FFWD REW

Beard of brothers

Scruffy facial hair is legitimized in Men With Beards

If I’m to believe my Facebook feed beards are divisive business. On one hand there’s the woefully out-of-touch hipster-hating blowhard the type who believes that pretension is epitomized by beards Bon Iver and Daytrotter’s Top 10 latte-sipping albums of 2009. On the other there’s the beard-loving obnoxiously vocal Boondocks Saints -worshipping blowhard whose diet consists solely of Sriracha hot sauce bacon and science — not regular science mind you but fucking science. You know who I’m talking about: Carl fucking Sagan. Isaac fucking Asimov. Neil fucking deGrasse fucking Tyson motherfuck-bitch. Fucking astrophysic fucker’s got a big fuckbeard. Science. Fuck.

But we’re getting off topic. The point I’m getting at? While plenty of people I love are proud owners of beards the discourse around beards is typically unbearable. Accordingly I brought a certain bias to Men With Beards . Great the assumption went here’s another film about hot sauce and Slayer and overcompensating machismo and fucking Stephen fucking Hawking or whatever.

Y’know what though? I was wrong. Men With Beards a documentary by Winnipeg filmmakers Dylan Fries and Michael Sanders delivers an easygoing feature that’s charming pensive and at times playfully philosophical. Its primary concept is simple journalistic even: It documents the experiences of — wait for it — men with beards.

“Someone called me a Jew Nazi terrorist” Dean Tzenos singer of Odonis Odonis says in Men With Beards . And it serves as the film’s unlikely thesis. Within its 90 minutes Fries and Sanders set out to prove that facial hair provides deep contradictions. It’s threatening. It’s sexy. It’s counter-cultural. It’s a societal norm. It’s worn by academics. It’s a biker signature. And the list goes on.

At its best Men With Beards establishes the beard as a sign with multiple signifiers. Fries and Sanders for their part guide the documentary through various phases — some serious (when they address the beard’s cyclical rise through subcultures popular culture then subcultures again) some lighthearted (such as the reactions that occur when beards are shaved). For Men With Beards facial hair is never reduced to a celebrated scumbag quality — it’s a complex naturally occurring phenomenon and one that can sculpt personal identities.

Yet the film does have occasional flat moments. As a documentary it relies heavily on talking heads. To the credit of Sanders and Fries they chose a diverse cast cobbled together from Winnipeg’s music arts and theatre scenes. And while their bearded experiences prove fascinating sometimes the filmmakers allow their characters to dictate pace to a fault. As a result the film ambles from topic to topic shapelessly.

Thankfully Men With Beards revolves around a charismatic cast including Canada’s participants in the World Beard and Mustache Championships (and yes that’s a thing). And those characters love their beards with such gentle affection and humour — in one scene they detail grooming techniques admitting that grooming their beards is often costlier than shaving — that they’re immediately lovable. So beards: I thought you were all about bacon and Thin Lizzy. I was wrong. And that’s a credit to you.

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