Blue Hair on Film

Sophia Satchell Baeza

Changing one’s hair style has long been a trope of the make-over sequence (look at poor “tragically unhip” Tai in Clueless or Sandy’s godawful poodle perm in Grease). Blue hair in particular symbolises an act of rebellion, with its roots in punk culture and DIY. Just think of Enid Coleslaw (Thora Birch)’s blue-green botch job in Ghost World (“it’s not like I’m some modern punk, dickhead! It's obviously a 1977 original punk rock look”). But blue hair can also be a cliché; as the most popular colour used in advertising, it also suggests an over-the-counter counterculture, the go-to colour for the wannabe rebel. Brandy in SLC Punk! (1998) has the wisest words to say about this: “Wouldn’t it be more of an act of rebellion if you didn’t spend so much time buying blue hair dye and going out to get punky clothes? You look like you’re wearing a uniform… That’s not rebellion, that’s fashion”.

The preferred hairstyle of punks, rebels, and manga characters, blue hair has a strange recent history in cinema. With Blue Is The Warmest Colour out this week, we thought we’d trace back the cobalts of cinema, from the good, to the bad, to the truly terrible. Looking at this list, and with a couple of exceptions, it seems that cerulean tones don’t always make for great cinema.

1. Blue Is the Warmest Colour (Abdellatif Kechiche, 2013)

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Emma (Léa Seydoux)’s blue pixie crop may well already be the most famous blue dye in cinema. Although the colour often symbolises coldness and sadness, the film’s contradictory title points to the fact that for Adele (Adele Exarchopoulous) it’s very clearly something a little warmer. A blue film, of course, is a slang term for a pornographic picture, and there’s a certain saucy sex scene that’s caused a lot of contention recently. Emma’s blue hair suggests she is an artist and a rebel, free and comfortable with her sexuality. The association of blue with warmth and eroticism is emphasized by the wealth of blue imagery in the film – from nail polish and wallpapers to a glittering swimming pool. Like the Three Colours: Blue (1993), it might also be a symbolic link to the ‘Liberty’ stripe of the French flag. With this film, Abdellatif Kechiche is making a bold statement about a new France. Watch what happens when Emma dyes her hair back to normal.

2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004) 

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“It changes a lot – the colour. That's why you might not recognize me”, says Clementine (Kate Winslet) to Joel (Jim Carrey) on a train to New York City. Not only do her constant hair colour-changes suggest a fluctuating, almost schizophrenic personality (note her name Clem means orange!), they also act as a colour-code for their relationship: from the fresh newness of the bottle green when they first meet, to the cold sad blue of their final breakup, and reignited love. Clementine’s colour changes bring to note the sharp reality of transformation in the film – can you change your life, change your memories, as suddenly as you can your hair colour?

3. Bride Wars (Gary Winick, 2009)

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“MY HAIR’S BLUE! IT’S BLUUUUEE!!” ...Two best friends become bride rivals when they schedule their wedding on the same day. In the final week before her marriage, Emma (Ann Hathaway) switches Liv (Kate Hudson)’s hair to blue – not sure there’s much heavy symbolism here, yo, blue just looks crap for a wedding (to them).

4. Pink Flamingos (John Waters, 1972) 

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“Oh I love you, Raymond. I love you more than anything in this whole world! I love you even more than my own filthiness! More than my hair color! More than the sound of bones breaking! The sounds of death rattles! Even more than my own SHIT do I love you, Raymond!” Connie (Cookie Mueller) and Raymond Marble (David Lochary) are battling for the position of Filthiest Person Alive. Their bottle red and blue hair colour (which was bleached then inked over) was streaks ahead of the DIY punk style of the '80s, and even preceded the hipster neon dip-dye trend, all thanks to the innovative wonder-magic of John Waters’ Dreamland make-up artist, Van Smith.

5. Mulholland Dr. (David Lynch, 2001) 

Blue is everywhere in Mulholland Dr. – the mysterious blue box handed to Rita, the blue neon sign and entrance to Club Silencio, the natural impossibility of the blue rose (that also appears in Twin Peaks). But it’s the blue-haired woman on the balcony, repeating the word ‘silencio’, that might hold a clue to the mystery…

6. Party Monster (Fenton Bailey, 2002) 

The at times unwatchable Party Monster stars Macaulay Culkin as the drugged-up “King of the Club Kids”. Based on Disco Bloodbath, the memoirs of James St. James about his friendship with New York party promoter Michael Alig, it’s a cornucopia of terrible hair (and dialogue). Culkin rocks a blue wig for some of it.

7. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (Edgar Wright, 2010) 

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Dorky musician Scott (Michael Cera) has fallen for the kooky girl of his dreams (watch out, she’s got blue hair) but he’s got to fight her exes first. Like Clementine in Eternal Sunshine, Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) dyes her hair “like every week and a half”, starting from pink to blue and ending in green. The film is based on the graphic novel series Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O’Malley. Blue hair appears a lot in fantasy and sci-fi, just check out Jill in Immortal (2004) and the host in Hunger Games.

8. The Terminator (James Cameron, 1984) 

Bottle blue is always a quick symbol for a punk rebel. In The Terminator, Bill Paxton's blue spikey-haired Punk Leader is drinking outside with a few friends when Arnie's Terminator arrives from the future ready to kick some ass. "Nice night for a walk."

9. SLC Punk! (James Merendino, 1998) 

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Stevo and Heroin Bob are two wayward punks from Salt Lake City who spend a lot of time going to parties and getting into fights. But rich girl Brandy (Summer Phoenix) says it how it is: “You look like you’re wearing a uniform… That’s not rebellion, that’s fashion”.

10. Nowhere (Gregg Araki, 1997)

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Gregg Araki’s fantasy vision of L.A. – as an apocalyptic sex-pit full of raves, psychedelic drugs and teen nihilists doing each other's girlfriends, has always borrowed from Pop Art and rave culture to create its totally f****ed up backdrop to mega teen angst. Hairstyles are just the start of Araki’s visual fashion assault, although this blue hair and cat-eye sunglasses combo is a prime example of the best (and worst) of '90s style.

Follow Sophia on Twitter: @SophiaSB1

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