Here’s something you don’t often see onscreen: a woman who doesn’t cover up the fact that her hair has thinned.

Lidia Bastianich is PBS’s Italian cooking maven whose show, Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen (she also has spinoffs like Lidia’s Italy), always marks the difference between the overly personality-driven Food Channel shows and PBS. To wit: she doesn’t do anything to cover up her thinning hair. For comparison, let’s look at the Food Channel’s Giada de Laurentiis:

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Any normal human might find a contrast between these two women absurd. Be assured I’m not trying to draw a conclusion about their respective talents for cooking — just their comparative screen appearance. (We could also discuss Giada’s obviously spectacular breasts and/or that alarming set of teeth, but let’s try to stay focused.) I just want to make the point that it is amazing to me that even good old PBS hasn’t forced Lidia into a wig. (What do I know? They may have tried.)

I got onto this subject originally because the subject of hair kept coming up in strange and interesting contexts. There was Callista Gingrich, Newt Gingrich’s wife, whose immovable helmet of hair preoccupied so many bloggers last year. Perhaps because I’m a big fan of natural hair for Black women, I have read several other bloggers who yearn publicly for Michelle Obama to stop relaxing/ironing her hair.

I’d been collecting a random assortment of hair moments onscreen for a while, but it was a comment over at JB’s terrific film blog, The Fantom Country, that gave my post clarity. Writing about how many times he’d noticed Andrew Garfield’s luscious hair, JB wrote wryly, “Perhaps he is a particularly expressive hair actor” — why, it’s comments like these that make my blog so resoundingly esoteric. (See also posts on noses, mouths, and teeth.) Esoteric it may be, but it’s my confirmed opinion that hair is an easy site for the downfall of a film or character.

BridgesLet’s start with a few actors who consistently make their hair work pretty goddamn well. I’ve seen Jeff Bridges in just about as many different hair parts as one can imagine, and they always work for me — even (especially?) when he shaved his head for the bad-guy role in Iron Man. Bridges has this way of truly appearing to be one with his hair; whether it’s the shaggy Dude from The Big Lebowski (1998) or the long-haired ex-con in American Heart (1992, below), the hair seems fully folded in with the rest of him. It’s perhaps not a surprise that an actor like Bridges, who conceals so much of his acting craft behind his prodigious modesty and naturalness, would be able to handle these hair parts so effortlessly.

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Other actors, it seems, grow into their hair. I never thought much of Connie Britton as a younger woman — on the rare occasions I ever caught that Michael J. Fox show Spin City (1996-2000) I mainly thought of her as The Hair — but now that she’s in her 40s she has gotten better roles and more gravitas. I just loved what she did with her role as Mrs. Coach/Tami Taylor in Friday Night Lights (2006-2011); one never forgot how she rocked those strawberry waves, but it seemed so fully in keeping with the role. I still haven’t caught up with her new show Nashville (2012- ) despite the regular reports from blogger friend JustMeMike that I have to keep archiving for reading later. But Britton’s hair in the Nashville country music scene? It’s a hair marriage made in heaven. Connie-Britton-Lights_610

On occasion one finds an actor whose hair was so integral to her character onscreen that they become inseparable. Surely the best example one can imagine is Judy Davis’ breakout role in My Brilliant Career (1979). As Sybylla Melvyn, a teenager yearning for something beyond marriage and motherhood in turn-of-the-century New South Wales, her hair exemplified her character. Frizzy, irrepressible, flyaway, and heavy with impossibility — it fit so perfectly with Davis’s plain, freckled face and her terrific intelligence that it’s impossible to think of that role being taken on by anyone else.

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Judy Davis in The Eye of the Storm (2011)

A note: I’ve been disappointed to see that Davis rarely shows that hair anymore. Like so many women, she now keeps it straightened and severely managed. I still can’t see her onscreen without wondering where her hair went.

There are occasions when an actor with forgettable hair takes on a great hair part. The best example I can think of is from last year’s Prometheus (2012): Michael Fassbender’s turn as the creepy robot with a fixation for Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia (1962). It’s one thing to admire O’Toole’s brassy, glinty-eyed heroism; it’s another to emulate his hair. What a nice touch that was. One couldn’t look at Fassbender throughout the film without seeing the robot’s own self-consciousness of carrying that carefully coiffed hair — hair that symbolized so much.

