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Episode 157 - Grease vs. Hairspray (w/ Adam Egypt Mortimer)


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Poll: Episode 157 - Grease vs. Hairspray (w/ Adam Egypt Mortimer) (36 member(s) have cast votes)

Which film should enter The Canon?

  1. Grease (15 votes [41.67%])

    Percentage of vote: 41.67%

  2. Hairspray (21 votes [58.33%])

    Percentage of vote: 58.33%

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#1 Dalton Maltz

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Posted 03 June 2018 - 09:27 PM

Filmmaker Adam Egypt Mortimer joins Amy to pit the 1978 musical “Grease” against the 1988 musical “Hairspray.” They’ll get into the focus on changing identity in “Grease” and question why anyone would be into Danny Zuko. Then they’ll dive into a discussion on “Hairspray,” noting its commitment to camp and the aesthetic of director John Waters.

#2 iamymai

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Posted 04 June 2018 - 05:28 AM

What an incredibly frustrating episode. Amy was so determined to be obtuse that she came across as mean-spirited. She cut off her guest way too much. That dig about hot dogs at 7 Eleven was totally uncalled for. I probably haven't been this frustrated with her since a throw down episode from the Devin days.

Of course Hairspray is infused with John Waters' camp sensibilities. Of course comparing these two films is like choosing between an apple and a carrot. One is a musical and one isn't. At first I thought the versus would be between Grease and the 2007 Hairspray because they would at least be the same type of film. That whole bit about Hairspray's songs being better because they're diegetic and therefore reflect the choices of the characters drove me nuts. It's a completely irrelevant point to focus on because the criteria informing the music in each movie is totally different. One's making a selection from songs that exist, and the other's presenting original songs. Probably the only goal they have in common is "capture this time period." I would be at a loss for words too if I was in Adam's shoes.

As for what I would actually choose... I love both of these movies for very different reasons. Grease is a kinetic and fun romp through baby boomer teen Americana from the decade that arguably invented capitalizing on nostalgia in the modern sense. The songs are great, and everyone involved (while obviously not of teen age) is clearly having a blast. Hairspray takes all the specifics from a time, place, and perspective (1962, Baltimore, white teen fat girl) and filters them through the warped sensibilities of John Waters. The result is often hilarious and just the right amount twisted.

I therefore feel compelled to resort to cultural impact as the deciding factor, and in this case Grease wins hands down. Despite its faults it's one of the biggest musicals in the history of the medium.

#3 Johnny Pomatto

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Posted 04 June 2018 - 07:31 AM

For as seemingly iconic it has become, and for as infectiously its songs worm their way through your ears, I have never been a fan of the movie GREASE. I believe its origins began as something of substance but generations of misunderstanding have watered it down into something completely flavorless. The original play is more akin to the work of John Waters than what the movie and its legacy ultimately made it become. There was real comedy in the original play of GREASE surrounding the idea that these wholesome teens of this beloved era were actually a bunch of sex crazed deviants and jerks. GREASE was a parody of 50's nostalgia, not a celebration of it. It pointed out the silliness and banality of absurd dances of the day, like a "Hand Jive," and made fun of empty meaningless lyrics like "Rama Lama Lama Ka Dinga Da Dinga Dong." I believe that some of GREASE's songs were intentionally written to be bad songs, or at the very least, cute songs that were still making fun of how bad songs of their ilk were. It makes me think of the way Trey Parker and Robert Lopez wrote songs for "The Book of Mormon/" They're simultaneously celebrating various genres and tropes of musical theater, while also sending them up and turning them on their ear. The fact that GREASE is now looked at an affectionate look at the charming innocence of the 50's is unfortunate, but I think it's even beginning to move beyond that. Kids today don't even see this as commentary at all of a specific era of 50's rock music, they just see it as a movable and universal portrayal of a past generation. This might be why productions you see now, (that live abomination on television last year, for example), feel like they might as well just be a musical of "Saved By the Bell." It's just a general view of "teenagers who aren't of the current generation," using that as an excuse to portray some bad behavior that doesn't quite live up to our modern ideals but in a neutered relatable way. Now that is the extreme of what I believe GREASE has become, but this movie is a bit better than that. John Travolta shows a kind of star power in this movie that you won't find matched by many young celebrities of today. I appreciate the sprinkling of former 50's icons in the cast, (Eve Arden, Joan Blondell, Sid Caesar), to lend the film some comedy and credibility. And yes, some of those songs, even and especially the bad ones, can remain in your head for weeks after a single viewing. I somewhat envy Adam for having recently seen the film with a packed audience, because I can imagine that such an experience would effectively work some magic on me and fill me with an infectious group enthusiasm, but with my last experience with the film being in my living room, I just didn't feel the love.

