Hair design is one of the lesser talked about aspects of filmmaking, but its just as prevalent and impactful as any other, and this is especially true for Medusa Deluxe; a film whose very premise is based around a dramatic hairdressing contest. Kitty Robson hears from writer-director Thomas Hardiman and hair artist Eugene Souleiman about how they combined their talents to bring the one-shot masterpiece to life.
It takes many minds to make a movie: from those behind the camera to those in front, from the inspirations of years prior to the muse itself striking, collaboration is the lifeblood that breathes vitality into every frame. For “Medusa Deluxe,” the creative synergy between writer-director Thomas Hardiman and hair artist Eugene Souleiman brought the work alive, the confluence of their universes splashed across the screen with experimental fervor.
Melodramatic as it is realistic, surreal as it is intimate, the director’s debut feature is a darkly comedic love letter to the often-overlooked world of hairdressing. A thrilling murder mystery set within the realms of a ruthless competition, Hardiman brings to life his colorful characters through the extraordinary artistry of Souleiman as we follow their fall into depravity. Showing an undeniable talent for weaving narratives that capture and celebrate the essence of humanity, Hardiman’s raw script and one-shot concept provoke introspection in that unique way cinema can.
“I really wanted to work with Eugene and was always aware of his work, especially his interest in punk,” Hardiman reminisces. “To me, punk is about showing the artifice, breaking down the method, and the film is about this too. I’d noticed how Eugene breaks his styles down into its constituent parts, in a way akin to modern sculpture, the collaging together of things. I felt like there was a kinship between the way I'd written the film and the way he thinks about hair.”
One of the most influential hair stylists today, Souleiman has trailblazed through the industry, pushing boundaries and taking risks for Yohji Yamamoto, Jean Paul Gaultier, among many more fashion titans for almost four decades so far. “People should have fun with hair,” he’s reflected in the past, “it grows and changes all the time. And it’s only hair, really.” Yet within the scenes of “Medusa Deluxe,” Souleiman ensures it’s everything and more: the film shines as a tribute to great hair, and to the people who make it. From layers of rainbow wigs to highly flammable hair sculptures, the looks Souleiman has put together (and taken apart) are, quite literally, to die for.
“I come from a very traditional style of hairdressing, so I've had to learn to break down elements of hairdressing, I've tried to reeducate myself into not being so technical,” Souleiman explains, referencing his surreal inventions for Medusa Deluxe, like blending nine different hairstyles in one, overlapping and blending into a cohesive—if wonderfully bizarre—finished product. “I think what Thomas was responding to is this ambivalence towards the confines of hairstyling that is teetering on bad taste. I loved that his script was dark, funny, and coming from an unexpected place. I see similarities in how we can take an idea and evolve it.”
The process of evolution was a collaborative one from the get-go, with Hardiman urging his crew to get stuck in and making sure it felt authentic to seasoned hair stylist Souleiman. “It felt like this journey, exploring, taking time to get into it, making these magical mistakes which led us down the right path. Tom was very open as a director, we were in constant dialogue and constantly redefining!”
Of course, a major part of that evolutionary process is seeking inspiration (“Altman’s Nashville is a big thing for me”), sourcing references (“we really psychoanalyzed each character”) and—especially for Hardiman—research galore. “I'm a bit of a research nut: I like to go as hard as I can… I went to a few competitions, I sat in hairdressers absolutely endlessly.” This intricate level of research certainly seeps into the intimacy of Medusa Deluxe, with its multifaceted individuals making up a microcosm of both the country and the industry it's set in: “It's an inclusive film meant to show all different types of people in hairdressing, but also a portrait of modern Britain,” he explains, “everyone’s hair is done in a particular way, everyone is different, so you've got to go out there and learn about it.”
Souleiman agrees, telling Hardiman how much the script captures the characters he’d come across over his time in the industry, and how it transported him back to his formative years: “It almost felt like a documentary, the dialogue was stuff you’d hear right behind the scenes.” Chatting about events with a Grosvenor House Hotel employee recently, Souleiman discovered exactly what he and Hardiman suspected; that hairdressers are considered the most “debaucherous and obsessive” industry that they host.
By virtue of the uniqueness of a one-shot take—immaculately executed by cinematographer Robbie Ryan BSC ISC—we’re taken deep into these characters’ psyches, into their obsession and hedonism, but also into their most intimate moments. “It's taking the elements apart and seeing what you get when you break it,” Hardiman muses, “we can push that all to a limit where you're forced to stay with someone.” This, of course, was a new endeavor for Souleiman, whose renowned work is seen coiffed in photoshoots and flawlessly angled on runways: "The challenge was to be able to create something that works from every angle,” he says. “Every angle there was a point of interest or a movement or a color change or something: some evolution or something that's quite unexpected when someone turns around... The idea of there being some drama to what you do, and a surprise element, was key for me."
Drawn in by the drama and hedonism, Thomas Hardiman discovered an ideal backdrop for a decadent thriller, found endless inspiration from the merciless drive artists share, and discovered an ideal creative confidante in Eugene Souleiman. “Hair styling is an interesting world, one you don't see in cinema that much,” the writer-director explains, “Passion is the thing I'm interested in, I like people whose passion eventually becomes obsession and drives terrible life decisions, that’s what grabs me…You're trying to push these things into a different space, trying to take something that doesn't necessarily get seen in cinema enough, and then pair it with something where you can start to break boundaries… It's a pretty magical experience.”