Reviews

Good Hair

Chris Rock embarks upon a comical/serious inquiry into the supercharged waters of black' hair that strays into arenas of beauty and racial identity.


Good Hair

Director: Jeff Stilson
Cast: Chris Rock
Studio: Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Release Date: 2010-02-16

What constitutes the “good”? Since Plato constructed his philosophical republic in the sky, this question has perplexed and spurred the great minds of Western thought, from the ancient Greeks through the great minds of the Enlightenment and down to the… comedians of the present? Sure, why not!

Inspired by a simple, innocent question posted to him by his five year old daughter – “Daddy? Why don’t I have good hair?” – Chris Rock embarks upon an inquiry into what constitutes “good” that strays into arenas of beauty and racial identity; self-image and self-worth among African-American women; the social and financial impact of extreme cosmetology; and the “N” word.

The “N” word in this case being… nappy. Thorny, knotty, kinky. Tight, curly hair... black hair. Good Hair, Rock’s comico-serious investigation into the roots of African-American women’s hair issues, ranges far and wide, taking the comedian from the beauty shops of New York to the hair factories of India; from the Bronner Brothers hair expo in Atlanta to Dudley Products, a black owned hair care giant, also located in Atlanta (as Rock says off the top, all roads lead in the world of black hair care lead to Atlanta).

It’s a fun movie, as you’d expect with anything involving Rock. He’s a feisty and irreverent interlocutor, using his brash humor to shine light on the more serious questions swirling around the supercharged world of black cosmetology.

Like… well, for basics, the big question: Why this mania among a good number (but certainly not all) African-American women to have long, luxurious, very straight, some would say very white, hair? Why do these women seem so insistent on disowning a significant component of their racial identity? Especially when it’s so difficult and expensive to maintain this illusion of silky smooth hair? If the lengths these women go to are any indication, these are not negligible questions – but they may not have easy answers.

The solutions, however, are easy enough to pick out, because there are really only two time honored fixes for “bad” hair. One the one hand, one can apply harsh, burning chemicals, also known as “relaxer” (the application of which looks anything but relaxing). Traditionally, the relaxant has been sodium hydroxide (aka, lye, the use on one's head is, frankly, just insane. Luckily, it's not used quite as predominantly anymore) which, when applied with vigor and in great quantity, seems to do the trick of de-kinking curly hair. It’s a lot of work, it’s a bitch to get out, and it’s a temporary solution that I guess works well if you never plan on washing your hair again.

The other famous (or infamous) solution is weaves, which are very (very) expensive hair extensions, of a sort. Generally made out of actual human hair (harvested, in great abundance, in India by women who believe they're sacrificing their hair to their deity), these luxurious Indian locks are attached, in a very labor intensive procedure, to the actual hair on one’s head to make it appear fuller and more abundant. Weaves aim for seamlessness, though they are generally fairly obvious to point out. They do the job though – both on “bad” hair, and on the pocket book.

Weaves on the low end cost at least a $1,000, and that’s not including the charge to attach and then maintain them, which can tack on another grand. Top line weaves can top out at over $3,000, which gives you an indication of how very seriously some women take this (and how lucrative an industry this is).

As for a lucrative industry, it’s in the billions. Multiple billions. Maybe like nine or ten. Here is where we see maybe some nefarious powers at work, and maybe the circular reinforcement of black women’s self-image. What billion dollar industry doesn’t maintain its iron grip on its base, especially one that preys on insecurities? It’s a slam dunk.

This begs the chicken-egg question of course: whence this deep rooted desire for “good hair”? Did the business originate out of the need, or did business create the “need” for non-black hair? There’s no real answer here, and Rock has a hard time formulating the hard questions, the right questions, that would start getting beneath the surface of the issue. It’s probably beyond the purview of the film, and would have given it a more serious – a more soporific – tone that might have been more informative, but less entertaining.

Good Hair is entertaining – very. The candid discussions in beauty and barber shops are a hoot, especially when they start to revolve around sexual landmines that arise because of hair issues – most of which boil down to a bizarre protectiveness on the part of black women to their hair, to the point of forgoing um… the basic pleasures of healthy sexual activity.

Also entertaining is Rock’s trip to the annual Bronner Brothers Hair Expo, the largest showcase of hair care products in America (and maybe the world?) A three day carnival of demos, new product displays and pageantry, it looks to be one of the most singularly entertaining spectacles in America. I desperately want to attend.

The centerpiece is a bizarre event -- part competition, part elaborate stage show -- in which four or five of the best stylists in the country square off in a battle royale to see who is the best at… well, I don’t know what, actually. The contest actually only nominally involves actual styling and cutting, and is more a revue of over the top skits that attempt to out “camp” one another. Oddly themed, elaborately choreographed, and each boasting a production budget of a small, Off Broadway musical, these routines are loud, bawdy, outrageous and just plain weird.