And so I'm going to be voting for HAIRSPRAY to be admitted into The Canon. Since we already have FEMALE TROUBLE inducted, I would love to get the other side of the John Waters coin to be let in. The debate over the camp factor somewhat surprised me, because I don't think there's such a strict definition that doesn't allow elements of it to be featured in both of Waters' styles. To me, early films like FEMALE TROUBLE, POLYESTER, and MULTIPLE MANIACS have more of a camp edge because its presenting characters that Waters and him movie world clearly love, but they're almost daring the audience to hate. They're showing fringe characters in a way that one would expect to be making fun of, but instead is an affectionate celebration. To me, HAIRSPRAY is a more sincere effort than that. Aside from the cynically villainous Arvin Hodgepile and the Von Tussle clan, there seems to be no suggestion of characters that we're not supposed to dislike or find unsympathetic. Waters is presenting us with characters usually relegated to background extras in these genres (fat people and minorities) and putting them in the foreground and showing their humanity. It still devastates me that Divine never lived to make another film, because this was a whole new side of her persona. Even past all of the social messages and integration idealism, this is such a wonderful mother/daughter story. What if the mean mother who stood in the way of your fantastical dreams became an active participant in achieving those dreams? I love her and Ricki Lake's relationship in this movie. It's also worth pointing out that like GREASE, HAIRSPRAY too has evolved and been embraced by a new generation. Frankly, I think that HAIRSPRAY (at least within the generation of high school musicals) is beginning to eclipse GREASE a bit, helped by is progressive and positive messages that end with a climax that isn't a sexual one. It's no coincidence that both musical adaptations aired live on television in the same year. But John Waters gives a big stamp of approval on his musical adaptation, which I feel keeps true to the spirit of its original creator. It doesn't shy away from the ugliness of Waters' filthy view of Baltimore, but still manages to celebrate it. It may not match the purity of the original, but at least this new generation is continuing to celebrate its legacy while focusing on the specifics of what made its roots so unique and personal to Waters. GREASE has obviously made the bigger cultural splash and is probably an inevitable addition to The Canon, but GREASE had a head start and I think its brightness is starting to fade. There are still young people everywhere who feel a bit different and outside of societal cliques who are discovering John Waters as their alternative teen angel. He certainly was mine. I vote enthusiastically for HAIRSPRAY!

#4 andyradicalpossumtackler

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Posted 04 June 2018 - 07:45 AM

View Postiamymai, on 04 June 2018 - 05:28 AM, said:

What an incredibly frustrating episode.


I felt this way but for the opposite reason - I felt like Amy was trying harder to consider the merits of both films, while Adam was presenting some bad faith arguments against "Hairspray" in order to boost his own pick. Still a good listen, though, and an exciting pairing of films.

I have to vote "Hairspray". Both films are distinct and worthy, but with "Grease" I think you have to squint harder and mentally fill in gaps to find much depth. It's a shiny, Hollywood musical - a fine example, but I don't see it as especially unique to the genre. "Hairspray" is its own thing, for better and worse; and Waters bringing some grit, quirk, and even politics to a more mainstream-friendly form is noteworthy.

