Thursday, September 29, 2011

Top Five: Hair-Cutting Scenes in Movies

I know this is sort of a weird list topic, but it's something I've thought about a lot. I really love dramatic hair-cutting scenes in movies (usually when someone does to him/herself). I've been cutting my own hair for years now and there is something so freeing and refreshing about it, so maybe that's why I really relate to seeing it acted out on screen. It often represents a character making a dramatic change in life with a strong physical act. Other times it is a depressing, forced transition. It seems trivial but our hair is so important to how we see and often define ourselves; its loss has been used as a marker in storytelling since at least the bible, but very likely sooner (I have no frame of reference, really). I've been thinking about making this list for a while but Frida prompted me to finally do it. I've probably forgot some. It's in alphabetical order.

Empire Records (1995)
This might be my favorite one, just because it is such a surprisingly powerful scene. Robin Tunney's character is introduced by a quick shot of her walking into the employee bathroom looking pissed, and then an extended scene of her silently and without apparent reason snipping and shaving her own head (since they conveniently have clippers and a razor in their record store bathroom). "Free" by The Martinis plays over it. The way Tunney's eyes light up as she does it, with a mixture of fear and elation, just has a strong effect. Her character is the most troubled and the most under-explored in the film, and I think this is the only scene that actually shows what she's going through, and it does it pretty subtly.

Frida (2002)
One of my favorite paintings of Frida's involves the artist giving herself a haircut, and to my delight (well it's a sad scene, really) this moment is acted out on film and then animated into the painting. The haircut is an act of despair and desire for change after she leaves her husband Diego, and I like that it also speaks to her loose view of gender. She often dressed in men's clothing (and had various affairs with ladies), so cutting her hair short is also a way of asserting her control of her own sexuality and gender identity.

The Man From Nowhere (2010)
Everything about this movie is super badass, but especially Bin Won's secret agent/pawn shop owner. He spends most of the movie with a sexily tousled mop that I certainly favor, but when shit really starts to go down and he has to go into full-on assassin mode, he chops it off. I don't think he's as good-looking that way, but I do think it helps to give a visual cue to his character's complete transition. By cutting off that hair he seems to be shedding the quiet unassuming years he's lived since a tragic event in his past, returning him to a vengeful and crazy-action state of being.

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
This is probably one of the most notable of such scenes. Though I consider it one of my favorite films, I've never blogged about this movie (maybe this winter I finally will). The depressed and soft-spoken Richie Tenenbaum (Luke Wilson) is going through some tough times. When he discovers various secrets about the love of his life, he calmly goes into the bathroom, cuts his hair, shaves his beard, and slits his wrists. Elliott Smith's "Needle in the Hay" is playing and everyone in the world is crying. Trust me. You're tearing up right now just thinking about it. We all are, it's ok.

The Runaways (2010)
Near the beginning of the film, we are treated to jailbait rocker Cherie Currie performing at her high school talent show. Wanting to be just like David Bowie (I mean, who the hell doesn't?), she cuts her hair into a parted-down-the-middle shag and dons Aladdin Sane make-up. It's impossibly cool. Of course this scene is indicative of Cherie's full-on transformation to sexualized, drugged-out rock star once she joins the titular band. The fact that she does it herself reminds us that part of her future image is on her own terms, even if she and the rest of the band were exploited by Kim Fowley. Also "Wild One" by Suzi Quatro plays during this scene and that song is like the most empowering thing I can't even explain.

Honorable Mentions:
Interview with the Vampire
V For Vendetta


  1. I thought the scene in 'Clueless' where Dion walks in on her BF shaving his head bald and then her getting so mad about it that she calls his mother was funny.

  2. Excellent list! I kind of want to rewatch Royal Tenenbaums just to revisit that scene. Speaking of hair on film, have you seen Blow Dry? Alan Rickman plays a hairdresser and it is pretty awesome.

  3. What about the opennig of Full Metal Jacket? One of the most memorable anti-war scenes with Kubrick's brilliant use of music and images!
    BTW, great idea for a Top 5! The Royal Tenenbaum is one of my favorite films!

  4. So glad you raised this excellent (hair raising!) topic. I don't think it's at all trivial and it's definitely been used as a literary device throughout the ages (be interesting to explore). I love it in period film/theatre/literature when hair is used to show a woman's 'undoing' - for loose, tousled mop read 'just had good shag!' Sandy

  5. Great list! I haven't actually seen many of this, so I do like the Empire Records bit. Though I have to give you mad props for mentioning Interview with the Vampire, even if it is an honorable mention. Best scene of the movie, and one of Dunst's best roles!

  6. Love this. Convinces me that I finally have to see the Runaways. And I admire you for cutting your own hair.

  7. Rich: Yeah that scene is hilarious! I drifted toward more serious ones for this list, though.

    Allison: I haven't seen BLOW DRY, thanks for the recommendation!

    Michael: I haven't seen FULL METAL JACKET actually so I didn't know that one!

    Sandy: Yeah I think it's an interesting device as well, I wonder if it's really been researched before. And yes it's definitely used to signify certain things about women (and sex)!

    M: Thanks! Yeah I haven't seen that movie in a while but I remember how sad Dunst is when she tries to cut her hair and it just grows back.

    Alexa: Yesss THE RUNAWAYS is a fun time! And don't be too impressed, I only cut my own hair because I'm too lazy/cheap to go to a salon.

  8. Was this somehow brought on by the advertising blitz for "50/50"?

  9. Late to the party here, but...

    It's quick, but the head shaving in Fight Club is the very start of Project Mayhem.

    Like a monkey ready to be shot into space. Space monkey! Ready to sacrifice himself for the greater good!

  10. What a great topic. Most excellent!

    TAXI DRIVER. Doesn't count?

    And HORNET'S NEXT hairdo scenes are only included in the Swedish miniseries "Extended Version".

    At least HOME ALONE with Joe Pesci's blowtorch trim-job was left off! ha ha...

    TRIBES (1970, with Jan Michael Vincent) and THE D.I. (1957, Jack Webb) have the traditional boot-camp burr-downs and every clichéd reaction there. Jan Michael keeps his reaction thru the whole film (yawn) and Jack Webb keeps burring down his 'boots' with an equal yawning effect.

  11. No question.
    Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus
    The hair cutting scene in that movie is amazing.
    So good I can't describe it without giving the whole movie away.

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