Monday, March 31, 2014

The Big Tease


Miguel pulled my gorgeous fuchsia motor home into Shawnee, Kansas early this morning so we could film the next segment of my What A Friend We Have In Cheeses ad campaign for the American Dairy Council. Today's shooting involved having me tap on the roof of a box car of the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe while rolling through amber waves of grain. After all, the train, in grain, rolls mainly on the plain. It should have been a relatively simple shoot; unfortunately, the producers relied on some local talent for audio-visual back-up and I'm afraid Mr. Boom Inc. ("Let Us Put Some Boom In Your Box") was just not up to the task.

As the train rolled through the country side, the speakers set up along the track were supposed to play back the cheddar movement of Aaron Copland's Appalachian String Cheese so I could hit my marks in time to the music. I'm not quite sure what the problem was, but every speaker seemed to hit 140 dB and blow itself out all the way down the track, leading to a series of somewhat unnerving explosions throughout all the violin passages. It was a bit like tapping to the 1812 Overture, only with more cannon. Mr. Boom himself, seemed quite pleased with this feat, if prematurely deaf and I was very glad I had had the foresight to pack Lesterene brand false eyelash cement which doubles very nicely for ear plugs when dried. Poor Miguel had lost his hearing completely by the end of the day and had to be revived with liberal doses of gin.

We did, finally, get the shots we needed, and I left the producers arguing with Mr. Boom over his bill for $400 per blown speaker, retiring back to the motor home for a film and a foot massage. The film from Netflix that I placed in my portable theater system was The Big Tease, a Scottish comedy from director Kevin Allen and writers Craig Ferguson and Sacha Gervasi. With a title like that, I expected a nice little piece of erotica but it turned out to involve the high stakes world of international hair styling, a subject near and dear to my heart.

Glaswegian hair dresser, Crawford Mackenzie (writer Ferguson- years before late night), has dominated the Glasgow hair scene for years and is thrilled to be invited to Los Angeles to participate in the annual Hair-Off for the coveted platinum shears. He kisses his lovely mum (Isabella Aitken) and his lovelier boyfriend Gareth (director Allen) good-bye and heads for la-la land with a British documentarian (Chris Langham) in tow. The film is another one of those faux documentaries like Drop Dead Gorgeous or Waiting for Guffman. Once in LA, he finds that his invitation was in error, but that doesn't deter our plucky Scot as he marshals his curling tongs and an assorted cast of oddballs in his quest for a HAG (Hair stylists of America Guild) card and a slot in the competition. His compatriots include a wannabe moviemaker limo driver (Donal Logue) and a publicist with split ends (Frances Fisher) as he goes up against a Norwegian Jose Eber clone named Stig (David Rasche) and the officious Monique (Mary McCormack) who runs the contest. Does our tres gai hero win the day? This is a comedy, not Medea.

The mockumentary framework allows the film makers to make satirical jabs at celebrity obsessed Los Angeles and movie culture, but it ultimately fails as a device as the film makers refuse to follow their own rules from scene to scene or even from shot to shot. Every time things get dramatic, the documentary crew seems to be forgotten as we go for multiple camera angles and close ups to heighten emotional effect. The film would have worked with a more conventional narrative structure as a fish out of water comedy but I have a feeling the creators wanted to show how clever they could be. Hang dog British comic Chris Langham, who doesn't seem to have aged much in the last twenty years, does help hold the whole feather weight confection together as a sort of interviewer cum master of ceremonies.

In the lead, Craig Ferguson is absolutely charming. With his accent, his expressive eyes, and his absolute joy in living, it's easy to see how Crawford seduces people over to his side in his quest for the title. It's also refreshing to see a film with a gay protagonist where his sexuality is treated so matter of factly. He has a boyfriend, a camp sense of humor, and a flair for fashion and there's no angst at all about who or what he is. The supporting cast are also having a good time playing types, especially Frances Fisher as the hard edged publicist who softens after a good make-over.

I shan't spoil the film by discussing the hair-dos (or hair-don'ts) that emerge in the final competition. Let's just say you're unlikely to see any of them at the local shopping mall. It's also probably the first (and last)film in which a Billy doll figures prominently in the dénouement. Kudos to Beth Rogers for a witty costume design, reminiscent of Lizzy Gardiner's work on The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

The film isn't stellar, but it's a fun way to pass an hour and a half and provides its share of smiles.

Hula skirted chess pieces. Hair styling trophies. Indian Curry restaurant. Gratuitous Melissa Rivers. Four poster bed bouncing. Animal costume styling. Gratuitous Paul Mitchell plug. Bald woman innkeeper. Sabotaged hair products. 

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