The first voice we hear in Vidal Sassoon: The Movie tells us it's "impossible to overstate the importance" of Vidal Sassoon. This flattering portrait, produced by friends and admirers, features interviewees who use words like "messiah" and compare Sassoon's barber crew of the '60s to the Beatles; this mild hagiography is certainly not for the unconvinced. There's some fun to be had with the generous assortment of snippets from Sassoon's lengthy TV career, but this won't change how you look at shampoo forever. Audience appeal will be limited to people who see nothing silly about saying the man who invented the five-point haircut was one of the primary architects of the '60s.
Sassoon's story is presented in two compelling segments. The first concerns his rise in the hairdressing world, as related by the affable man himself. Speaking in understandable comfort from his Beverly Hills home, unchallenged on any point, he speaks about the old school methods of hairdressing, when men with names like Raymond stacked up elaborate perms. With nothing against these practitioners (shown in fascinating newsreel clips), Sassoon took on Bauhaus' clean architectural lines in search of something new.
So far so good, and the generous presentation of clips from Sassoon's TV career (including one particularly indelible workout demonstration with Regis Philbin) have a cheesy appeal. But there's more: in the form of unreflective notes on his marriages, in encomiums on the importance of physical exercise (with shots of Sassoon swimming laps), in jabber about Sassoon's deathless influence. What we lack is any consideration of the economics of Sassoon's innovation, i.e. Sassoon's influence says something about class divisions—not everyone can afford a stylish haircut
As it continues past the '60s, the fun anecdotes diminish. Instead, we're left with Sassoon, ranting about how we need to recapture the spirit of the fabulous '60s to save America; a celebration of his heroism will help raise money to rebuild no less than 23 houses in post-Katrina New Orleans. At this point, it's time to pack it up and go home. Sassoon may or may not be the most important man of the 20th century, but this documentary certainly has no real idea how to scale its claims about him.
Distributor: Phase 4 Films
Director: Craig Teper
Producers: Jackie Gilbert Bauer
Rating: PG for some thematic elements, language and smoking.
Running time: 90 min
Release date: February 11 ltd.