I watched the original Hairspray tonight, having snapped it up on the cheap just the other day (in fact, the movie itself was cheaper than its soundtrack). What was a fairly straightforward movie, rather like the musical but with teeth, slowly degenerated into something approaching insanity. Pia Zadora came on screen, talking about ironing your hair and smoking the reefer, and all bets were off.
This was plainly evidenced by John Waters showing up as soon as they left Zadora’s house (which I assure you was swellegant) and stealing the movie. “Look at the disc!” he implored, and Penny had no choice but to listen. I was so disoriented I almost managed to miss Sonny Bono putting together a bomb and hiding it in Debbie Harry’s hair. There was actual evidence of racial tension featured in the movie, the romance on offer was the traditional “taken for granted instant going steady” variety, and altogether it felt more gritty. It came completely unstuck before the curtain fell (“Tracy! Tracy!!!!”), but was mightily entertaining for all of that.
Waters apparently told Adam Shankman that, in making the musical movie, to make it unlike Waters’ own, or like the stage version. I’m convinced that this was a successful approach to take. Shankman’s musical is more polished, but Waters’ movie is rather more bizarre. Different movies to fit different moods; it’s the new frontier.