DVD Review HTF DVD Review: GOOD HAIR

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Michael Reuben, Feb 17, 2010.

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  1. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

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    [​IMG]
    Good Hair


    Studio: Lionsgate
    Rated: PG-13
    Film Length: 95 minutes
    Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1; enhanced for 16:9
    Audio: English DD 5.1
    Subtitles: English, Spanish
    MSRP: $27.98
    Disc Format: 1 DVD-5
    Package: Keepcase
    Insert: None
    Theatrical Release Date: Oct. 16, 2009
    DVD Release Date: Feb. 16, 2010



    Introduction:

    Winner of a 2009 Special Jury Prize at Sundance and a 2010 nominee by the Writer’s Guild of America, Chris Rock’s Good Hair looks at both an industry and a subculture. The industry does billions of dollars in sales each year. As for the subculture, I’m wholly unqualified to comment on it, but the film held me in my seat and made me laugh.



    The Film:

    Most reviews start as the film does – namely, with one of Chris Rock’s daughters coming home crying because she doesn’t have “good” hair. That really happened, but Rock had the idea for the film long before his daughters were born, ever since he’d first experienced the Bronner Bros. International Hair Show, an annual extravaganza in Atlanta to which the film returns repeatedly, because the personalities it finds there are too entertaining and too outlandish to let go.

    Reality TV has nothing on these people. The highlight of every year’s Bronner Bros. show is a hairstyling competition that no one would believe if you made it up. A contestant who styles someone’s hair while hanging upside down? Right. Another who creates a hairdo under water? Sure. For the participants, this is deadly serious. To Rock’s credit, he manages to keep a straight face while interviewing each contestant at various stages of the run-up to the competition. He mostly lets people speak for themselves, and that makes the film richer, more human – and funnier.

    Beneath the pageantry and the craziness, there’s a lucrative business. It’s no secret that Americans spend a fortune each year on products to make them more attractive, but Good Hair focuses on products marketed to African-American women (and some men), specifically two types: so-called “relaxers” and weaves.

    Relaxers are the treatments used to straighten hair that’s naturally curly, crinkly or “nappy”, since, except for a brief period in the Sixties, straight hair has been considered more attractive and desirable. The most powerful and effective chemical relaxer is sodium hydroxide, a/k/a “lye” (although that word is never used in the film), which is toxic stuff. Just to drive home the point, Rock interviews a chemistry professor who puts soft drink cans in a solution of sodium hydroxide, where, after enough time, they dissolve. But when did danger ever dissuade anyone in the pursuit of beauty? Good Hair includes numerous interviews with actors, musicians, professionals, celebrities and ordinary customers at salons on the pain and suffering they’ve endured for the sake of straightening their hair. As one salon patron puts it, hair relaxer is “creamy crack”, because once you let it change your appearance, you can never go back.

    (As if to demonstrate that reckless cosmetic behavior transcends race, class and creed, the film also shows one of the contestants in the Bronner Bros. hairstyling show, who happens to be white, getting botox injections in preparation for his big day. I found that harder to watch than any of the hair treatments.)

    Some viewers have criticized Good Hair for not delving deeper into the socio-historic reasons why straight hair came to be considered preferable. But that would have taken the film away from its comedic core, and Rock is too smart an entertainer to let that happen.

    A different criticism came from no less exalted a source than Roger Ebert, who attacked the film’s accuracy, claiming that no one uses sodium hydroxide anymore. Ebert quoted Wikipedia, but in a surprising instance of sloppy scholarship, he omitted the underlined portion of the quotation: “ecause of the high incidence and intensity of chemical burns, chemical relaxer manufacturers have now switched to other alkaline chemicals, although sodium hydroxide relaxers are still available, used mostly by professionals.” That’s the most important part of the quote, Mr. Ebert, because it’s among professionals that Good Hair is set. It’s in salons and barbershops that we see people getting their hair straightened, and the contestants at the Bronner Bros. show are all professionals. As Rock says in the commentary, he’s met a number of hair care workers with lung damage, and it’s from breathing sodium hydroxide.

    The other product on which Good Hair focuses is weaves. If, like me, you knew nothing about hair weaves going in, prepare to be amazed. What some women spend on hair weaves exceeds what many of us spend on home theaters – and that’s not counting upkeep. Rock interviews one salon owner who cheerfully informs him of her “layaway” plan. He also travels to India, from which nearly all human hair for weaves originates. (The tour of one “factory” where it’s processed is both fascinating and creepy.) After watching Good Hair, I did some quick internet research and was astonished to discover how many female celebrities admit to using weaves or extensions. I’ll never look at an elaborately coiffed model the same way again.

    What really makes Good Hair watchable is the quality of the interviews. For whatever reason, people seemed to open up to Rock on the subject, whether it was the Bronner Bros. contestants, his former co-star Ice-T (with whom Rock hadn’t worked since New Jack City), hip-hop singers Salt ‘n’ Pepa, actress Nia Long (scarily direct) or Al Sharpton, whom Rock calls “the Dalai Lama of hair”. The funniest material is usually the most personal, and it doesn’t get more personal than hair.



    Video:

    As best as I can tell from the commentary, Good Hair was shot on video, but it doesn’t have the hard-edged and frequently unpleasant look of many documentaries originated on that format. The film is brightly lit and colorful, and it comes to DVD with a fair amount of detail and little in the way of compression artifacts, aliasing or other telltale signs of NTSC’s limitations. It probably helps that a significant portion of the film consists of talking head interviews, which are relatively easy to light and don’t involve the kind of complex motion that challenges a compressionist.



