The Hairstyles That Stole the Show
By Roger on 24 June 2009
Sometimes, when I'm watching a movie, I get really distracted by a character's hair. It can be the main character, a minor character, or even a cameo. And I don't just mean distracted, I mean DISTRACTED! Like every time I see them, I'm thinking about their hair, to the point where the first thing I say to my film buddy (who's usually looking a bit poorly because they know they're just about to get an ear full of one-of-Roger's-film-tirades) is: "Was it just me, or was that film all about their hair?"
I'm not just talking about noticing a character's style, like Gwyneth Paltrow's blonde bob in Sliding Doors. Watching that film, a thought (every now and then) like, "Yeah, that one definitely suits her better than the other" might have skirted into the sides of my consciousness. And I'm not just talking about noticing bad hair either, like Matt Damon's fluffy, grown-out-cropped-cut in The Bourne Ultimatum; or (I know this is TV but it just sticks in my mind) Mark Harmon's plastered down, combed-over, stepped-out, military-like, buzzed-back-and-sides style in NCIS (can this even be called a "style"?). And I'm definitely not talking about hairstyles that annoy me, like Meg Ryan's little curly locks that play a starring role IN EVERY ONE OF HER FILMS (with the exception, perhaps, of In the Cut- where other parts of her body dominated a little more than usual).
I'm talking about obsession. My distraction by some characters' hair is symptomatic of my obsession. Let me try to shed some light on this. The other night while I was getting my weekly dose of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, the team's kindly psychiatrist Dr. George Huang gently explained to me the "definition" of "addiction": it is, he says, blatantly apparent when somebody repeatedly partakes in thoughts or actions that are knowingly dangerous and/or destructive in nature. Huang's description, aside from serving as a nice little justification for the killer's otherwise irrational behaviour, gave me a handle on my obsession. My obsession, I think, is characterized by my repeated participation in thoughts (of movie-stars' hair) to the point where these thoughts are dangerous and destructive in nature.
Take Hugh Grant in Four Weddings and a Funeral or Aaron Eckhart in Thank You for Smoking as case studies of my obsessive episodes at the movies. I couldn't see past their hair in either film. It's almost as if their hair was my hair, and it was combed down low over my eyes, and I just couldn't see what was going on.
Hugh Grant's bouffant preppy style dominated every shot. I couldn't get over its shape (so triangular) and bounce (so bouncy). And the way he flicked it, and the way he flicked it and stammered, and the very fact that his name- Charles- was so fittingly English. I just couldn't get enough of it. I found myself fascinated in every scene by its presence. I was turning over in my head exactly Hugh's relationship to his own hair- was it really him, did he like his hair like this, was this man acting?
Aaron's hairstyle screamed at me from the first scene of Thank You for Smoking. There's just something so wrong and so right about it at the same time. He's got that side-part thing happening; that peroxide job that's a little longer at the back- you know, it's kind of parted loosely, not with a comb, but as if a hand of fingers have been running through it all day long. It's a version of the style that was all over the place for a while: Brad had it in Meet Joe Black, Jared Leto had it in Requiem for a Dream and Tom Cruise had it in Vanilla Sky (Jared and Tom were both minus the peroxide).
I have no idea what happened in Thank You for Smoking, and the timely moral message washed right over me like it was a puff of smoke, but Aaron's hairdo frustrated my sensibility. How did he get such a casual style (a part, created by fingers!) to have such a picture perfect look about it? His hair, to me, had the feeling of one of those hyperrealism paintings: uncanny in its better-than-a-photo reproduction of real life.
There are two more big case studies of my obession. The first is Brad Pitt with that messy/spikey hairdo from the film Se7en- a hairdo that I'm sure is a seminal style in most men's database of styles. The other is the "gentleman" character- the type with the old-school and slicked side-part. I'm talking about the Errol Flynn hairdo on the Tony Leung character in In the Mood for Love and the Leonardo DiCaprio character in The Aviator (and whose walking and talking real-life reincarnation of the style right now is George Clooney).
The hairstyle attached to this actor and the other one attached to this character/type have obsessed me. I remember leaving Se7en and thinking, almost immediately, "I must get that haircut . . . it's revolutionary . . . it satisfies so many of my criteria for a haircut so perfectly- maybe it's the perfect haircut." I didn't care about that "pioneering" editing in Fincher's film, and my heart was cold to the narrative's chilling twist. For once, I was lost for words: I have been mesmerized by how such a top-end Style (with a capital "S") can be achieved through such simple means, namely a messy, spikey cut and the rough and haphazard application of minimal product. And then there's Se7en's opposite: the slicked sophistication of the gentleman's short side-part. Tony epitomized it perfectly, adapting it exceptionally from Errol. I get totally side-tracked watching this style in action; I marvel at the traces of the wet comb's wonderful precision; I imagine in my reverie the sophistication and success such a smart style would add to my daily life.
But like I said before, obsession's a destructive thing. Noticing hairstyles is one thing, but turning them over in your head- over and over- and picking them apart can be just too much. I'm going to the movies to escape after all, but what kind of escapism can I hope to achieve when, in my mind, I'm trying to hush a character's dialogue so I can concentrate on their hairstyle? And it's uncontrollable and unpredictable too. Sometimes I become obsessed with a hairstyle that takes me totally by surprise. Maybe Dr. Huang on SVU could give me some advice about how to anticipate these obsessive episodes and get more relaxation from my movies. I'm sure he'd say something like my obsessions stem from what I consider to be my own hairstyle inadequacies.
But come to think of it, I've been noticing lately that Dr. Huang's got pretty cool hair himself . . .