One seemed to be circus themed, and had the stylist swinging upside down from a trapeze while she cut hair. Another had some sort of aquatic aspect that ended with hair being cut in an aquarium that had been wheeled onto stage. The winner’s routine involved a bevy of showgirl dancers and triumphant finale featuring a college marching band.

I’m not sure the inclusion of this competition adds anything germane to the actual arguments of Good Hair – the scenes of the hair-battled bookend the film, but for no discernible reason, maybe because there was no other place to stick them. I’m glad it’s there, nonetheless. It's one of the most totally confounding and brilliant things I’ve seen in quite a bit, and actually would constitute a worthy documentary in and of itself. It’s that good.

Good Hair’s only real extra is a passable commentary track with Chris Rock and producer Nelson George. While I never really tire of listening to Rock riff and go off on tangents and tirades, here he mostly just sticks what’s on screen, which, for a documentary, seems especially redundant.

7
Music

The Best Metal of 2017

Painting by Mariusz Lewandowski. Cover of Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper.

There's common ground between all 20 metal albums despite musical differences: the ability to provide a cathartic release for the creator and the consumer alike, right when we need it most.

With global anxiety at unprecedented high levels it is important to try and maintain some personal equilibrium. Thankfully, metal, like a spiritual belief, can prove grounding. To outsiders, metal has always been known for its escapism and fantastical elements; but as most fans will tell you, metal is equally attuned to the concerns of the world and the internal struggles we face and has never shied away from holding a mirror up to man's inhumanity.

Keep reading... Show less

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

Two recently translated works -- Lydie Salvayre's Cry, Mother Spain and Joan Sales' Uncertain Glory -- bring to life the profound complexity of an early struggle against fascism, the Spanish Civil War.

There are several ways to write about the Spanish Civil War, that sorry three-year prelude to World War II which saw a struggling leftist democracy challenged and ultimately defeated by a fascist military coup.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Beware the seemingly merry shades of green and red that spread so slowly and thickly across the holiday season, for something dark and uncertain, something that takes many forms, stirs beneath the joyful facade.

Let's be honest -- not everyone feels merry at this time of year. Psychologists say depression looms large around the holidays and one way to deal with it is cathartically. Thus, we submit that scary movies can be even more salutary at Christmas than at Halloween. So, Merry Christmas. Ho ho ho wa ha ha!

1. The Old Dark House (James Whale, 1932)

Between Frankenstein (1931) and The Invisible Man (1933), director James Whale made this over-the-top lark of a dark and stormy night with stranded travelers and a crazy family. In a wordless performance, Boris Karloff headlines as the deformed butler who inspired The Addams Family's Lurch. Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, Melvyn Douglas and Ernest Thesiger are among those so vividly present, and Whale has a ball directing them through a series of funny, stylish scenes. This new Cohen edition provides the extras from Kino's old disc, including commentaries by Stuart and Whale biographer James Curtis. The astounding 4K restoration of sound and image blows previous editions away. There's now zero hiss on the soundtrack, all the better to hear Massey starting things off with the first line of dialogue: "Hell!"

(Available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

2. The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015)

Two mermaid sisters (Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska) can summon legs at will to mingle on shore with the band at a Polish disco, where their siren act is a hit. In this dark reinvention of Hans Christian Andersen's already dark The Little Mermaid, one love-struck sister is tempted to sacrifice her fishy nature for human mortality while her sister indulges moments of bloodlust. Abetted by writer Robert Bolesto and twin sister-musicians Barbara and Zuzanna Wronska, director Agnieszka Smoczynska offers a woman's POV on the fairy tale crossed with her glittery childhood memories of '80s Poland. The result: a bizarre, funy, intuitive genre mash-up with plenty of songs. This Criterion disc offers a making-of and two short films by Smoczynska, also on musical subjects.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Read PopMatters review here.)

3. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)

In the category of movies that don't explain themselves in favor of leaving some of their mysteries intact, here's Olivier Assayas' follow-up to the luminous Clouds of Sils Maria. Kristen Stewart again plays a celebrity's lackey with a nominally glamorous, actually stupid job, and she's waiting for a sign from her dead twin brother. What about the ghostly presence of a stalker who sends provocative text messages to her phone? The story flows into passages of outright horror complete with ectoplasm, blood, and ooga-booga soundscapes, and finally settles for asking the questions of whether the "other world" is outside or inside us. Assayas has fashioned a slinky, sexy, perplexing ghost story wrapped around a young woman's desire for something more in her life. There's a Cannes press conference and a brief talk from Assayas on his influences and impulses.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Reader PopMatters review here.

