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March 16, 2006

The Trouble with Hairy

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The Big Tease
Kevin Allen - 1999
Warner Brothers Region 1 DVD

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An Everlasting Piece
Barry Levinson - 2000
Dreamworks Home Entertainment Region 1 DVD

The connection is a bit tenuous, but I have to think there is no coincidence concerning the number of movies about barbers and hair stylists that have emerged in the past few years. In addition to the rise of Jon Peters from stylist to producer, The L Word features a character who worked briefly for a producer. Maybe Hollywood executives are even more apt to listen to someone standing behind them with open razors and sharp scissors. I'm not sure if there are enough films to consitute a genre, but there is a small cluster of films about characters with tonsorial talent.

The Big Tease badly wants to be the Spinal Tap of hair stylist comedies, and does so, badly. I'm assuming some of it was funny in the screenplay stage. Ferguson makes fun of Scottish national pride, the sanctimonious side of American culture, and the silliness of hair stylists as celebrities. Even feeble chuckles are sparse, making one appreciate the gifts of Christopher Guest. I haven't seen Ferguson on his late night television show, but I thought him consistently funny on The Drew Carey Show which suggests that Ferguson works best making a bigger impact within a more restricted format. The film was directed by Kevin Allen. Since his debut film, Twin Town, Allen career as director has quickly dissapated. In spite of the often incomprehensible dialogue, Twin Town remained fascinating in its audacity. At least The Big Tease is honest with its title - a come on with no delivery.

An Everlasting Piece also features a Scotch comic turned U.S. sitcom star - Billy Connelly. Connelly portrays a former hair piece saleman known as The Scalper, and not for selling concert tickets. The story concerning the theatrical release of this film stands in contrast to Steven Spielberg's posturing for Munich. Inspired by his barber father, star Barry McAvoy wrote about two barbers, one Catholic, one Protestant, who attempt to win the sole hair piece franchise for Northern Ireland in the 1980s. The film is certainly not incendiary as Paul Greengrass' Bloody Sunday, but between the laughs, tensions quickly arise, reminders of ingrained attitudes. In some way, An Everlasting Piece is closest to Levinson's Liberty Heights as an examination about the conflicts between cultural and national identity.

The main, or perhaps, mane reason to see An Everlasting Piece is for the humor, much of it verbal and joyously rude. Characters spend several minutes trying to clarify whether they are discussing "hair piece" or "herpes". The Scalper's idiosyncratic sense of theology includes reciting a letter St. Paul wrote to some hermaphrodites, and the declaration that, "The scrotum is the devil's tobacco pouch." The competing hair piece sales company is called "Toupee or not Toupee". The message is heartfelt, if obvious, but it is the weaving together of comic incidences that makes An Everlasting Piece fun to watch. Barry Levinson is inconsistent, with films like Diner, Tin Men and Wag the Dog on one end of the scale, and Sphere and the painfully unfunny Envy at the other end. Levinson's better films are generally the smaller projects, such as An Everlasting Piece. Even if Levinson can't be called a stylist, the good films prove he is no hack.

Posted by peter at March 16, 2006 04:01 PM