Sunday, July 29, 2007


This afternoon, the Missus and I went to see the new movie Hairspray, the latest exemplum of Hollywood feeding upon itself. For Hairspray is a movie based on a Broadway turn based on a movie, the original 1988 Hairspray directed by the notorious John Waters.

Whether you care about the quirky provenance of this film or not, it’s a hoot. Newcomer Nikki Blonsky brings a frothy enthusiasm to the role of Tracy Turnblad, starting right out with the opening song “Good Morning Baltimore” (which features John Waters in a cameo role as the neighborhood flasher). John Travolta, packed into a prosthetic fat-suit to play Tracy’s mother Edna, is amusing...and downright danceariffic as the film progresses. Jerry Stiller is well cast in a minor (but very funny) role, and any movie with Christopher Walken automatically gets fifty Elisson Points. The rooftop pas de deux between Walken and Travolta is, all by itself, worth the price of admission.

Hell, the only criticism I’ll make has nothing to do with the movie.

<RANT> It’s these damnèd concession stands. It’s bad enough that they charge ridiculous Trumpadelic prices for their dried-out popcorn and watery soft drinks, but the Candy Conglomerates’ practice of aiding and abetting the thievery by use of Deceptipackaging is downright insulting. You buy a lousy 3.5 ounce package of Raisinets for three bucks: bad enough, but why does the dinky little packet of chocolate-coated deadfruit have to come in an outer package the size of a refrigerator carton? Who the fuck do they think they’re fooling? </RANT>

Concession issues aside, we enjoyed the hell out of Hairspray. But this film-musical-film thing got me to thinking, for it is a veritabobble Tar-Baby for the entertainment business: a great way to get stuck.

Let me state right up front that I have long had serious misgivings about the incessant recycling of once-creative ideas to generate yet more Entertainment Product. Remakes are the worst example, a case of a rat eating its own turds to extract the last molecule of nourishment from what, at one time, may have been Tasty Food. Sequels and prequels are a close second...but at least those have to advance the story arc. All most remakes seem to do is tell the same old story, replacing charm and soul with better special effects. Need examples? How ’bout The Time Machine and King Kong?

But Hairspray is the product of a new phenomenon, the Transmogrified Entertainment Vehicle. We’ve been familiar for long years with movies that were recast as television shows, material as diverse as Topper and M*A*S*H. Or Stalag 17 inspiring “Hogan’s Heroes.” More recently, we’ve begun seeing the reverse: television series that have been revived in the form of big-screen features, generally with stomach-churning results. The Flintstones. Bewitched. The Beverly (gag) Hillbillies. And then there were all those Star Trek flicks...

Even more recent is this business of movies that inspire Broadway musicals. Disney has done a great job of this with such fare as The Lion King...which means we will be seeing much more of this sort of thing.

With Hairspray, the process has simply come full circle, the movie spawning a musical, in turn spawning another movie. Is this the shape of things to come? Will we see a musical version of Rollerball (a 1974 movie that has already spun off one completely unnecessary remake)?

I have a better idea. How about taking the most challenging film in the John Waters oeuvre, Pink Flamingos, and converting it into a Broadway musical...and perhaps eventually a movie? I can just imagine a few of the songs...

“Let’s Move to Boise”
“(I’m Gonna) Steal This Steak”
“An Eggie for Edie”
“A Special Kind of Package”
“(I Wanna Be) The Filthiest Person Alive”
“Doggy Treat”

No need to thank me. And remember, when they come out with musical remakes of Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Trainspotting, and Bubba Ho-Tep, that Elisson saw it coming.

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