#5 LanceHunter

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Posted 04 June 2018 - 08:56 AM

View Postandyradicalpossumtackler, on 04 June 2018 - 07:45 AM, said:


I felt this way but for the opposite reason - I felt like Amy was trying harder to consider the merits of both films, while Adam was presenting some bad faith arguments against "Hairspray" in order to boost his own pick. Still a good listen, though, and an exciting pairing of films.

I have to vote "Hairspray". Both films are distinct and worthy, but with "Grease" I think you have to squint harder and mentally fill in gaps to find much depth. It's a shiny, Hollywood musical - a fine example, but I don't see it as especially unique to the genre. "Hairspray" is its own thing, for better and worse; and Waters bringing some grit, quirk, and even politics to a more mainstream-friendly form is noteworthy.


Completely agreed. Adam's near-slanderous take on John Waters was just mind-boggling, as was his attempt to turn Grease into some kind of statement on class struggle.

#6 Tic_not_tock

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Posted 04 June 2018 - 09:34 AM

I genuinely enjoyed the drag-out fight y'all had over these films! So much so, I had to make an account so I could vote for the right film ;)
What was not considered in the discussion, is that both films are presented through the lens of nostalgia. So to say that either film is a genuine or realistic look at either of their respective eras is dismissive of the heightened nostalgic celebration of the eras the films depict.
Grease -at its core- is a celebration of the 50s and so Hairspray of the 60s.
Hairspray is a campy subversion of this nostalgia and that is why it gets my vote.

#7 sycasey 2.0

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Posted 04 June 2018 - 10:30 AM

Adam seemed very focused on the idea that Hairspray is camp. I'll agree with him that the movie is campy, at least in parts. But what didn't get discussed is that the campiness is applied with (IMO) more surgical precision than you saw in earlier Waters films: in this movie he is ONLY campy about the elements of the 1950s and/or early 60s that he found ridiculous. He is genuine about the things he loved.

So the racism is camped up to the extreme (Divine plays the racist TV station owner way campier than Tracy's mom). So are some of the other sillier aspects, like hypno-therapy (Waters' personal on-screen appearance), beatniks, and big hairdos. But I would argue that the core characters you are supposed to like (Tracy, Penny, Seaweed, etc.) are treated with care and respect. So is the music and dancing. The movie is making a complex argument about looking at the past and mocking what should be left behind, but keeping what was worth celebrating.

Grease might have been attempting that kind of approach in its original conception, but I agree that by the time the movie makes it to screen it starts to feel watered-down. As we've gotten more distance from the movie, any satirical intent seems to have faded as people take it more and more at face value. I don't dislike the film; I disagree with Amy that the songs are "bad" -- the big, hard-working musical numbers are the whole point here, very well done, and you can't expect a pure musical to have the same intent as the diegetic music in Hairspray -- but I also have never been able to get past the idea that the movie encourages you to "change" for your teenage love, and without Waters' more precise authorial gaze it becomes a bit of a muddle thematically.

I suppose Grease has had more cultural impact, but with Hairspray having been revived as a popular musical itself I think this piece is a closer call than originally assumed. I'll vote for Hairspray just because I like it more and think it's a more interesting film.

#8 FictionIsntReal

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Posted 04 June 2018 - 04:33 PM

Since I had never seen "The Help", I didn't have the right words to describe how sidelined the actual black characters are in a story supposedly about integration. The choice here is between a movie which tackles a real issue with a shallow and at times (like the Rachel Dolezal moment) embarrassing way, and one which is entirely superficial to its core. This would be easier if the songs from Grease were good, but for the most part they're nothing special and just well known, while the title track sounded horribly out of place to me. At the same time, it seems somewhat unfair to give Hairspray credit for just sampling from a bunch of existing songs rather than coming up with original ones for the story. There are plenty of period pieces which have done that (including for that era). Liking neither movie, I'll go with cultural impact and vote Grease. John Waters can take consolation in already having a film in the Canon.

