Watered Down

The truth behind Hairspray

Of course Waters, whose movie is a teen comedy, not a Ric Burns documentary, doesn't deal overtly with these harrowing events. In fact, Waters turns this history on its head—or maybe he just speeds things up. By the end of his film, the forces of reaction are vanquished, the kids triumph, and everyone dances around to wonderful music.

And though I sat in the darkened theater on 14th Street watching the new film and pining fondly for the old, not everything in the current movie is such a washout. There's Queen Latifah's candlelight protest march, which, though it left my companions groaning, I am embarrassed to say I found kind of affecting. And then there is also that wonderful scene where Tracy gets her mom to come downtown for a shopping spree to replace her shapeless, sleeveless housedress, a costume so dispiriting that Divine, who wore similar garb in the 1988 movie, once quipped: "Believe me, no one can call me a drag queen looking like this."

To the strains of "Welcome to the '60s," a girl-group pastiche that captures the elation when sexy clothes, pop music, and the struggle for a better world mix together with joyous abandon, Travolta sheds his housedress in favor of a mod get-up and a bouffant hairdo of his own. As the song puts it, "The future's got a million roads for you to choose, but you'll walk a little taller in some high-heel shoes."

"Little Inez" in Hairspray is based on Ruby Bridges, the six-year-old girl who integrated a New Orleans elementary school and was memorialized in Norman Rockwell's The Problem We All Live With.
photo: (C) 2007 David James/New Line Cinema
"Little Inez" in Hairspray is based on Ruby Bridges, the six-year-old girl who integrated a New Orleans elementary school and was memorialized in Norman Rockwell's The Problem We All Live With.

Emma Goldman couldn't have said it any better.

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