"Shoes" is a bathroom attendant in a New York City strip club. He spends his shift in the men’s room helping the customers with washing their hands, choosing cologne, and picking a breath mint. He also saves marriages by finding stray blonde hairs on jackets and lipstick on collars. And occasionally, he dispenses advice to those in need as well as jokes and the occasional backhanded barb for those obnoxious patrons who are unhappy that they are being guilted into tipping a mere bathroom attendant.
From the Head is an autobiographical story written and directed by George Griffith who, in actuality, was indeed a strip club bathroom attendant. Based on his copious and highly detailed journal notes Griffith, who also makes a starring turn as Shoes, gives us a highly entertaining cast of characters that haunt the strip club as well as the men’s room.
The vast majority of the film takes place in the men’s room, with only the beginning and end depicting the actual strip club, with occasional forays outside of the men’s room as the camera follows Shoes outside "for a breath of air". The cast of characters that enter the men’s room are all in some way stereotypical strip club patrons, but are all fascinating. From the cop who was kicked off the force and brags about stealing items from murder victims’ homes during his investigations to the guilty men who are hiding their addictions from their wives and girlfriends. We also meet the frequent customers who are on a first-name basis with Shoes as well as the poor sap who falls for the strippers’ sales lines: "I like you because you’re different from the rest"; "Yes, I’m a single girl"; "You’re cute." Occasionally we see the feisty men with bad attitudes that challenge Shoes for his career choice and who are angry because they interpret Shoes’ presence as one more way they are being hounded out of their hard-earned dollars…dollars that could be better spent on the dance floor than in the men’s room.
And tonight is a special night for Shoes himself. It’s his third-year anniversary at the strip club and the floor manager is telling all the customers who then enter the men’s room to congratulate–and sometimes question–Shoes on his longevity at the club. This ritual is beginning to irritate Shoes, who is obviously well-educated and could do better for himself. As the evening wears on it becomes obvious that Shoes has some demons of his own, and working underneath the New York City streets in the men’s bathroom contained within a strip club is his way of hiding from life–and maybe a personal punishment as well. It’s a neat twist on the film’s title. Shoes is talking with his customers and dispensing advice, getting in their heads and trying to help them. But some of his customers are also beginning to get into his head and he’s beginning to question himself. And, of course, this all occurs from the men’s room which is sometimes referred to as "the head".
Griffith has constructed a fascinating and entertaining film. From the Head is a wonderful character study that succeeds though it’s heavy on dialogue and there is very little in the way of typical action. But what is many times anathema to dramatic films here is the strength of From the Head. Griffith has crafted interesting and colorful characters played by strong actors. Griffith himself plays the lead role of Shoes (so named for his meticulously-shined wingtips) with a quiet dignity that begins to fray as the evening progresses. Is it the double-shift he was forced to work (16 hours standing in a men’s room can’t be fun) or is it the constant reminder that he is frittering his life away one year at a time hiding out in the bathroom? Is it the never-ending march of drunken and obnoxious people who enter and exit his bathroom or his kid brother who interrupts his work (and costs him tip money), demanding financial help? Griffith’s portrayal of a man beginning to come apart is absolutely superb. It is a tour de force of subtle pain. But Griffith also infuses his character drama with some humor as well. Shoes has a million jokes, as all good service industry people should. In fact, he’s become somewhat infamous for his jokes, so some customers come to the men’s rooms just to hear a joke. And you can’t make a movie that takes place in a bathroom without some potty humor. The women’s room is out of commission so the strippers have to share the men’s room. Shoes oversees what could become a very problematic plan, ensuring the safety of the strippers as well as the modesty of both men and women. But in one scene, a stripper can’t wait any longer and rushes into the toilet stall. Her experience is, how should I put it, rather noisy and quite smelly. This instance of lowbrow humor serves to lighten the mood of the film and reinforce the humanity of all involved.
In the end, Shoes makes it through his double shift, walking slowly out of the smoke-filled club and heading for the brightly-lit door which signals his escape. We don’t know if he plans on coming back on Monday or if we have seen his last shift as bathroom attendant. But we do know we have seen an extraordinary film. The multi-award winning film From the Head has just been released by Breaking Glass Pictures. For more information go to www.fromthehead.com or www.breakingglasspictures.com.