One more thing: for all Adam's talk about class, we don't actually hear anything about the socioeconomic background of the characters. The only one with any interest in a career is Frenchie, who seems to be dropping out of school more because she sees little point in it than because she actually needs a job.

#9 Susan*

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Posted 04 June 2018 - 06:20 PM

View PostFictionIsntReal, on 04 June 2018 - 04:33 PM, said:

Since I had never seen "The Help", I didn't have the right words to describe how sidelined the actual black characters are in a story supposedly about integration. The choice here is between a movie which tackles a real issue with a shallow and at times (like the Rachel Dolezal moment) embarrassing way, and one which is entirely superficial to its core. This would be easier if the songs from Grease were good, but for the most part they're nothing special and just well known, while the title track sounded horribly out of place to me. At the same time, it seems somewhat unfair to give Hairspray credit for just sampling from a bunch of existing songs rather than coming up with original ones for the story. There are plenty of period pieces which have done that (including for that era). Liking neither movie, I'll go with cultural impact and vote Grease. John Waters can take consolation in already having a film in the Canon.

One more thing: for all Adam's talk about class, we don't actually hear anything about the socioeconomic background of the characters. The only one with any interest in a career is Frenchie, who seems to be dropping out of school more because she sees little point in it than because she actually needs a job.

I mostly agreed with Adam's take on Hairspray--actually most of what he said. I like John Waters as a columnist/interview guest than as a filmmaker, but however you feel it's his viewpoint and I don't think he was making or trying to make a sweet movie. I think he finally had a large enough profile to make a bigger movie and he stacked it with celebrities to wink at the audience. I think it is campy (and largely not sincere) and I don't think camp is bad. And I agree with your take on the African American characters.

#10 DrEricFritz

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Posted 04 June 2018 - 06:28 PM

I feel like the songs in Grease are way bigger than the movie itself. Throughout the whole episode, I was thinking about The Sound of Music, where the movie just at best okay but the songs are absolutely fantastic - I also utterly disagree with Amy that the songs are bad. The movie (not the original) plays like a nostalgia trip for me, kids trying to find themselves and whatever. I've never been a huge fan of Grease, but I find it very well acted with great music and watchable enough. I wonder if I would enjoy it more if I had an experience like Adam in a theatre with an enthusiastic audience.

I do love Hairspray's over the top look. The music, the quirkiness, the look, and the acting here too is really fun. But Hairspray is problematic for reasons Adam points out, though maybe not articulated the best. If the thesis of the film is that we are all not so different and can come together by celebrating in music together, it glosses over the cultural appropriation of black American music by white Americans. I'm also pretty certain it has a white savior complex, maybe, wrapped in "Hey, we're all social rejects here! Let's unite!" Hrm. It's frustrating because the black experience is very, very clearly through a white lens, but it is kept light and quirky that is fun, well intentioned and all, but, but... I dunno. I'm just going to quote syncasy 2.0:

View Postsycasey 2.0, on 04 June 2018 - 10:30 AM, said:

But I would argue that the core characters you are supposed to like (Tracy, Penny, Seaweed, etc.) are treated with care and respect. So is the music and dancing. The movie is making a complex argument about looking at the past and mocking what should be left behind, but keeping what was worth celebrating.


I thought coming into this that I would be voting for Hairspray but I tried to be open to change my mind. And though those Grease songs are total ear worms, wonderfully so, I have to go with Hairspray. It's just a better movie.

#11 Susan*

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Posted 04 June 2018 - 06:39 PM

Here's why I think Sandy was wearing shiny disco pants in a 50's themed movie:

Fifties nostalgia was huge in the 1970s. I was in the Brownies when Happy Days came out and too young for American Graffiti. But it was big among slightly older kids and it stuck. When we had a school function with some kind of theme it was likely to be Fifties themed so we could wear poodle skirts and saddle shoes.

