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Hair (1979)
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by Mrs. Norman Maine

"An underseen minor masterpiece"
5 stars

Brilliant Czech director, Milos Forman, followed up 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' with a brilliant resetting of the flower children musical 'Hair'. Despite critical acclaim, it flopped. It has remained as a cult film and is now re-released on DVD.

SHAMPOO, STYLE AND SET

I'm off this weekend from Fillies . David Fincher, my darling director, has to do some close-up work with my lovely co-star, Rob Lowe. I am using my free days to take a breather and to deal with Norman, who is not bouncing back from his recent bender quite as well as I had hoped. I was a bit mystified as to why this should be until I found him mixing pineapple juice, coconut oil sun tanning lotion, and nail polish remover into a martini glass. When I tried to take it away from him, he launched into The Pina Collada Song over and over and over again. I had to run over to the neighbors’ and have them open their garage door. The metal plate in his head catches the frequency of their remote, giving him a mild seizure, and bringing him back to earth.

I dropped Norman in the bathtub under the supervision of Nurse Tameka and Patrick to soak it off and went down to my local branch of Jose Eber where Mr. Pepper, my stylist, gave me a trim, a manicure, and a quick bikini wax. While I was being denuded, I suddenly thought of the film Hair , which I had not seen for several years and it occurred to me that it might make a relaxing way to spend the evening. Off I went to Blockbuster in search of the DVD. After retrieving Norman from the tub and bundling him in a set of rebirthing towels for the night, I was able to settle into the home theater and relive my flower child youth.

Hair was the great Czech director Milos Forman's follow-up to his Oscar winning One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest ; it was released in 1979 to critical acclaim and public indifference. Forman, because of his background in Soviet dominated Czechoslovakia, has always been drawn to material in which the outsider rebels against rigid and outdated forms of authority and he found these themes front and center in the musical Hair . For those of you not old enough to remember the 1960s, it was a period of great social change worldwide as the generation born after World War II came of age. The American musical, fossilized in the style perfected by Rodgers and Hammerstein or Lerner and Loewe, was beginning to run out of steam. Galt Macdermott (music) and Gerome Ragni and James Rado (book and lyrics), three itinerant New York actors and musicians, took the music and ideas of their generation and, with director Tom O'Horgan, created a show that literally rocked Broadway.

The stage version of Hair was a triumph of style over substance. The immediacy of its political and sexual statements in terms of the conflicts within society made it a sensation. The well-publicized stage nudity didn’t hurt its drawing power either and the musical and its songs became the siren call of a generation. As a show, it was, at best, loosely constructed without much in the way of plot and character, but had a tuneful score and a lot to say about subjects like Vietnam, the sexual revolution, feminism, drugs and political protest.

In 1979, the country was on a bit of a nostalgia craze. Grease had been an enormous hit the year before so a film version of Hair was green lighted. Unfortunately, the wounds of Vietnam and the excesses of the late 60s were too fresh in people's minds so the American public stayed away in droves. (It was, however, a modest hit in Europe and elsewhere.)

Playwright Michael Weller ( Moonchildren ) was brought in to work with the original creators to bring the somewhat shapeless material into a more conventional narrative form. The result was the story of Claude Bukowski (John Savage) a farm boy from Oklahoma who comes to Manhattan for a few days of R & R before his induction into the military. While touring central park he runs into a group of hippies led by Berger (Treat Williams). They take him under their wing and introduce him to sex, drugs and rock and roll. Claude's path soon collides with the beautiful debutante Sheila (Beverly D’Angelo) and soon the hippies are crashing a society cotillion. Claude is eventually inducted into the army and is in basic training in the desert southwest. His new found friends road trip out there to see him and, in a searing finale, there's an inadvertent replaying of A Tale of Two Cities .