    Audio:

    The DD 5.1 track has two jobs, and it does both of them well. It clearly reproduces all the voices, whether it’s interview subjects or Rock’s voiceover commentary; and it nicely conveys the film’s musical score, a combination of pop tunes and a jazzy blues track written by Marcus Miller (whose credits include Everybody Hates Chris).



    Special Features:

    Commentary by Chris Rock and Executive Producer Nelson George. Rock and George chat amiably about the film’s background and the process of gathering the various interviews and tours that comprise the film. One frustrating note is the many references to sequences dropped from the final cut; at several points, George expressly indicates that deleted footage will be on the DVD, but none is included.

    Perhaps the most revealing comments indicate how the film’s focus changed. It started as a film about the Bronner Bros. show. Only as the filmmakers delved further into the subject did they fully grasp the richness of the material and the topic’s potential scope.

    Trailers. The film’s trailer is included. At startup, the disc plays trailers for Precious, The September Issue, Facing Ali, More Than a Game and I Can Do Bad All by Myself; these can be skipped with the chapter forward button.



    In Conclusion:

    It’s hard enough to make a documentary that’s interesting, harder still to make one that’s genuinely funny, and hardest of all to accomplish it without doing so at others’ expense (the last item being a trick Michael Moore has never mastered). Good Hair achieves all three objectives. I just wish Lionsgate had given us the supplements that clearly could have been provided.




    Equipment used for this review:

    Denon 955 DVD player
    Samsung HL-T7288W DLP display
    Lexicon MC-8
    Sunfire Cinema Grand amplifier
    Monitor Audio floor-standing fronts and MA FX-2 rears
    Boston Accoustics VR-MC center
    SVS SB12-Plus sub
     
  2. Neil Middlemiss

    Neil Middlemiss Producer
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    Excellent review, Michael. This is a fascinating subject, and one that the majority of the US is unaware of. I lead the Black Employee Network diversity group for the center I work at (for a fortune 100 company), and we broached this subject with great caution and sensitivity as there is a deep, and often painful, history behind the origins of chemically straightening hair. We publish a bi-monthly newsletter, and from one of the articles that appeared last year on this subject, I offer these quotes which indicate a variety of opinion: "Each person makes a choice, but for some, to understand that the choice being made is influenced by a history of pressures born of that seeming monolith of acceptable images, is a thought worthy of exploring. I do not know the reasons behind your ‘why’. But the question of ‘why’ for black women can bear out some painful revelations. Is the choice to chemically straighten for convenience? Historically, in order to achieve deeper penetration into social, political and economic spheres that blacks have been traditionally marginalized from, many African Americans forsake their own cultural values in favor of the ideologies and mores of the dominant culture. In this context, hair has been commodified to the product and capital of a billion dollar industry that provides black women with the currency to gain entrance into previously closed doors (i.e. television, magazine centerfolds, Corporate America, etc.). While this defense mechanism and hair response affords conspicuous and tangible benefits, one must ask, "At what expense?"" And from a counter-point article: "Some may feel that going natural is a means of rebelling against mainstream, resisting a pre-defined standard of beauty in American culture or a display against the ‘establishment’. And for some women that might be true. My personal choice, however,wasn’t politically motivated or an act of defiance. Going natural was something I had been contemplating for a years."
     
  3. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

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    Fascinating quotes, Neil. (You probably should have done the review!) One of the remarkable things about the documentary is that it manages to capture all those cross-currents without ever sounding like any kind of argument. I think that's a good thing, but a lot depends on what a viewer is looking for.
     
  4. Mike Frezon

    Mike Frezon Moderator
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    I've read those criticisms about this doc in a number of places: that it doesn't go deep enough into the reasons WHY these hair products/styles have been en vogue for black women/men for so long.

    This is a title has has caught my eye for a number of different reasons. I think Michael's review might really capture the spirit of what the filmmakers were trying to accomplish--which is to merely raise awareness to the issue and begin a discussion perhaps.

    I'm not a huge Chris Rock fan...but, somehow, I feel he might have been just the right person to oversee this effort. I'm looking forward to finding out.

    ========

    I know there was a law suit filed against Rock by another filmmaker who claimed he stole her idea (Regina Kimbell, My Nappy Roots). She unsuccessfully tried to get an injunction preventing the release of Good Hair. I don't know if her legal efforts continue.
     
  5. Adam Gregorich

    Owner

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    I really didn't have any desire to see this until your review. I will add it to my rental list. I've always been a short haired shampoo and quick dry guy who doesn't understand why women of any ethnicity due to the things they do to their hair. I never thought about the socioeconomic reasons for it. The fact that a comedic documentary is still funny while not made at the expense of its subjects makes it something that is almost extinct these days.
     
  6. Mike Frezon

    Mike Frezon Moderator
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    That's because, unfortunately, everyone has an "agenda" these days. And that agenda is rarely simply to make people laugh.
     
  7. TravisR

    TravisR Studio Mogul

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    I'm not Reverend Al's biggest fan but, to me, he makes alot of good points in this movie.
     
  8. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

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    I think that's another example of how the personal nature of the topic draws out the people being interviewed. Even someone with as familiar a persona as Sharpton comes off a little differently. Rock's commentary has some interesting insights on that interview.
     
  9. Mike Frezon

    Mike Frezon Moderator
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    That's a key perspective on this point. When you can get people to leave behind their agenda and talk about things with universal appeal...

    I remember, in the documentary Wordplay, brief interviews with Bill Clinton and Bob Dole in which they talked about their love for crossword puzzles. I remember Clinton talking about his strategy in trying to attack a difficult Saturday NYT puzzle. It's something any crossword lover can relate to and doesn't prompt problems of political bias.
     

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