Disco was around and getting popular before Saturday Night Fever. I was in junior high when Saturday Night Fever (and Grease) were released as films. We were too young to see SNF but we knew the soundtrack. The two soundtracks were the most played albums among my friends. And you were as sure to want to try to do the moves to Greased Lightning as you were to try to hustle. It's crazy that the movies came out close together because I feel like Grease was influenced by SNF -- probably the Alan Carr influence? Less so Robert Stigwood (remember Sgt. Pepper's -- I never saw it). I think Grease the film wasn't the product of thoughtful artists but rather a conglomeration of things that were working well at the time, designed to make money, and it succeeded wildly by that measure. SNF is huge. Take some of that and make a film that kids can see. You have the Fifties nostalgia, buy the rights to a popular musical, and when Sandy goes bad she turns into a 70s disco queen, even though it makes no sense in that movie. I know there wasn't a lot of time between the movies but the same producers -- they had to be thinking about how they could get a little disco glam in Grease. I had friends who sadly bought those pants (no one had Olivia Newton John's waist), to be worn with a slim belt that looked like shiny gold scales but was actually plastic. And we all bought Candies shoes that looked like hers, which were a fad like jellies or crocs would be later. Wildly inappropriate clothing to wear to junior high dances but we did. And then came Thank God It's Friday and then Can't Stop the Music -- by then he disco craze was dying and the movie was horrible. I think the characters are cartoons because that's the point.

And maybe I misunderstood the podcast but that hot dog film at the drive in is the retro one that really played at drive ins for years.

#12 robtucker63

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Posted 04 June 2018 - 08:24 PM

I understand where Amy was coming from in her reluctance to admit Hairspray is camp. It was similar to my reaction when I first saw the movie. It looked and felt like a John Waters' film, but he seemed to be deploying the camp elements in a different, more sincere way. The characters look, act, and speak like John Waters' characters, but it seems like something more is going on. Maybe it's me, but I've always connected with the people in Hairspray in a more heartfelt way than with the characters in Grease. I've always read it as John Waters' sincerity leaking out around the edges of his camp sensibility. I have a similar reaction to Cry-Baby and (maybe) Pecker.

I was in high school when Grease came out. I remember thinking it was entertaining, but not particularly well made. My reaction is that Dalton was trying to read too much subtext into it. It's never struck me as a movie about class, but maybe that's my middle-class roots showing.

My vote goes solidly for Hairspray.

#13 bleary

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Posted 05 June 2018 - 10:51 AM

I agree with others that this was a frustrating episode to listen to, though that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it. The frustration for me came because I don't love Grease as much as Adam does, nor do I hate it as much as Amy does, and I don't love Hairspray as much as Amy does, while still disagreeing with some of the faults Adam found in it.

Overall, I found myself agreeing with Adam more. Hairspray definitely has that distinctly John Waters camp to it, and like Adam, I don't think that's a bad thing. However, I see Amy's point that it does have a different feel than many of his other films, because it has a more clear point of view and uses Waters' cutting wit only against the racist characters, as mentioned by sycasey 2.0 and others. While there are still jokes at the other characters's expenses, it feels much more like we're laughing with them than at them. Contrast that with Female Trouble, where every single character is a joke and the film is almost daring you to sympathize with any of them so that you can be the butt of the joke too. So while the camp elements are still there in Hairspray, they are deployed in a much different (and more digestible, in my opinion) manner.

I also agree with Adam that it's not super fair to compare these two films just on the basis that they have similar time frame and plot elements. That'd be like comparing Tropic Thunder to the documentary Hearts of Darkness: both are films about the struggles of making a Vietnam War film, but they are so different in their goals and themes and executions that to say that one is better than the other feels silly. 1988's Hairspray is not a musical, and to put it up against a musical means you aren't putting it just up against a particular film, but up against the whole genre of musicals, which some people just hate. So while the people who think one of these movies is good and the other is bad won't have any problem making their decision in this versus, the people who think both are fine examples of what they're trying to be are going to have trouble deciding what makes one more Canon-worthy than the other.

