The Haircut: A Student Film Starring the Great John Cassavetes (1982)

Giv­en the length of the aver­age hair­cut, it sur­pris­es me that I don’t see more short films built around them. Tamar Simon Hoffs knew the advan­tages of the hair­cut-based short film, and she put them to use in 1982, dur­ing her time in the Amer­i­can Film Institute’s Direct­ing Work­shops for Women pro­gram. The Hair­cut’s script has a busy record exec­u­tive on his way to an impor­tant lunch appoint­ment. With only fif­teen min­utes to spare, he drops into Rus­so’s bar­ber shop for a trim. Lit­tle does he expect that, with­in those fif­teen min­utes, he’ll not only get his hair cut, but enjoy a shave, a mas­sage, a glass of wine, sev­er­al musi­cal num­bers, romance real or imag­ined,  and some­thing close to a psy­cho­an­a­lyt­ic ses­sion. He goes through quite a few facets of the human expe­ri­ence right there in the chair — minus the time-con­sum­ing “hot tow­el treat­ment” — and Rus­so and his col­or­ful, effi­cient crew still get him out of the door on time. Hoffs knew the per­fect actor for the star­ring role: John Cas­savetes. What’s more, she knew him per­son­al­ly.

The con­nec­tion came through her friend Eliz­a­beth Gaz­zara, daugh­ter of a cer­tain Ben Gaz­zara, star of the The Killing of a Chi­nese Book­ie, my own favorite Cas­savetes-direct­ed film. After read­ing the script, Cas­savetes agreed to per­form, “his only stip­u­la­tion being that his co-stars must be entire­ly rehearsed and ready to go, so he could just come in and per­form as if he real­ly was the cus­tomer,” writes British Film Insti­tute DVD pro­duc­er James Black­ford. “Even in a lit­tle film such as this, Cas­savetes was still search­ing for those per­fect moments that come from the spon­tane­ity of ear­ly takes.” You’ll even laugh at a few lines, spo­ken by Cas­savetes as his char­ac­ter begins to enjoy him­self, that must sure­ly have come out of his beloved impro­vi­sa­tion­al meth­ods. And we can cred­it the film’s sur­pris­ing end to an even more per­son­al con­nec­tion of Hoffs’: to her daugh­ter Susan­na, front­woman of The Ban­gles, then known as The Bangs. You can watch The Hair­cut on the BFI’s new DVD/Blu-Ray release of The Killing of a Chi­nese Book­ie, or you can watch it above.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Wes Anderson’s First Short Film: The Black-and-White, Jazz-Scored Bot­tle Rock­et (1992)

The Sur­re­al Short Films of Louis C.K., 1993–1999

Por­trait Wern­er Her­zog: The Director’s Auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal Short Film from 1986

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on lit­er­a­ture, film, cities, Asia, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­lesA Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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