For week two of Pride Month, I’ve looked to Iconic Gay Director John Waters and his oh so feminine leading lady, drag queen Divine.
Release Date: 1988
Awards: Nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Festival and six Independent spirit awards.
Rating: a whopping 98% “certified fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Not too shabby!
Right, let’s get this out of the way early. If you haven’t at least seen the 2007 Nikki Blonski, John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer, Zac Efron and Queen Latifah musical version of the film, then you may be beyond help. Even I’ve seen that, so that’s saying something.
Hairspray is a tale of Tracy Turnblad and her fight to be accepted by the cool kids from the Corny Collins Show; many of whom reject her because of her weight. As her popularity grows, she befriends some of the dancers from the show’s “Negro Day” cast and begins to appreciate that her fight is, in a very small way, like their own and makes it her cause to eliminate Negro Day forever and mix the dancers for good.
John Waters loosely based Hairspray on real events: The Corny Collins Show is based on the Buddy Deane Show for example. Being his hometown, Baltimore is the obvious location to set the movie, but is hardly a loving tribute to the town.
We have to talk about the iconic cast in this movie. Featuring Ricki Lake as Tracy, Debbie Harry and Sonny Bono as Velma and Franklin Von Tussle, and Jerry Stiller as Wilbur Turnblad (he was Mr Pinky from Mr Pinky’s Hefty Hideaway in the 2007 musical version). Divine was cast as Edna Turnblad, and this was the first time she didn’t star as the main character in a Waters movie – although at one point Waters wanted her to play both Tracy and Edna, a move which was stopped by the production company.
Divine’s Edna is a far cry from Travolta’s interpretation of the character. Travolta plays Edna as a quiet, kind recluse, where Divine plays a much more acerbic version of the character. Divine plays a much sharper matriarch who is less concerned about taking control of Tracy’s career. I can imagine that Travolta’s version is a bit of a wash-out if Divine is the first person you saw in the role, but for me I missed Edna’s kindness and naivety. This was Divine’s final role, as he died around three weeks after the movie’s release.
The civil rights aspect of the film is also much less of a focus than in the 2007 musical version. Ruth Brown (sometimes known as the Queen of R&B) as Motormouth Maybelle Stubbs barely gets any lines; much less the strong part that Queen Latifah plays. This is possibly the major thing that was lacking in this movie for me, but again, I feel like I may have been spoilt by the musical.
Regardless, this movie is iconic and inspired continuing conversation (and a musical, and that’s enough to win my love in most cases). And it just goes to show, you can’t stop the beat…
Is there an iconic film or album you think I should have experienced by now? Let me know @MoveToTRASHUK #latelatereview