Saturday, February 20, 2010

DVDebut: GOOD HAIR -- a smart doc from Chris Rock

Looking back at Black male comics, I'd say that there's never been anyone quite like Chris Rock. From Godfrey Cambridge through Richard Pryor, Flip Wilson, Redd Foxx and Bernie Mac there have been a lot of these talents over the years but no one quite compares to Rock. He's extremely youthful looking and acting (though he just turned 45 this month), generally adorable, witty, smart, often snarky -- and almost always funny.  And unendingly political, too, which often finds him at his best -- as here.

Although his directorial efforts have not yet hit pay dirt, his writing and performing generally do. GOOD HAIR is probably his most focused and funniest full-length film yet.  It is so good, in fact, that it suggests perhaps this fellow should concentrate on the documentary form rather than the narrative -- which has, given his three previous outings (Down to Earth, Head of State and I Think I love My Wife), seemed somewhat tired and second-hand, though with funny and/or moving moments scattered about.

Good Hair tackles the thorny (and curly, frizzy, nappy) question of Black hair and what to do with it.  This is -- especially among Blacks, as Mr. Rock makes clear -- an extremely troublesome subject.  Should the hair be straightened, added to with "weaves," or simply let go to its natural state?  In  addition to having aesthetic and/or cultural consequences, this has economic ones, as well. Black hair care is expensive!  So much so that, according to certain men interviewed here, one look at the black woman's hair and you'll know whether or not you can "afford" her.

We hear the pros and cons of straightening from some Hollywood actresses (Nia Long is for it; Tracie Thoms not) and other celebs (including writer Maya Angelou, the "Rev." Al Sharpton and rapper Ice-T, who closes the movie with one of its best lines). Mr. Rock takes us on a tour of the Black hair-care establishment, which, we eventually learn, is in most cases not controlled by Blacks.  We learn from some very funny, telling interviews how the "straightening" process can hurt and burn, and how it is given to children as young as three years of age.  A chemist, above, talks to Rock about the ingredients in hair straighteners -- which should be enough to scare the pants off most thinking parents. (My granddaughter, below, is half black with hair that's looks like a mixture of Latina and Black, so the movie certainly brought me up short.)

Because so much money is spent by black women on "weave" hair extensions, Rock wants to know where this additional hair comes from.  So off we go to India -- where we learn all sorts of interesting facts which add to the ironies on view -- and then back to the U.S., where Rock tries to sell "Black" hair but finds no buyers.  (They want Indian or Malaysian locks, thank you.)  We visit beauty salons and barber shops (see photos above) -- to get the real word from guys and gals, and these scenes provide the film with some of it funniest and most thought-provoking moments.

If I am making the movie sound like a total Chris Rock endeavor, that is not precisely true or fair, as it was co-written and directed -- quite well -- by Jeff Stilson (shown at left).  Additional co-writers include Lance Crouther, Paul Marchand and Chuck Sklar. On balance, Good Hair achieves what all the best documentaries manage: It educates, informs and entertains.  Plus, it makes you laugh. A lot.

The DVD is available now for sale or rental from your video source of choice.

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