Click on this image of Fassbender and you’ll get a nice .gif of the hair regimen.

tumblr_mbuanjTQWe1ri08goo1_500Sadly, it’s more common that I notice hair more like Andrew Garfield’s — hair so demanding that it ought to have separate billing. Pushy, greedy hair; hair that demands a little too much screen time.

Yes: I am speaking of Merida’s hair in Brave (2012). Yes: I loved what the illustrators did with this. But yes: it took over.

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Nor is this a fault limited to animators. Why, just last week I complained about Jessica Chastain’s hair in Zero Dark Thirty — what was wrong with those hair people on set? If there’s one thing I know a lot about, it’s how (cough) the rigors of personal hygiene and grooming have a tendency to drop away when one is single-mindedly working on a problem and scrutinizing the evidence. Por ejemplo: I’m sitting here right now on a Sunday afternoon, furiously typing a blog post about hair and movies, having not even run a comb through my hair all day. This is how us ladies behave when we’re focused. We do not fuss with ‘dos like this:

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(And honestly, the movie wasn’t about some nice lady professor who keeps a blog. Chastain’s character went to black sites to witness torture of detainees! She sat around in a dreary cubicle at a CIA outpost in Pakistan! Argh.)

I have to conclude with a big hair role that stymies me: Penelope Cruz’s mane in Nine (2009). It’s so absurdly great that, for me, it veers between unbelievable and some kind of parasitic being from another planet that has attached itself to her beautiful head. I mean, us ladies have a lot to envy when it comes to Cruz, but nowhere does her hair appear to such effect than here, teased and streaked to the point that it ought to have its own life insurance and bodyguards. Just watch this sexpot number unfolding in the imagination of Daniel Day Lewis:

See what I mean? it’s just so much hair that every time I see this scene I wonder if the hair & makeup people actually added more to her head to enhance the excess of it all as she shakes it all over Lewis’s body. No wonder so many of us fantasize about sex and hair — criminey, see here for the definition of fetish. 

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As with all my most esoteric pieces, I can only hope that my hair fixation rubs off on you and you start to scrutinize the hair acting of all your favorite/hated actors. And when you do, I hope you post a comment about the people I’ve forgotten, the great hair roles of yesteryear, and the Hair Aliens Attack parts that I need to watch.

Which reminds me. Jennifer Aniston: greatest or worst hair actor of all time?

Why are stoner comedies always about dudes? Just yesterday I caught a few minutes of one of my favorite great (i.e., stupid) stoner comedies, Jay Chandrasekhar’s Super Troopers (2001), and spent an hour fantasizing about what a female-oriented stoner comedy might look like. The Showtime series Weeds (2005-present) comes close, perhaps … but I’m taking this opportunity to make a pitch: what the world needs now is a great (i.e., stupid) female-oriented stoner comedy.

Here’s what I’m thinking: it’s going to be about librarians.

Great stoner films of history: Super Troopers

Seems to me that stoner comedies work well when they take a cultural stereotype — bumbling state troopers, middle-aged lie-abouts with penchants for bowling, slacker college kids — and take those characters on a wacky adventure.

You take a little of the office dynamics from Parks and Recreation, stir in some of the spooky library scenes from Foul Play (1978), sprinkle with some Tea Party types who’re so incensed about taxes that they want to close the library, add a few of the romantic library scenes from Party Girl (1995), maybe a dash of librarians vs. the anti-librarians from The Desk Set (1957), and you’ve got yourself a winner.

Great stoner films of history: The Big Lebowski

You want cultural stereotypes? Librarians offer any number of them, of course, from the disapproving “shush!” type to the cranky weirdo who doesn’t really want you to touch any of the books to the naughty librarian who takes off her glasses suggestively and perhaps unbuttons the top button of her sweater. Less stereotypical is the fact that librarians have become cultural heroes for privacy and free speech by standing up to Homeland Security wanting to know all the details of your library record. Librarians are a rich, untapped source of great narrative potential.

Moreover, anyone who spends time in an urban public library knows the patrons are, well, interesting. Libraries are full of homeless people, sketchy types trying to look at porn on library computers, little old ladies looking for that series of books about a lady detective whose cat helps her solve crimes, lots of children, and that person with spectacularly flimsy claims that he/she is sure he/she returned that book that has now amassed $230 in overdue fines.

