' ' Cinema Romantico: He Is His Hair

Thursday, April 25, 2024

He Is His Hair

As I near 50, the physical wear and tear of middle age seems more acute with each passing day, one creak eternally giving way to another moan, and yet, despite it all, I still have my hair. I’m lucky, I know, and I don’t intend to rub it in, I truly don’t, because hey, if I could trade my hair for a mere average mouth of teeth, I would seriously consider it. But nope, hair is what I got and it’s what I still have, and so I’ve tried to take advantage. I’ve aimed for a European soccer player look for most of my 30s and 40s, and now have been trying to reconfigure that look into Timothy Olyphant from “Justified: City Primeval.” Looking a few years into the future, however, when my hair undoubtedly will start to thin somewhat, I’m thinking the windswept style of Daniel Day-Lewis might be a better tack. And beyond even that, I find myself thinking that Michael Douglas would be a good hair idol. Because of throat cancer, Douglas almost lost his voice, and losing a voice that rich would itself be tragic, but as he nears 80, he’s still got his hair, and what hair it is. I did not see “Ant-Man and the Wasp” (2018), but I did see Michael Douglas’s hair in “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” and cosmetologically, the dude still brings it. 

I thought about this over the weekend while reading Matthew Garrahan’s interview with Douglas for the Weekend Financial Times. Douglas is currently starring in an Apple TV+ miniseries as Ben Franklin who, as Garrahan notes, did not wear a wig, unlike most founding fathers, meaning Douglas could still show off his hair. “Jack Nicholson always accuses me of being a hair actor,” Douglas told Garrahan. “I find a lot of my character through hair.” As evidence, Garrahan cites the actor’s slicked back look as Gordon Gekko for “Wall Street” (1987) and crew cut in “Falling Down” (1993). These might be two of the more blatant examples, but they also demonstrate the wide variance in Douglas’s movie hair, how he can transition from Coach Pat Riley to peeved peon without missing a beat, the length he’s willing to go to get under the coiffure of his character.

He does not simply excel at broad leaps with his hair, however, proving equally successful at subtler shades. In “Haywire” (2011), his hair is like a G-man play on the Gekko look but styled with a little more volume, as if shady ostensible civil servants and greedy corporate raiders are separated by mere degrees, and his “Haywire” hairstyle is contrasted against his role as the chief executive of government in “The American President” (1995) where he opts for a tamped down but distinguished grey. And that distinguished grey is juxtaposed against his role as America’s drug czar in “Traffic” (2000), tamped down, distinguished, and with a nearly identical part but conspicuously colored, as if the face of the war on drugs has not quite figured out how the war on drugs is not what it really appears to be.

Between “Wonder Boys” (1998) and “King of California” (2007), and with the help, respectively, of hair stylist Joseph Coscia and hair department head Jennifer Bell, utilized key distinctions in scraggly grey haircuts to evince a messy literary professor and then a conspiracy kook.

In “Black Rain” (1989), Douglas plays a requisite on the edge cop named Nick who at one point proclaims, “Sometimes you should forget your head and grab your balls,” which fair enough, except as his hair evinces, he thinks about his head a lot, an intense mullet that renders the part as close as Michael Douglas has ever come to portraying a Michael Mann protagonist. And though his cop, also named Nick, three years later in “Basic Instinct” has got some troubles too, his hair is far more reined in, a means to underline how he lets it down and comes unglued when his character encounters Sharon Stone’s.

With his wig in “One Night at McCool’s” (2001), Douglas was essentially playing Liberace before he played Liberace in 2013’s “Behind the Candelbra,” and if I’d had a Letterboxd account in 2001, not that I have one now, I would have written a review that went something like, the whole movie should have been made in the image of Michael Douglas’s hair. Perhaps that’s a good rule of thumb for any movie; if Michael Douglas starred in this, would it be worthy of his hair?

Like “Romancing the Stone” (1984) and its subsequent sequel “Jewel of the Nile” (1985), not as good as the original save for Douglas’s coif, convincingly playing the cover of a romance novel come to life by ensuring that you could hear his mane of hair roar. It’s funny, as a recent New York Times article by Bob Mehr remembering the late Diane Thomas, who wrote “Romancing the Stone” remembered, Douglas, who also produced, originally wanted Jack Nicholson for the part. But for all his qualities, in that role, Nicholson’s hair would not have been up to snuff. You can almost imagine Douglas saying, “You wish you were a hair actor, Jack.” 

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