Now, I have a long relationship with Grease, as it was the musical that got my little sister interested in musicals, which resulted in her constantly singing lyrics like "lousy with virginity" at the age of 6 around family friends and embarrassing my parents. She watched this film dozens of times in those years, which means I probably saw it at least five or six times in that span (as well as The Music Man and all the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical films). And perhaps because of that, I think most of the songs are genuinely great, and I can't understand Amy's dislike of them (except that Los Angeles karaoke is a bit of a shitshow with way too many people taking it way too seriously, and I could imagine that a romantic couple singing "Summer Nights" sincerely would be a drag. Having done "Summer Nights" at karaoke solely with platonic friends or my sister and solely comedically, I've always thought it's a solid standard in the vein of "Total Eclipse of the Heart" or "I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)" in that it's cliche and overdone, but it's overdone because it's good. I have a lot of feelings about karaoke.) So I very much enjoy most of the songs, even as I've always been a little horrified by the climactic plot turn by Sandy.

But here's where one of my own personal Canon philosophies is going to come out: I don't think that a film based on a book or play or another film deserves to make the Canon unless it adds something special and new, be it technical aspects, great performances, or a new plot twist. So with that in mind, I don't care about the plot of Grease and I don't care about most of the songs in Grease, at least in the discussion of its Canon-worthiness. Unfortunately, that's really all that Adam talked about, with the exception of his defense of a couple nice camera shots. So what did the film add? As far as I can remember, the songs in the film that weren't in the original stage musical are "Grease" (which I think is pretty terrible), "Sandy" (which isn't a great song, although like Adam, I love the 50s movie ad hot dog in the background), "Hopelessly Devoted to You" (which I'm not a fan of), and "You're the One That I Want" (which I think is legitimately great). The film added the racing scene, which apes Ben-Hur, and adds little more substance than that, though I always loved driving over the section of the Los Angeles River where it was filmed. I honestly don't know how much of the choreography was original and how much was derived from the stage version. Certainly some of the "Greased Lightning" choreography has become iconic, and I think the dancing in "You're the One That I Want" and "Hand Jive" is great too. (Amy mentioned that she felt that the movie ground to a halt during "Hand Jive", but I felt that way during every single shot of dancing in Hairspray that lasts more that 5 seconds. In particular, that line-dancing scene early in the film seems to go on forever, and it's the same boring moves over and over again.) Finally, there aren't many pieces of camerawork that are noteworthy. Adam mentioned the scene where Rizzo reveals her pregnancy and we see the gossip spread, and that's a fun little bit, but nothing special in my opinion. The most unique (for good and bad) shot is probably the final shot of the car flying away, which has been parodied many times since. I've always thought that last second dive into surreality was more of a bug than a feature, as if it was thrown in as an afterthought to give viewers a look at something they couldn't see in the stage play. So all in all, while there's no doubt that the musical Grease belongs in the Canon of all-time classic and influential musicals, I don't see enough here to say that the film Grease belongs in the Canon of all-time classic and influential films.

Meanwhile, Hairspray is great. I'll also mention that the musical version of Hairspray is also great, and I find those songs to be spectacular as well. Putting Grease up against the 2007 Hairspray would have been a much more interesting battle, since both are actually musicals and both have Travolta at the two bookends of his career relevance.

I would have voted for Hairspray in a solo episode anyway, and I think Amy is putting her thumb on the scale a bit to ensure it gets in by making it a versus episode against a love-it-or-hate-it film in a love-it-or-hate-it genre, but I'll vote for it nonetheless. However, my big regret from this episode is that Adam didn't get to talk about Persona. Almost 200 different films have been debated on The Canon, but not a single Bergman! Someone needs to do Persona!

