directed by Milos Forman
(United Artists, 1979)
I was in my early 20s, not too long out of college. My hair was short. I was visiting a dear friend in Athens, Ohio. Tommy, his pal Elizabeth and I were strolling down the main drag when we spied a theater marquee advertising the movie Hair. None of us had seen it, and we decided we must.
Wow, what a movie. It wasn't long before I owned both the video and the soundtrack. I've watched it many times since then, and that's not just because Beverly D'Angelo (later to become Mrs. Griswold of National Lampoon's Vacation series) gets topless twice.
The music and dance sequences (stunningly choreographed by Twyla Tharp), remnants of the original Hair stage production by Gerome Ragni, James Rado and Galt McDermot, are exceptional, although very dated by modern standards. But who cares? Hair is inextricably linked to the Vietnam War era, the days of free love and plentiful drugs.
The movie adds a storyline which weaves in and around the music. There isn't always a clear connection between events and the song of the moment -- but, again, who cares? It works and works well.
Claude (John Savage) is an Oklahoma boy who comes to New York to report for selective service. Yes, he's been drafted, and he decides to spend his last two days of freedom seeing the sights. But he doesn't get far. He's walking through Central Park when he meets Berger (Treat Williams), Woof (Don Dacus), Hud (Dorsey Wright) and Jeannie (Annie Golden), a foursome of park-dwelling free spirits who are dancing and seeking spare change.
Soon, there's a horse. There's a trio of upper-crust equestrians including Sheila (D'Angelo). Someone's draft card gets burned (it's not Claude's). There's a bit of rain, some controlled substances are shared, and people dance. And Claude breaks through some personal barriers during "Manchester, England," an excellent song which has more serious echoes later on in the film.
There's a party for Sheila (invitations required), a table dance, a lot of police and an unsympathetic judge. During the title song, "Hair," there's a prison riot (a bit I never quite understood). Claude has a colorful hallucination (featuring Sheila and a horse) and is found hours later with eyes the size of "black basketballs." There's a bit of skinnydipping, some stolen clothes, a few harsh words and an angry parting.
Whew! A lot happens, and through it all you get to know the major characters fairly well. But then Claude is sent to the grim reality of a Nevada boot camp, and Berger and friends (and Sheila) decide to make the five-day drive out to visit him.
The rest is best seen without further hints. Some of what happens is obvious, bits are not. Remember "Manchester, England" while you watch the final scenes -- when the song is briefly reprised, I get chills down my spine every time. The end is anticlimactic after that -- a full-cast presentation of the show hit "Let the Sun Shine On" (made famous by the Fifth Dimension when they coupled it with the show's first tune, "Aquarius").
There are a lot of good reasons to watch Hair. If you enjoy musicals outside the Andrew Lloyd Webber norm, this is an excellent choice. As I said earlier, the music and choreography are excellent, presented creatively and, often, with a certain amount of wicked glee. But the story stands up to modern standards, too -- beneath the trappings of long-haired Americana, the story revolves around individuality, loyalty and friendship.
[ by Tom Knapp ]