Tuesday, December 23, 2008

seasonal hair fare

A Christmas Story (1983) seems to have a secure place as a "holiday classic" these days, and is the most recently-made addition to the Holiday Classic Movie Pantheon. Maybe Elf (which I still haven't watched because of my contempt for Will Ferrell, even though it has the godlike Bob Nehwart in it) or one of those Tim Allen holiday movies or even the creepy "they have no souls!" animation of The Polar Express will get there someday, who knows?

(By the way, that's assuming that The Nightmare Before Christmas - one of only two Tim Burton films that are great all the way through - and Bad Santa will remain more "cult Christmas" than "TNT 24/7 Christmas Day repeat marathon" in their level of mainstream acceptability. We're talking society's picks when I'm talking "pantheon," not my personal choices.)

I used to dislike A Christmas Story. It didn't strike me as funny the first few times I encountered it in the '80s. My aunt and uncle adored it, I think in large part because its near-perfect recreation of the 1940s reminded them a lot of their own childhoods in the 1950s. But other than the Leg Lamp (and yes, I know there are A Christmas Story-branded Leg Lamps now - we just don't have a place for one!) and how the "you're gonna shoot your eye out!" thing ends up, it was pretty laugh-free for me at the time.

Nowadays, while I don't think I'll ever list A Christmas Story as a favorite, the repeat viewings have had their effect, and the movie's grown on me. I certainly laugh more at it now than I used to, but the thing I appreciate most about the movie is its attention to 1940s period detail.

However, there is absolutely one thing about A Christmas Story that, every time it comes into the frame, takes me right out of the story:

The mom's hair.

I mean, look at this!

Ladies and gentlemen, that's not 1940s hair. That's a vintage 1983 poodle 'do from Hair Affair at the Mercer Mall. Could no one on this film convince Melinda Dillon (the actress playing the mom) to succumb to a period hairstyle? If she was so attached to that crazy frizzy thing (which I hate hate hated on women 'n' girls at the time, much less now), couldn't she have put on a wig? And unless I missed the Melinda Dillon Ascendancy of the early '80s, she wasn't a big enough star, then or ever, to have demanded "no one touches my hair!" and gotten away with it. Maybe she was boffing the director, I dunno.

Hairstyles are usually the downfall of period pieces. Of course, there are plenty of other clues to when a period piece was filmed, most often in the cinematography / lighting / color processing, but usually it's someone running around 33 CE Rome or King Arthur's court or Studio 54 c. 1977 with Anachronism Hair, like they just pulled them off the street, threw chainmail or a leisure suit on them, and called it a day.

So yeah, every time Ralphie's Mom is in the frame, it totally undoes the decor, the sweaters, Darren McGavin's irascible Dad (surely an ancestor of That '70s Show's Red Foreman), and hours and hours of painstaking research, set decoration, and costuming, all because that woman had to keep her damn poodle hair.

I usually am a purist when it comes to being against ex post facto alterations of movies and TV shows. No colorization, no Apocalypse Now Redux bloating , no George Lucas-style reedits. But if I could, I would digitally alter this film to put an actual 1940s hairstyle on this woman.

By the way, in Googling up the photo for this piece, I discovered that many, many men developed pre-adolescent crushes on Ralphie's Mom, and still think she's totally MILFy. Who knew? For me, the hair by itself trumps any other virtues of Melinda Dillon's, at least in this film. But then again, I was 16 when this movie came out, so I was spending my time pining over very real girls at school rather than getting dewy-eyed over Ralphie's Mom. Plus my own pre-adolescent crush on a TV or movie mom was Elizabeth Montgomery, and what poodle-haired latecomer could compete with that?


PCarino said...

...The Nightmare Before Christmas - one of only two Tim Burton films that are great all the way through...

Which is the other one, in your opinion?

TNBC is purty much in my all-time fave movie pantheon, not just in the "holiday" category, although it's cool that it is a dual-purpose holiday film!

125records said...

I vote for "Ed Wood" as the other great Burton film...

2fs said...

What's amusing about period films is that often, you can view both periods simultaneously, as in: this is clearly an '80s look at the '40s. That kind of thing is fascinating...and I suspect that no matter how painstaking the research, such things will still come through clearly the further away from the film/etc. we get.

Anyway: two anachronistic TV hairstyles - Scott Baio's in Happy Days and Alan Alda's in M*A*S*H*. Both too long, both too '70s...

(Funny you mention "MILF" in the entry...my captcha thingy is "mifil")

Miles said...

Which is the other one, in your opinion?

The other slice of Tim Burton perfection is Edward Scissorhands. When I saw it the first time, my immediate reaction was "this is the movie he was trying to make all along." I was hoping it would be the harbinger of a sustainable peak, but it's really been an outlier for me.

The downfall of all his other movies is always the same: mediocre scripts. Burton's movies always look wonderful, they're usually very well-acted, and they usually have some wonderfully memorable scenes (well, except for maybe Mars Attacks, which was just plain atrocious). But the scripts either fall apart toward the end (Beetlejuice) or end up hewing too close to convention (Ed Wood).

My #3 Burton movie is Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, but even it has its misfires.

Flasshe said...

It's Will Ferrell!

Planet of the Apes is the best Burton movie.


Miles said...

It reads "Ferrell" now; I actually knew how it was spelled, but it's one of those "defies the spellchecker" things.

I haven't seen the Burton Apes. It really could be his best movie, and I wouldn't know it! I mean, I doubt that it's good based on everything I've read about it, but I'm just sayin' that I haven't seen it.

Weird Holiday Celebration Moment from tonight: discovering that my new mother-in-law loves The Hudsucker Proxy too. I wouldn'ta thunk it.

Brainmine said...

Scope out this 1940s pic of Joan Crawford (bottom left). So if you took this perm and made it unkept, you could have this movie mom. Could be that 1980s mall hair was a reflection of 1940s perms.

Of course, all films have some relic of the time period in which they were made in them (nods at 2fs). And there's really not much in the way of new looks - it is just old looks brought out of retirement, or single aspects of old looks frankensteined into something less immediately familiar.

Miles said...

So if you took this perm and made it unkept, you could have this movie mom. Could be that 1980s mall hair was a reflection of 1940s perms.

I dunno - the 1940s Crawford 'do in question (and other 1940s ones I've thought about) seem far looser and less crazy-poodly. I just know that from the moment I saw that movie, that hair was completely 1983-contemporary in an egregiously wrong way.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree about the hair. It is all wrong and detracts from the movie.