4. The Ghoul (Gareth Tunley, 2016)

The hero (Tom Meeten) tells his therapist that in his dreams, some things are very detailed and others are vague. This movie tells you bluntly what it's up to: a Möbius strip narrative that loops back on itself , as attributed to the diabolical therapists for their cosmic purposes. Then we just wait for the hero to come full circle and commit the crime that, as a cop, he's supposedly investigating. But this doesn't tell us whether he's really an undercover cop pretending to be depressed, or really a depressive imagining he's a cop, so some existential mysteries will never be answered. It's that kind of movie, indebted to David Lynch and other purveyors of nightmarish unreality. Arrow's disc offers a making-of, a commentary from writer-director Gareth Tunley and Meeten along with a producer, and a short film from Tunley and Meeten.

(Available from Arrow Video)

​5. The Illustrated Man (Jack Smight, 1969)

When a young man goes skinny-dipping with a mysterious stranger (Rod Steiger) who's covered with tattoos, the pictures comes to life in a series of odd stories, all created by Ray Bradbury and featuring Steiger and Claire Bloom in multiple roles. Nobody was satisfied with this failure, and it remains condemned to not having reached its potential. So why does Warner Archive grace it with a Blu-ray? Because even its failure has workable elements, including Jerry Goldsmith's score and the cold neatness of the one scene people remember: "The Veldt", which combines primal child/parent hostilities (a common Bradbury theme) with early virtual reality. It answers the question of why the kids spend so much time in their room, and why they're hostile at being pulled away.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

6. The Hidden (Jack Sholder, 1987)


In one of my favorite action movies of the '80s, a post-Blue Velvet and pre-Twin Peaks Kyle MacLachlan plays an FBI agent who forms a buddy-cop bond with Michael Nouri while pursuing a perp -- a bodiless entity that plugs into the human id. In the midst of slam-bang action comes a pivotal moment when a startling question is asked: "How do you like being human?" The heart of the movie, rich in subtext, finds two men learning to embrace what's alien to them. In pop-culture evolution, this movie falls between Hal Clement's novel Needle and the TV series Alien Nation. On this Warner Archive Blu-ray, Sholder offers a commentary with colleague Tim Hunter.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

7. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (David Lynch, 1992)

Speaking of Twin Peaks, here we have a textbook example of a movie that pleased almost nobody upon its release but has now generated such interest, thanks in large part to this year's Twin Peaks revival, that it arrives on Criterion. A feature-film prequel to David Lynch and Mark Frost's original TV serial that answered none of its questions and tossed in a raft of new ones, the film functions as one of cinema's most downbeat, disruptive and harsh depictions of a middle-class American teenage girl's social context. Sheryl Lee delivers a virtuoso performance that deserved the Oscar there was no way she'd be nominated for, and she wasn't. The extras, including a 90-minute film of deleted and alternate takes assembled by Lynch, have been available on previous sets.

(Available from Criterion Collection)

8. The Green Slime (Kinji Fukasaku, 1968)

Incredibly, Warner Archive upgrades its on-demand DVD of a groovy, brightly colored creature feature with this Blu-ray. As a clever reviewer indicated in this PopMatters review, what director Kinji Fukasaku saw as a Vietnam allegory functions more obviously as a manifestation of sexual tension between alpha-jock spacemen competing for the attention of a foxy female scientist, and this subconsciously creates an explosion of big green tentacled critters who overrun the space station. While we don't believe in "so bad it's good," this falls squarely into the category of things so unfacetiously absurd, they come out cool. There's a sublimely idiotic theme song.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

If the idea is that earth, water, fire, air and space constitute the core elements of life, then these five songs might seem as their equivalents to surviving the complications that come from embracing the good and enduring the ugly of the Christmas season.

Memory will never serve us well when it comes to Christmas and all its surrounding complications. Perhaps worse than the financial and familial pressures, the weather and the mad rush to consume and meet expectations, to exceed what happened the year before, are the floods of lists and pithy observations about Christmas music. We know our favorite carols and guilty pleasures ("O Come All Ye Faithful", "Silent Night"), the Vince Guaraldi Trio's music for 1965's A Charlie Brown Christmas that was transcendent then and (for some, anyway) has lost none of its power through the years, and we embrace the rock songs (The Kink's "Father Christmas", Greg Lake's "I Believe In Father Christmas", and The Pretenders' "2000 Miles".) We dismiss the creepy sexual predator nature in any rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside", the inanity of Alvin and the Chipmunks, and pop confections like "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus".

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image