Honoring the Master of Weird

By Dylan Bowman

Knightly News Reporter


As the hype calmed from the winter term’s action-packed CPC Film Series entry “Olympus Has Fallen,” attention turned to a different film on the horizon.

This term’s presenter was a real treat to the campus as the second student presenter in the Film Series’ run.

Knightly News Media Club President Jenelle Dulack took up the reins to share one of her favorite films of all time: “Hairspray.”

Underestimated genre

Prior to the movie’s showing, it was clear Dulack had a real passion for the 2007 film. When asked why she chose this film and why she saw it as special, Dulack didn’t hesitate to answer.

“Within the film series, (we) have never ever done a musical, which is a very particular genre and an underestimated genre, but also those people who love it are extremely dedicated. So, what I really wanted to do was prove the value that the medium of musicals has.”

Dulack explained her further connections to the genre and “Hairspray” in particular.

“The original ‘Hairspray,’ which was released in 1988, was directed and created by John Waters, and anybody who knows me knows I’m obsessed with John Waters. I just fell in love with the idea of trying to decipher where all of the pieces connect within all the different movies. Although it’s the same movie, there are so many differences and nuances.”

Sociologist of the weird

Strangely enough, John Waters is no auteur director, according to Dulack, but he does have a potent, recognizable style.

“He doesn’t really have that film auteur style like in cinematography,” Dulack stated, “but when you watch a John Waters film, you know it is a John Waters film. He highlights the weird in humanity.”

As the self-proclaimed “Pope of Trash,” “Filth Elder” and mastermind behind the original “Hairspray,” Waters has a knack for exploiting the tasteless nature of odd, strange or outright insane human behavior. Through most of his films, he displays this very well, according to Dulack.

“In his film ‘Pink Flamingos,’ John Waters has a character eat real dog feces off the ground. It is done to make the viewer very uncomfortable on purpose.”

Alongside Waters’ use of the unusual or disgusting in his films is the recurring display of themes that invoke beauty, fame, political correctness and acceptance. These are often a highlight of his critical acclaim, as can be seen in reviews across the Internet and media world. However, Dulack states that “Hairspray” (1988) is dialed down in weirdness as far as Waters’ films go, so a larger audience can watch the film without as much cringing or gagging.

The screening brought out about 30 people.

Let’s dance

Following Dulack’s presentation, the Blue Cross Theatre became dark and silent. Then, as the viewer descended through the clouds over Baltimore, 1962, the beat dropped, and it didn’t stop.

It was nearly impossible to keep one’s foot from tapping along to many of the songs.

The film follows Nikki Blonsky’s character, high school “hairhopper” Tracy Turnblad, a young girl with an obsession with a teen TV program called “The Corny Collins Show.” In an unexpected turn of events, Tracy and a host of other teens in Baltimore are allowed to try out for a position on the show. (Spoilers ahead!) Her dance moves find her a place on the screen, and she becomes an influential local celebrity, turning eyes toward the unjust racial segregation of the 1960s.

The film is filled with catchy music, and stunning dance performances by all actors involved, especially from Blonsky (“Geography Club”), Zac Efron (“The Greatest Showman” and “High School Musical 3”), Elijah Kelley (“Lee Daniel’s The Butler”) and Taylor Parks (“Love … and Other 4 Letter Words”).

“Hairspray” (2007) was a box office success, grossing $203.5 million worldwide against a budget of $75 million. There are four versions of the 1960s-based musical, including John Waters’ 1988 version starring Ricki Lake, the 2002 Tony Award-winning stage adaptation, Adam Shankman’s 2007 musical film and a 2016 live televised production on NBC.

Turnout, and what’s next

The Central Penn showing of “Hairspray” (2007) drew a crowd of about 30.

Despite a number of attendees leaving during the film’s runtime, there seemed to be an overall positive reception to the movie.

Though musicals aren’t often the go-to for many viewers, it was a great feather in the series’ cap and added to the overall flavor of cinematic variety on campus.

“The main thing for people to take away from this film is the discussion of political correctness, which is something that John Waters goes back and forth with in all of his films,” Dulack stated. “You just have to genuinely accept that people are weird; everyone has their niche. … It’s an incredible message that only comes through a John Waters film.”

The CPC Film Series will return in the summer term, when Dean of Student Engagement Adrienne Thoman will present the 1987 film “Dirty Dancing,” on Aug. 5, in the Capital Blue Cross Theatre, at 6:30 p.m.

Refreshments will be available for a donation to support a student club.

If you have any questions about the CPC Film Series or upcoming presenters, contact Professor Paul Miller at paul.miller@centralpenn.edu.

Dylan Bowman is The Knightly News’ CPC Film Series writer. He is also one of the News’ photographers.

Comment or story idea? Contact KnightlyEditors@CentralPenn.Edu.

Edited by media-club co-adviser and blog editor Professor Michael Lear-Olimpi.