What was initially an idea to shoot a short film as a tribute to his friend Vidal Sassoon, producer Michael Gordon instead ended up producing a 94- minute film of the legendary man.
Titled Vidal Sassoon The Movie, the film's springboard is a visual book of Sassoon's life that Gordon is putting together for the cameras. As he goes through the various photographs to organize them, they prompt Sassoon's story to unfold.
Yet like a picture book which is always big on photos and less on story, the film hits all the necessary bullet points of Sassoon's 81 year-old life, yet it doesn't delve into any one point deep enough to have any emotional resonance.
To be fair, the producer and director Craig Taper are not documentarians. A hairdresser himself, Gordon is also the founder of hair the hair products Bumble and Bumble and is friends with Sassoon. And Teper used to work in Bumble's new media division. (The film's other producer, Jackie Gilbert Bauer previously worked at Estee Lauder before moving over to Bumble). When Gordon realized that nobody had ever recorded Sassoon's achievements, he wanted to do just that because he felt Sassoon had an impact on the world. It's a nice gesture, but the end result is a glossy overview rather than an insightful probe.
The film sticks to interviewing mostly current and former Sassoon employees, along with a few fashion industry folks like Grace Coddington, former Sassoon model and currently the creative director of American Vogue and fashion designer Mary Quant. Of course they have nothing but positive things to say, as if they were being filmed for a tribute piece.
And a tribute is more of what this documentary is. We get a bullet point view of Sassoon's life that can easily be found on Wikipedia. Focusing very little on the personal, the film instead focuses on the exciting professional milestones - apprenticing at a hair salon as a teen, a stint in Israel, working for the great Raymond before branching out on his own, cutting actress Nancy Kwan's hair, branding himself by selling his own haircare products and opening up teaching academies, moving to New York, then to Los Angeles, getting his own talk show, authoring books and causing a stir when he cut Mia Farrow's long locks for Rosemary's Baby.
It would have been nice to see more family members, old friends and acquaintances from the past - even Farrow or Polanski - who could regale viewers with random tales of their memories of Sassoon. Is anyone alive who knew him from the orphanage? Anyone still around who served with him in the Israeli Defense Forces? Any studio execs involved with Rosemary's Baby who were present on that epic hair-cutting day? Perhaps a photographer who took pictures that was caught in that mayhem on the studio lot? Were there any producers from his talk show available to give some behind-the-scenes of what those TV days were like? Any models who appeared with him in those 'If you don't look good; we don't look good' commercials?' What about graduates from one of his many schools across the world that has gone on to find their own success? Maybe a random housewife who remembers getting her hair cut by Sassoon back in the day when she was a single gal?
Having those "This is Your Life" type subjects could have infused so much more emotion into this documentary, giving viewers a connection to the subject matter. The way it stands now, the documentary plays like a gift to Sassoon, rather than an explanation or an examination of the man behind the hair.
Sassoon never discusses his hopes and fears as a father - something which could have been most fascinating and revelatory seeing as his own father left his mother for another woman, which prompted his mother to send him and his little brother to live in an orphanage. Sassoon says the move to L.A. essentially caused the demise of his marriage to second wife Beverly, yet he never explains why, or what portion of the demise was his responsibility. Did stardom change him? Were there infidelities involved? It's hard to understand if we are not given the information. There are only allusions made to "behavior" and "anger" which is vague and could mean so many things.
When we're told that his oldest daughter Catya died of a drug overdose in 2002 at age 34, it comes as a surprise because his children are barely discussed in the film. We never got to know Catya (An Internet Movie Database profile of her says she was a successful model, worked as an actress, was married twice and had three children, effectively making Vidal Sassoon a grand-father, something that is also never brought up in the film) or what type of her relationship she had with Sassoon. When he explains how he received the phone call of her death, it's hard to feel any deep sorrow for Sassoon, only a general sadness that a father has lost a daughter.
Similarly, we're told the couple had adopted a black boy, yet there was never any explanation to when this occurred and what impact this had on the family or how this child felt growing up in the Sassoon family.
In fact, we know nothing about how his children feel about their father. Was it hard to have a famous hairdresser as a dad? Were there perks? Do they have memories of being in their dad's salon when they were little? Did having a hairdresser father mean they always had great hair? Are any of them poised to take over the family empire? Are any of them remotely interested in hairdressing?
We barley know anything about Sassoon the family man. Obviously these are deeply personal questions. Perhaps Sassoon just didn't want to go there. However one can't help but wish that he would have been willing, or that the filmmakers would have probed deeper in to that arena.
Additionally, the film completely ignores a brief 3rd marriage, skipping it as if it never existed and does not mention his 2003 lawsuit against Procter & Gamble.
We don't know much about what the now 83-year old Sassoon is up to today, other than he lives in a gorgeous house with wife number 4 and helped rebuild 23 houses in New Orleans after the floods through his charity organization, Hairdressers Unlocking Hope.
The bigger question remains: does he still cut hair? If so, who are those clients and why did we not get to see them on camera and watch the master at work? Can he still do that five-point hair cut today? When and why did that hairstyle fade out of vogue? Or is it still around? What does he think of today's hairstyles? Who does he admire in the hairdressing world today? There are so many unanswered questions that would help us form an opinion about this influential man.
Sassoon says, as he looks back on his life, "How did so much adventure happen?" True, Gordon gives us a peek into these adventures, but one never gets a sense of the obstacles Sassoon had to overcome and the hurdles he had to jump through - even though he obviously did. Therefore, we cannot feel a sense of pride or amazement at the journey that took this interesting man from a British orphanage all the way to a Beverly Hills mansion. This will no doubt limit the documentary's interest to those within the fashion and hair industry, rather than a more mainstream crowd.
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