Thursday, April 22, 2021

What HAIRSPRAY Taught Me

 by Erika Bromley

Happy birthday John Waters!

I wanted to write about one of my all-time favorite movies for #FThisMovieFest’s #1988Week last month, but I shockingly (wink) ran out of time that week. And in all of the weeks. But it is never too late to talk about any kind of movie love from any era (era), right? And it just so happens that one of my all-time most important and favorite films was directed by the birthday boy himself, John Waters. It seems like everyone I know IPL (“In-person life” - Is this a thing?) and through social media has a piece of art that “changed” their life. I often see viral tweets about “the horror movie that changed my life” or “the music that changed my life,” and I have a hard time connecting with those declarations. I think this is because I’ve always liked too much - so I can attach music, movies, books, etc. to various specific events or times in my life, but I can never choose one as the ONE that “changed” it. Upon reflection, maybe my issue is that I am just forever needlessly indecisive and refuse to choose one of anything to be labeled as “favorite” (I guess I have a favorite husband but so far he’s the only one to hold the title!).
When I think about films that impacted, influenced, and changed me, however, one does repeatedly come to mind. I’ve written before about how my mother introducing me to Wuthering Heights opened up a world of cinema for me or how watching Ghostbusters influenced my style of comedy or how any Martin Scorsese or Spike Lee film feels like it is made from parts of my brain and heart simultaneously. But John Waters’ Hairspray might be the movie that helped make me who I am beyond just what I liked in entertainment: it’s a movie that I watched repeatedly for the fun of it and a movie that made me care about the people and issues it represented in “real life.” From this point on (and I was in grade school when I first saw this movie), I was interested in the Civil Rights Movement, race relations, bringing attention to injustice in the world. Not too bad for what is on the surface a sweet, energetic movie about early '60s Dick Clark Show-esque local television programs for teens.

There are myriad reasons to watch Hairspray. Here’s a simple list that will hopefully inspire you to discover one of my all-time favorites or convince you that you are due for a rewatch! Either way, I’d love to hear your thoughts after you watch.
1. The cast. Even as a grade-school kid, I was very cognizant of how cool these actors were. Debbie Harry. Sonny Bono, Divine, Ric Ocasek, Pia Zadora, Jerry Stiller, Mink Stole...

2. The music. Ruth Brown and Toussaint McCall both appear in the film and introduced me to music I hadn’t discovered yet (my parents played a lot of older albums, many being R&B, but I was not familiar with these two).

3. The dancing! Waters brings back plenty of early '60s dances you may have heard of and a few that time forgot. But you’ll never, ever forget “The Roach” after seeing this film.

4. The entire aesthetic. Bubble-gum pink has never been my color, and I’m not really drawn to pastels. This movie seems to be mostly designed out of a '60s pop-watercolor vision, and it works so perfectly. (It does not surprise me today, however, that even as a kid, I was drawn to the Beatnik scene with Ric Ocasek painting and reciting poetry while Pia Zadora wore all black and talked about ironing her hair. That scene’s look is still my ‘aesthetic’ today.)

5. The lessons! Be true to yourself. Accept everyone. Love yourself, and love everyone. Don’t be afraid to dance. Fight for what is right. Don’t be a jerk. Don’t be racist. Don’t live in fear but rather open yourself up to new experiences, friendships, and love. There’s always room for one more on the dance floor, and anywhere in life. Segregation never, integration NOW.

Hairspray entertained me, taught me, and inspired me - even as a young kid. I'm forever grateful to my mom for introducing it to me! (Thanks, Ma!) I hope anyone reading will check it out if you have not seen it. 


  1. I believe this was my first John Waters film, and I like it to this day! I saw this when I was in High School and it was a blast! It needs a re=watch soon.

  2. Spot on ! The remake loses the soul of the original.

  3. I've always loved the original Hairspray and have grown to really like the musical adaptation as well (in its stage incarnation, not so much the movie version).