the interviews in terms of what they offer are debatable. The best films seem to be the ones that offer up something from which the director later drew, be it language, style, or something intangible. The interviews regarding films the director simply enjoys and thinks someone ought to see are less effective. There's nothing quite so irritating to read from a director than, "I can't quite explain it." Why did you pick the movie, then? Pick one you can rhapsodize over what it gave you. If Kevin Smith can draw from A Man For All Seasons, then John Dahl can offer up more than mealy-mouthed inconsequentials regarding Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Goddammit, really: Dahl's last answer contains the line "This is not a film I would recommend to most people." While understand that he appreciates it because of its challenging nature, it's difficult to reconcile the idea of something being a great unseen film with the fact that it's not something you would suggest people watch. You're being deliberately elitist. Knock it off. However, other than those occasional stumbling blocks, it's always worth spending time experiencing John Waters talk kitsch. Always. That man knows exactly why he likes something, and the points he offers always makes me want to track down whatever he's talking about. "I love to be confused, artistically. I love to be in on the joke, and I'm not sure if there is one." See? Sold.