Great stoner films of history: Friday

Anyone with a passing familiarity with the Harry Potter franchise will also know that libraries play a serious role in earnest stories, too — uncovering mysteries, pursuing knowledge, improving one’s chances at success and love — so our librarian stoner hero might also need a dash of the “books are awesome!” alongside the wacky stuff.

From my brief experience working in a library I can also assure you that librarians are stunningly attractive to the people they assist. Honestly: if you’re looking for dates, work in a library. I’ve never been propositioned so often, and I didn’t even try the whole naughty librarian getup.

Great stoner films of history: Up in Smoke

So I figure my female-oriented stoner film will have librarians assisting patrons with information about hydroponics; fighting Tea Party types who want to shut down the library (BTW, do you know about this great campaign to save the library in Troy, Michigan?); uncovering corruption in city hall; and finding their enjoyment of medical marijuana helps to foster a few romances.

Naturally, my film will feature scenes in which people do things inside the library that aren’t ordinarily permitted: have hot sex, dance on tables, drink beverages, and bypass the parental/ pornography controls on internet library terminals. Naturally, our heroes will get the munchies.

Great stoner films of history: Harold and Kumar, etc.

I might even have to reprise one of my all-time favorite Saturday Night Live skits, featuring Russell Putnam (Jack Black), an investigative reporter for High Times magazine, who uncovers governmental corruption but gets so stoned he has, well, a little trouble with focus.

Hollywood: as usual, I remind you that this great (i.e., stupid) plot concept is available for a surprisingly affordable price and, like all my brilliant plot concepts, can be purchased easily and quickly! Just contact me at didion [at] ymail [dot] com to start the exciting process of bringing this crowd-pleasing script to life onscreen!

If you google the cemetery where she’s buried, you find that she’s lying beside a wide range of semi-famous crime figures. Many have nicknames that render their portraits as fearsome and quixotic, like Tough Tony and Frankie Shots. On the other hand, one was a horse trainer nicknamed Sunny. The name Capone is mentioned more than once. There’s also a smattering of turn-of-the-century boxers and policemen of Irish descent, Diamond Jim Brady (a man known for his gluttony, among other things), some minor state legislators, and that character actor who played the loyal bodyguard Luca Brasi in The Godfather.

Considering her feelings about respectability, it’s a good thing she didn’t know ahead of time about the life histories of most of her bedfellows here. But if she had, she might have cracked a joke: at least they were Catholics. Actually, I always assumed statements like that were jokes — but what do I know? Maybe she meant them seriously.

Although I’ve tramped through a large number of historic cemeteries lately, it’s been done out of my curiosity about ancient methods of burial rather than to pay my respects to anyone in particular. I mean, one can’t come to Boston without a few of the oldest burying grounds or the glamorous 19th-century Mount Auburn Cemetery out in Cambridge with all its Brahmins, exotic trees, and garden design. My family, in contrast, is not the cemetery-oriented type; our own dearly departed are buried all over the country, seldom more than one or two per cemetery. History bats ordinary people all around the country, willy-nilly.

One might go so far as to say that my family’s story of itinerancy is representative of the whole. Our nation is now so mobile, so transient, that we can no longer harbor the fantasy that one’s whole family might be gathered together at last, lined up in a row under a stone that ties all of you together by a family name or two.

There’s also the question of changing ideas about burials and remembrance. I’m fairly certain I don’t need a plot in a cemetery, my name on a stone, even if my bedfellows have names like Frankie Shots. I sort of like the idea of a makeshift service, à la Walter and The Dude scattering Donny’s ashes all over themselves near the end of The Big Lebowski.

In the middle of the cemetery, somewhat inexplicably, a sign reads PLOTS. Perhaps it was intended as a road sign in the vein of those no-duh signs you sometimes see announcing THICKLY SETTLED or WATCH OUT FOR CHILDREN. Still, one can’t help but read it for the double meaning of the word plots, the meaning that ties it to storytelling.

My grandmother didn’t have a nickname as glamorous as Tough Tony, but aren’t all of us just a mess of plots? She in particular was full of stories and family gossip. These cemeteries are full of them. My sister and I stand in front of her stone, thinking about those stories she told that never quite cohered into one as memorable as Diamond Jim’s — but there you have it. Paying our respects out there in the plots.