#14 sycasey 2.0

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Posted 05 June 2018 - 12:02 PM

View Postbleary, on 05 June 2018 - 10:51 AM, said:

(except that Los Angeles karaoke is a bit of a shitshow with way too many people taking it way too seriously, and I could imagine that a romantic couple singing "Summer Nights" sincerely would be a drag. Having done "Summer Nights" at karaoke solely with platonic friends or my sister and solely comedically, I've always thought it's a solid standard in the vein of "Total Eclipse of the Heart" or "I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)" in that it's cliche and overdone, but it's overdone because it's good. I have a lot of feelings about karaoke.) So I very much enjoy most of the songs, even as I've always been a little horrified by the climactic plot turn by Sandy.


At this point the only thing that bothers me at karaoke is when someone who isn't a strong singer insists on picking a song that a majority of people in the crowd are likely to have never heard of. That's an automatic bathroom break for me.

Karaoke is supposed to be fun! Let people join in. Sometimes that means picking something obvious; so be it.

#15 MSUBear

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Posted 05 June 2018 - 12:11 PM

Interesting and entertaining arguments. I liked how combative the two got, reminded me of the earlier episodes. I also appreciated how both critics seemed to talk about the films as they exist within their limits and did their best, intentionally or not, to keep cultural influence in the peripheral.
I think Hairspray is the most watchable Waters film but for the same reasons it shouldn't be representative of Waters in the canon. Grease is perhaps the most rewatchable film from its era besides Star Wars and marked an important transition from cinematic musicals of old to the ones of today. Grease gets my vote.

#16 Scottcarberry

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Posted 05 June 2018 - 12:15 PM

While I will always applaud Grease for being a fun movie designed to make you feel good, it is a no for the Canon. As a 12 year old in 1978, Grease just felt like a sitcom or variety show. It was so smart to cast Travolta and Olivia Newton John, to ensure maximum star appeal. I think this might be why it falls flat for me. That and the anachronistic music written for it. In 1978 it lacked sticking power with me and watching it now, it feels uneven and clumsy, In the current issue of Smithsonian Magazine, Holly Millea wrote a piece about the 40th anniversary of Grease and she noted that Pauline Kael referred to Grease as a “Klutzburger”. I get it.
Hairspray is an emphatic YES!! At the risk of allowing the Personal Fallacy of criticism run rampant in my adoration of Hairspray, I can’t cloak the fact that I am a Baltimoron. I’m even an extra in CryBaby.
With that out of the way, I will argue that Hairspray is written, shot and edited better than Grease. It is considerably funnier AND still manages to have a social conscience as it uses the civil rights movement as a tool to create growth and change in its’ characters.
We all know that racism is abhorrent and destructive. It is also stupid, silly and ridiculous! Waters proves this when Penny Pingleton’s Mom, Prudence is perfectly portrayed by JoAnn Havrilla is searching for Penny in West Baltimore and is relieved to find a police car only to discover the the officer in it is Black. That reaction shot, photographed from the officers’ PIV is Priceless!! I’ve seen Hairspray in a crowded theater and in living rooms and that shot always creates howls of laughter! Hysterical Racism is Hysterical!
I respect Mr. Mortimer’s thoughts and opinions and he is a great foil, but he seemed to argue that Hairspray is inauthentic. In that he is incorrect. He mentioned garishly decorated houses that defied reality. I bought my house here in Baltimore in 2012 and when my wife and I were looking at houses, we were happily astonished that so many Baltimore houses with long time owners were packed with tchotchkes, shag carpeting on the walls and seizure-inducing wall paper.
Also, my Mom’s generation did grow up onThe Buddy Deane show. When she was a girl she asked my grandmother if she could take dancing lessons. My Nanny shut this down, noting my Mothers’ chubbiness. Years later, my Mom finally took dance lessons and won some in - studio competitions. Take that, Nanny!
My Aunt Colleen, also a member of this generation had a best friend named Pat Pilkerton. Not quite Penny Pingleton, but you get my drift.
Finally, when Tracy, Link, Seaweed & Penny go to Motormouth Maybelle’s record store, they take the North Avenue bus. Tracy notes that she’s “never been in this part of town before “ North and Pennsylvania Avenues have served as a Nexus of Black Culture and African -American history in Baltimore for decades. One need only review the footage of the unrest following the death Freddie Gray to see that the nightly standoff’s between the citizens and Baltimore Police Department are occurring at North and Pennsylvania Avenues. It speaks to the distance between White and Black communities then and now. John Waters packed Hairspray with authenticity and is indeed the most complete work of this Auteur. Now if only I can come on the show and argue for Desperate Living, which is actually the funniest Waters film and is most definitely, Camp,

#17 A.V.

