Permanent for everyone! The 90s Hairstyle Documentary That’s One of TV’s Best Shows | Television

On Monday August 29, 1994, sandwiched between a rerun of the 70s sitcom Happy Ever After and a screening of the 1988 film version of Dangerous Liaisons, BBC Two aired one of the best documentaries ever made. And now, thanks to a sudden wave of renewed interest, Three lounges by the sea is back on iPlayer.

Directed by Philippa Lowthorpe, who recently helmed a few episodes of the new willow series on Disney+, Three Salons at the Seaside is a beautiful, delicate 40-minute film about (as you’d expect) three hair salons in Blackpool, all of which seem to cater exclusively to women aged 70 or over. It looks like a dispatch from a lost age. Customers, however loyal, are always addressed formally. The fishmongers come by from time to time to take orders. All telephone numbers have five digits. Perms, in all three salons, seem violently non-negotiable.

It all sounds a bit “Who remembers the real binmenI know, but the appeal of Three Salons isn’t nostalgia. Instead, Lowthorpe was smart enough to let the women take center stage – and it’s spending time with them that is the real joy of this documentary. While there’s an obvious class difference between the three establishments – one has its opening hours written on stationery and taped to the door – clientele have all very clearly scrounged through mounds of life.

At the start of the film, the conversation oscillates between casual gossip (a Coronation Street star who has had plastic surgery and now looks “like a goldfish”) and how big a couch must be when you’re only sitting down. on the edge of the cushion, but after a while everything starts to coalesce around death. There are dead relatives and dead relatives and, in a slightly tragicomic scene, a dead woman called Betty who needs to be described in detail as there were so many old women called Betty walking around Blackpool in the mid-1900s 90.

But, for the most part, it’s a film about widows. Lowthorpe’s subjects all speak openly — in a bracing and sensible way, let’s go — about losing their husbands and their struggle to carve out a new identity in the world now that they find themselves on their own. And, needing something to gravitate towards, they were all drawn to their hairdresser. These places have become integral hubs for their customers, all of whom have found community in the routine.

That’s not to say Three Salons is a disappointment, of course. Not only are the women all so fiercely indomitable that only a fool would try to disturb them, but the viewing experience is happily vaporous. The scenes roll by smoothly, intercut with long, dreamy montages of combed white hair, with a gurgling synth soundtrack that could very easily come from a Warp compilation. It’s Slow TV before Slow TV was a thing – made before the docusoap juggernaut came along and tried to make all of its participants famous. It’s absolutely beautiful, like a remake of Agnès Varda’s Daguerreotypes scripted by Victoria Wood.

The increased interest in Three Salons at the Seaside comes largely from the standout comedy (and underwatched! And too hard to find in the UK!) Documentary now! from American cable channel IFC, which for years has found rich choices in beautifully recreated versions of old documentaries. In April, Seth Meyers wrote Two hairdressers in Bagglyportin which Harriet Walter and Cate Blanchett play two hairdressers who not only relish increasingly absurd stories of marital death from their clients, but have also created the 1994 Blackpool Barbershop equivalent of the September issue of vogue.

Like all Documentary Now! episodes, Bagglyport is superbly done — at one point, Blanchett squarely passes around a “ransom bucket” because “Mary has been kidnapped again” — but its greatest accomplishment might have been bringing the source material to life. Trois salons au bord de la mer is by turns sweetly funny and infinitely touching, but, in the years since its first broadcast, it has taken on a new patina. It’s become a reminder of how fast things move. The relationships of these women have all ended. The stores are no longer there. We observe a way of life that has been completely lost. And, before we know it, we are all susceptible to becoming variations of these women, broken and adrift, but fighting. What an incredible tribute this movie turned out to be. I really can’t recommend it enough.

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