As a film, Hair is bursting with the young Broadway talent of the time such as Nell Carter (shortly after her Tony winning Ain’t Misbehavin ), Ren Woods, Charlotte Rae and Annie Golden. Even Betty Buckley's voice turns up in Walking in Space , pouring out of a Vietnamese orphan. Forman and his choreographer, the modern dance guru Twyla Tharp, use their talented cast and New York City locations to full advantage. Highlights include Aquarius in Central Park where not only the dancers, but mounted police get into the act; Berger's I Got Life danced on the dining room table at the society party; Hair staged in a prison common room; and Black Boys/White Boys done as a comment on army induction (with a very young Michael Jeter) that has to be seen to be believed.

Perhaps the best visual moment is The Flesh Failures/Let the Sun Shine In which, in the space of five minutes, is able to dramatize the absolute waste of Vietnam, the sorrow of the survivors, and the mood of the country in an incredibly eloquent and powerful way. For those too young to remember the 60s, this one number alone is enough to help achieve understanding of what it was all about.

In cutting the movie down to two hours, various filmed sequences (such as Charlotte Rae's In My Opinion , Air and Frank Mills ) were snipped out. I was disappointed that the DVD release did not include these numbers as extras. (It’s a bare bones release). I hope the footage has not been lost.

Originally Written 4/28/01
Revised 7/12/02

Dancing horses. LSD trips. Rodeo tricks. Urination on newspaper. Naked John Savage. Topless Beverly D'Angelo. Fingernail cleaning with fork. Ethnic mothers. Gratuitous Melba Moore. Vanishing crowds. Mud jumping privates. Gratuitous Country Western Bar.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=2828&reviewer=283
originally posted: 07/13/02 08:18:15
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 San Francisco Film Festival. For more in the 2004 San Francisco Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/15/17 Beau Hauser Breathtaking film musical, superb acting/staging 5 stars
7/01/16 Rick Great film! I ignored it in 1979 and watching it now for the 1st time 5 stars
11/26/15 Anne Its got alot to it! 5 stars
4/13/15 jokerass IDIOT 1 stars
8/21/11 Taliesin Also my all time favourite 5 stars
2/24/09 Olivia Riffle this is one of my favorite movies of all times. 5 stars
3/08/08 Pamela White funky musical , peace and love 4 stars
7/13/06 David Cohen Very different from the play. If you don;t mind that, it rocks! 4 stars
11/23/05 beth absolutely loved it worth more than just a look 5 stars
6/15/04 Lexi OMG IT WAS THE BEST THING I'VE EVER SEEN 5 stars
4/25/04 Cesar Carassa I am peruvian, 44, i saw the film in 1979, it is so comtemporary. Why war? 5 stars
4/21/04 The Talking Elbow Some corny-ass songs but the ending was really startling and good. 4 stars
11/08/03 Zuzu Sorry, my rating was wrong. 4 stars
10/18/03 Lori Duckworth What a fabulous movie! The end made me cry. 5 stars
10/01/03 Cindy Baer This is my all-time favorate movie! Seeing at 9 years old helped make me who I am today! 5 stars
7/09/03 Kyle Puts other "musicals" to shame! 5 stars
3/20/03 Shirley O-Toole costumes/dances incorporate different cultures, last scence very impactful and emotinal 4 stars
2/27/03 Yahya Murat Everyone should see/re-see this film nowadays (days of histeria on attack to Iraq) 4 stars
2/17/03 The Aussie Film Reviewer It was decent, but I can't say I felt it warrants five stars. 4 stars
2/16/03 Bob Fabulous, but not entirely truly '60's (John Savage's Okie farmer father wearing FLARES???) 5 stars
1/27/03 Righteous Apple Wonderful movie....Make love not war....George W. should watch it. 5 stars
11/03/02 Eric Thompson This is definately a movie then attracts you and keeps you intrested. 4 stars
9/05/02 Rébeli Szabó Erzsébet This Film is PERFECT, and i love Berger 5 stars
7/14/02 Jens Danneschewski All time favourite. Go out and watch it...show it to your children :) 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  12-Jul-1979 (PG)

UK
  N/A

Australia
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Directed by
  Milos Forman

Written by
  James Rado

Cast
  Treat Williams
  John Savage
  Beverly D'Angelo
  Annie Golden
  Dorsey Wright



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