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Posted 05 June 2018 - 12:17 PM

when is saw the epp title i was pissed. i was all, NOOOOO — i love both these movies! you can't battle these two!!!

but i ended up coming fairly squarely with an unconflicted vote decision. even after the prickly conversation.

meanwhile, lukewarm take: this was the wrong pairing. it shoulda been grease vs hairspray (2007). these are parallel. similar trajectories toward their screen versions, starting from something great, getting watered down audience-friendlied by committee, both with original music, and there's travolta to tie them together.

but the movies we're actually dealing with? on the surface they're a pair. but... it's been said above all the ways they aren't. i'm gonna set that aside and deal with them individually i guess.

my big revelation on this is that as much as i love grease, it is actually a big mess in a tangle, held together by really, really fun music that allows you to excuse a lot of shortcomings. and that if it weren't for having seen it in the 70s and glommed onto it in my youth, maybe i wouldn't really hold it in regard. many of what adam was pointing out as thematic mileposts in it, and how disparate they were, i kept thinking, yeah, you can see that in the movie, and i guess you can put them together to interpret something out of it too, but you can also find the same number of other elements and put them together differently and get something else entirely. but that's what happens with messes. it has a little something for everyone and if (the music keeps you plugged in) you sort through them and come up with something. and you're still left to deal with all the WTFs by either excusing or ignoring them (sandy's vamp look, disco themesong for a 50s movie, just examples). as for it being a genre-defining moment... yeah, squinting i can see that? but as a musical movie in the late 70s... it still falls somewhere between the wiz and rocky horror, and all three of these clearly beneath the muppet movie.

full disclosure, i took my SATs at rydell high and was well aware of it walking up the front steps. though they were calling it venice high school that day.

hairspray tho! totally one of my favorite movies. saw it again about two weeks ago. it has intent. it's way funny. it has amazing, if not forgotten at least under-played, music. all sorts of winking cameos. it's coherent. it's delightful. it deals with unusual topics. and has a great message (which, btw, i take it to be more about tracy's development than about social justice — she's going through her journey toward an identity and desegregation happens to be her movie-ending conflict. like, we wouldn't say rocky is about boxing championship matches, it's about rocky. but yes, we can't deny that journey leans on social justice from a POV of white protagonism, even if it's ruth brown teaching the white children how to do the bird). so that's my vote. greasagation never! hairspraycanonization now!!

and... YES AMY, it is camp. i mean, just try and say "our little tracy's a clean teen" in any way that isn't campy... IT CAN'T BE DONE! and i wonder if you are resisting this because it sounds like a dismissal or something that lessens the artistic value, which it doesn't.

also full disclosure, my cat's name is penny. and i often tell her she's permanently, positively punished. (it does no good.)

#18 A.V.

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Posted 05 June 2018 - 12:20 PM

View PostScottcarberry, on 05 June 2018 - 12:15 PM, said:

Grease just felt like a sitcom or variety show.


sha-na-na!

#19 Johnny Pomatto

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Posted 05 June 2018 - 01:16 PM

View Postbleary, on 05 June 2018 - 10:51 AM, said:

Almost 200 different films have been debated on The Canon, but not a single Bergman! Someone needs to do Persona!



Seconded!

#20 HoldenMartinson

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Posted 05 June 2018 - 09:31 PM

Grease is The Help of musicals. Also, The Lego Batman Movie is marvelous.

Hairspray for the win.