Hairspray/Pecker (1989)
New Line Home Entertainment
Extras: Commentary Tracks, Trailers

There are those who make mere movies, then there is John Waters. The Baltimore director has always marched to the beat of a different drummer down the road less traveled and made movies that are often an odd mix of satire, shock, pop culture, and trans-gendered goodness. New Line Home Video has now released a 2-disc set containing the previously reviewed "Pecker" as well as his earlier film, "Hairspray," which in check out in this review. Though clearly an outsider and proud of it, his film "Hairspray" takes a look at a segment of American history that is familiar to many and creates a story that is funny, relevant, and dare I say, socially responsible!

"Hairspray" tells the story of one young Tracy Turnblad (Ricki Lake), East Baltimore teenager with a love for big hair and the "Corny Collins Show." Her and friend Penny Pingleton (Leslie Ann Powers) rush home from school each day to watch the Bandstand-esque show, practice the latest dance moves, drool over the pretty couples, and annoy Tracy’s parents (Divine and Jerry Stiller!) with that loud racket called rock n’ roll. Meanwhile, Amber the female starlet of "the Corny Collins Show" has problems with her own parents (Deborah Harry and Sonny Bono!), who push her to achieve nothing short of perfection and scold her for only getting three close ups during one particular show.

Their immediate concern, however, is that Amber win this year’s Mrs. Auto show pageant. Later, at a Corny Collins’ sponsored record hop (a public dance party/contest for all you non-hipsters), Tracy and Penny get their big chance to show off their moves in front of the popular television cast. Despite winning the contest and impressing Link Larkin (Michael St. Gerard), the male star (and naturally Amber’s boyfriend) of the show, Tracy is still scoffed at by Amber because of her naturally large size. At the same hop, we get a glimpse at the segregation that is becoming a huge issue in the city, as a black couple are turned away at the door. Determined and confident, Tracy soon makes her way on the show and in to Link’s arms, slow-dancing in close-up while Amber is forced to watch from home and sit and stew. Proving the theory that anyone on TV is a superstar, Tracy and mom Edna hit the town, buying new clothes and getting their hair done in a style that defies the logic of gravity. At the height of teen fashion, Tracy finds that having good looks ain’t all it’s cracked up to be and winds up in hairdo detention at school. There, she meets and makes friends with Seaweed (Clayton Prince), a black kid with a famous DJ mother. They become friends but it is Penelope who finds herself smitten with the kid, and they quickly become an item. Don’t cry for Tracy though, because as Amber’s childish ways frustrate Link, Tracy’s smile wins him over. On the next "Corny Collins Show", it becomes obvious that they are more than just dance partners. Well of course this infuriates Amber and she begins to plot her revenge with the help of her politician father. The resulting battle moves beyond the personal and becomes a struggle for racial tolerance and acceptance of those who are different. Echoing the integration movement of the ‘60’s, "Hairspray" reminds us of a generation that would forever change these United States.

I don’t remember the first time I saw "Hairspray," but it’s become one of those movies that I’ve grown to enjoy through television and have surely seen at least ten times. There’s just an overwhelming sense of fun about it that makes it hard to turn away from. Even as it delves into the topic of segregation, the film manages to keep the squeaky-clean sheen of the teenage movement on the surface, while providing the message underneath. Credit for this undoubtedly needs to be given to Ricki Lake, whose character remains a breath of fresh air in cinema. Can you name another movie with a heavy-set female lead that’s portrayed in a positive light? It’s just nice to see her, wide-eyed and innocent and having fun. A teenager in real life at the time, the authenticity of her performance is a standout in the film.

New Line has done a pretty good job with the transfer of "Hairspray," presenting the video in 1.85:1 <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen>. This is an extremely colorful film and the DVD does a great job handling them, with no bleeding and perfect separation. For a good example, check out the dodgeball scene during Phys Ed class where the girls are all in bright red jumpers and the boys have their blue shorts. Black level is decent and there are just a few moments of digital artifacting but they’re none too distracting. The print is fairly clean, though a few blemishes can be found as well as some noticeable grain. Considering the movie is now over ten years old, this shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. Overall, it’s a good transfer but those of you who have come to expect only the absolute finest from New Line may be slightly disappointed.

Audio is presented in both <$DD,Dolby Digital> 5.1 and <$DS,Dolby Surround> 2.0. While not an explosive track, there is plenty of music that is spread out spatially to fill your speakers. Unfortunately, the surround channels are basically limited to that same music and stay pretty silent when there’s not any swinging going on. Dialogue is clean and clear and sounds nice coming through the center channel, and basically that’s all that matters here.

Unfortunately, and surprisingly so for New Line, the area where this disc truly comes up lacking is in the special features category – perhaps at the director’s request. All you get are the theatrical trailer and a running commentary with writer/director Waters and actress Lake. The commentary is a fun listen, with Waters recalling the various real life experiences he had growing up in Baltimore that inspired much of the movie and Ricki Lake telling how she had no idea Divine was a man when she signed on to do the film. But one of my pet peeves with commentaries is fully represented here and I would like to make a plea to all studios right now in hopes that it won’t continue. Ricki Lake tells of shooting a scene where live water bugs were put in her hair. Unfortunately, the scene was cut from the final film. More unfortunate for you and me, that scene is not included on the disc either. Don’t you hate when this happens? It’s such a tease!

A fun movie with a bit of a history lesson and a really good performance from someone you might not expect such a thing possible, "Hairspray" hits on a lot of right notes. Aside from the slim special features department, this is a DVD that you will have a hard time not enjoying.