A watchable, if overlong, portrait of the famous British hairdressing mogul.
Frequently falling on the wrong side of the fine line between homage and hagiography, first time director Craig Teper’s Vidal Sassoon: The Movie is a watchable, if overlong, portrait of the famous British hairdressing mogul.
Thanks to the voiceover accompanying the film’s opening black and white slow mo sequence of the man himself wandering around the Southbank, the hyperbole starts from the get-go. "I think it’s impossible to overestimate the importance of Vidal Sassoon", one employee intones. In the seconds that follow he is variously compared to Muhammad Ali, Albert Einstein and finally the Messiah himself.
Lying beneath this sycophantic crowing, however, is a story of determination, dedication and dogged perfectionism. In a series of low-key interviews staged in London, New York and Beverley Hills, a sprightly 81-year-old Sassoon reflects on the career that saw him transcend his origins as a poor Jewish boy growing up in an East London orphanage to become the world’s most famous hairdresser.
There are several surprises along the way (who’d have thought this softly spoken old gent was the kind to get into punch ups with Oswald Mosely’s blackshirts?), but the film is largely concerned with documenting the singular vision that led the hairdresser to jettison the fussy rollers, curlers and lacquered bouffants of his forebears in favour of the clean, modern lines of Bauhaus architecture to create his signature iconic hair styles: the five-point and the bob.
Like the era-defining fashion of his contemporary Mary Quant, who also makes an appearance here, Sassoon’s sleek, low maintenance cuts provided the perfect visual counterpart to the newfound freedom and sexual liberation of the '60s.
Frustratingly Teper also devotes a good chunk of screen time to Sassoon’s other, less glamorous, innovation – the celebrity shampoo range. A segment featuring his time as an American chat show host is similarly ill-judged and scenes of the octogenarian contorting his body during a spot of poolside Pilates and visiting his beloved Chelsea Football Club give the film a tacky home video quality and would’ve been best left on the cutting room floor.
Sassoon’s charisma, however, goes someway to redeem things. His impish face permanently bent into a crooked-lipped smile that seemingly registers pleasure and bemusement in equal measure, he exudes a favourite uncle warmth that belies both his unflagging determination to raise hairdressing to the status of a bona fide art form and the influence his creations continue to exert on visual culture.
As quintessentially '60s as the miniskirt, Sassoon’s cuts helped define the look of a generation.
While the film does have several highlights it could still benefit from a trim.
Would have been more effective as an hour-long TV doc.