Wednesday 18 May 2011

Hair today: "Vidal Sassoon: The Movie"

Fuck me, they're making films about hairdressers now. The existence of the crimp-and-cringe extravaganza Vidal Sassoon: The Movie can only be attributed to the high profile accorded to 2009's The September Issue (Vogue's Grace Coddington is among the interviewees): now every mover and shaker in the fashion and cosmetics world, a universe not generally renowned for its reticence and modesty, wants their own screen in the Odeon devoted to them. Here we find one Michael Gordon, a close personal friend of Sassoon who's already published a glossy tome about the coiffeur's work, interviewing Vidal at his swanky Beverly Hills home for inclusion in what's billed in the credits as "a Michael Gordon Films production". Either Gordon has a massive man-crush on Sassoon, or he desperately wants 10% off a short back and sides.

There's a pronounced litmus test in the very first line of voiceover - "it is impossible to over-estimate the influence Vidal Sassoon has had" (on what - contemporary American literature? The Arab-Israeli conflict? Gabba house?) - and even if you can get past that without snorting, the ensuing montage is a veritable minefield, with a variety of unattributed voices (and Noel Edmonds) delivering breathless encomiums along the lines of "being close to Vidal is like sitting next to Muhammad Ali or Albert Einstein in their prime." (Only, presumably, with curlers in.)

At no point does the resulting film, or its subject, become any more self-aware
. A few choice quotes: "It's a very spiritual happening, being in the desert", "Hair is nature's biggest compliment" (no wonder Ross Kemp looks miffed), and "Most people cut hair with a comb and scissors; Vidal cut hair with his whole body." This latter cues an entire segment devoted to the subject's physical vitality, in which we learn "football is a cross between chess and ballet" (this while enjoying a kickaround on the Stamford Bridge pitch dressed in full Chelsea blues, which figures) and "I think stretching is marvellous" (as Gordon watches Sassoon doing yoga, and tries to restrain himself).

The sense of a long, fairly vacuous showbiz anecdote is interrupted only by the sad story of Sassoon's late daughter Catya - the one flicker we get of the downside of this lavish Beverly Hills lifestyle - and even then it barely lasts ten seconds before a voice on the soundtrack seeks to reassure us "I think you're beginning to see haircuts again." It ends with a standing ovation. For anyone who's only known Sassoon as a brand rather than a man, there's an element of surprise in being confronted with this spritely figure, who talks of growing up Jewish in an East End lorded over by Mosley's fascists (a historical detail you can audibly hear being trumped up to give the arc some substance) and how Bauhaus architecture changed the way he came to look at people's heads. But, really: it's hair. It grows, you have it cut, it grows back again. Dearie me, people, get over yourselves.

Vidal Sassoon: the Movie opens in selected cinemas from Friday.

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