“In a mental health recovery community in Philadelphia there is a beauty salon.” So begins, in a sort of fairytale cadence, this documentary’s wondrous story of beauty.
It’s skin-deep but in the best way; the shop’s proprietress, Rachel “Hollywood” Carr Timms, makes no bones about the importance of feeling pretty when the heart and mind are in turmoil. These are stories crafted with care, with glimpses of the filmmaking process — a chance to see the camera operators and director themselves at times in awe of the fortitude they’re witnessing.
Glenn Holsten’s Hollywood Beauty Salon includes portraits of some of the center’s charges, telling their stories in their own ways. Edward Kosempel, a once-homeless flautist beset by schizophrenia and cancer, is given a flute and a lesson from Philadelphia Orchestra flute player David Cramer to help get him back on track. Sanetta “Butterfly” Watkins’s short film shows her metamorphosis and, ultimately, a winged flight. And all are preparing for the center’s beauty pageant.
Timms’s solicitude for her patrons — people of all ages and races ravaged by poverty, mental illness, substance abuse, and maltreatment — is for her an almost sacred weight. Her story of a foster-home childhood and an abusive mate, captured in a melancholy animated short, is powerful on its own.
But the film reveals her abiding trust in the human spirit and her belief that once people see beauty in themselves, they’ll also love and be loved. Timms’s voice is flat and low, her smiles rare and her efforts tireless, all-embracing, and, ultimately, astonishing.
Hollywood Beauty Salon
Directed by Glenn Holsten
Opens July 29, Village East Cinema