Wednesday, March 7, 2012

On Hair in Film

Ewan McGregor and Mélanie Laurent and Mélanie Laurent's hair

I've talked a lot about costume in film, and my wish for it to truly reflect and serve the character who is wearing it, but I've yet to speak on the all-important subject of hair. (all-important. subject. of hair.)

This post began halfway through the Mike Mills film, "The Beginners". When I was watching I actually had to pause during a scene with Melanie Laurent and stare in awe and admiration at her hair (full disclosure is that I went on a little tirade as well).

It was plain and simple, and a little messy. It was day off hair, and considering she was always shown on a day off, it made a lot of sense. There were no "glamour" curls, no super shine, no face-framing tendrils. For me, there is nothing worse than Gossip Girl hair on regular people. Obviously Christopher Plummer, Ewan McGregor, and Melanie Laurent have been handpicked to represent the best of "regular" people, but you know, it's part of their job to work with/against their good looks and convince us to listen to the things they're saying, living, and experiencing.

If the female lead in a film has Gossip Girl shiny barrel curls, and she's supposed to be a down to earth gal who just woke up after a one night stand, I am going to find that distracting. Even if she is (meta) playing a Parisian actress. It tells me that either the 'Beginners' hair stylist had an extremely light touch, which frankly is rare, (but not extinct, because I can think of two very talented hair people who have a light touch and who might be sideways looking at this here post) or the actress herself directed/demanded it. It's not that I underestimate the skills of hair stylists in film in North America, it's just that there's always someone else (producers, directors, Disney actors, the audience?) who want and demand the Glamour barrel curls.

I understand there's more in the world to think about than the art of the natural hair do in film, but as I see it, this represents an actual problem. Because the barrel curling iron is often accompanied by the idea that the character is a "regular person" but just a "tiny bit better" i.e; more palatable, sellable, antiseptic, and safe. And again, I know that the point of film is most often to elevate or heighten real life experiences, or to take us to a place where we can find reprieve in anything but the everyday - but that's not what I'm getting at here.

Let's give the example of vintage clothing. When people are perhaps a bit nervous about the origins of a piece of clothing and don't want the creepy hassle of wondering where it came from (germs, death vibes, bed bugs, etc...) but love the "look" of vintage, that's when designers come in and re-make the pieces and sell them back to the consumer for 800 times the price - thereby cleaning it up and validating it. Meanwhile they've erased the dirt, and the dust, and the history. There's a hygiene fear there, which ties in directly with fear of real issues (too bothersome and a bummer and not marketable and people want to escape at the movies).

Maybe I'm taking it all a bit seriously. I mean "The Beginners" could be accused of cuteness in and of itself...but really, I thought that all of the decisions, even the twee thirty-something ones, made sense within the context of the story. And by the way, it's a bit off-topic but quite literally ANY TIME Christopher Plummer walked on screen I felt moved or a sense of joy or I just straight up bawled my eyes out. A stellar performance, and helpful if you have a fear of death (which I do). AND he even wore a jaunty little neckerchief that could have really made for an embarrassing gay stereotype. Good old Christopher made it seem so damn natural and even covetable.

Hmmm. Anyhow. I'm not saying fancy hair do's can't be done (did) in film or in everyday life. I'm not even really saying barrel glamour curls are bad (although they are at the bottom of my list of likes). I just think it's distracting, shows a lack of confidence, and a weak disposition/sense of direction when they show up on the wrong character in a film. ok. And scene.

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