Milos Forman (director)
BFI Film (studio)
28 October 2019 (released)
29 October 2019
This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius’… go the most famous lyrics in the 60s anti-war musical HAIR. How things have changed since the dawn of Brexit (and other ‘delightful’ events)! Here then is Milos Forman’s 1979 trippy film adaptation of this cult musical - available newly restored and in Dual Format edition.
While the film’s plot differs considerably from the original musical version (creators Ragni, Rado and MacDermot distanced themselves from Forman’s re-working and were anything but happy about it) the film version holds its own nonetheless, despite the original songs re-arranged and some songs not included at all. At least we get an inspired choreography, courtesy of Twyla Tharp, to boost things.
HAIR – the Film, starts with a naïve young Oklahoman called Claude Bukowski (John Savage) forced to leave his rural home after being drafted in by the US Army. Traveling to New York City for his draft board-appointment he decides on a sightseeing tour before duty calls. In Central Park he encounters a ‘tribe’ of hippies led by George Berger (Treat Williams). Berger’s hippie friends are likeable airhead Jeannie (Annie Golden), long-haired Woof (Don Dacus), and black LaFayette Johnson (Dorsey Wright), nicknamed ‘Hud’. Minutes later, Claude also encounters a seemingly wealthy young lady riding through the park and he’s instantly smitten. Thanks to a newspaper lying on the ground (onto which Berger had just urinated) they find out that the young lady in question is wealthy debutante Sheila Franklin (Beveryl D’Angelo). Mischievous Berger decides it’s about high time that his new ‘friend’ Claude gets acquainted with his object of desire… and invites himself and the others to the Franklin’s super-posh debutante ball, creating utter havoc in the process. The ensuing chaos unfolds much to Sheila’s amusement, who seems to have a rebellious streak in her unlike her brother Steve (Miles Chapin) whom Berger describes as “Full of s**t”.
Over the course of the next hour the lives of this motley crew become ever more entwined, with plenty of far-out musical dance interludes and ever more hippies dancing in the park. Claude begins to develop a taste for the free and uninhibited lifestyle of his new friends who openly revel in hallucinogenic drug-use and free sex (well, the musical was written in the 60s), while at the same time he’s only too aware that the army is looming. Despite a blossoming romance with Sheila and Berger’s best intentions to stop him from becoming canon fodder in Vietnam, Claude’s sense of duty and patriotism gets the better of him and he finally reports to the draft board and completes his enlistment. Shortly after, he is off to Nevada for basic training. Weeks have passed and it’s now winter in New York. When Sheila receives a letter from Claude she happens to bump into Berger and the others, telling them about the news. Now Berger and the others are adamant to visit their friend in Nevada, but how to get there without any money and without a car? No problem! Thanks to Berger’s scheming ways he manages to steal the car belonging to Sheila’s brother and on their way they are! With them travels Hud’s fiancée (Cheryl Barnes) and their little son, after a confrontation back in New York revealed that Hud was supposed to marry her. Instead he decided to follow the cosmic path and become a hippie – much to the disgruntlement of the rather straight-laced woman. Tensions are rising further when Hud’s fiancée discovers that Jeannie is pregnant and Hud may well be the father.
Arriving at the army base in Nevada it comes to no surprise that they are turned away at the gate… because of their whacky looks. Once again Berger – with the help of Sheila – devices a cunning plan involving him posing as a soldier, even if it means cutting his beloved mane short! When a disbelieving Claude initially refuses to leave the base, the prospect of a farewell picnic (and of course seeing Sheila) quickly changes his mind and he sneaks out of the base for a few hours while Berger, posing as Claude Bukowski, stays behind in the barracks. Unfortunately, and while Claude enjoys his unexpected get-together with Sheila, the army base becomes fully activated and Berger is shipped-out to Vietnam against his will. When Claude returns he discovers to his shock and horror what has happened during his absence… but it’s too late.
It’s now several months later, and the camera pans in on Claude, Sheila and Berger’s hippie group assembled around a particular grave amid hundreds of other graves at the military cemetery in Arlington County. A close-up of the grave shows Berger’s name and we know that unwillingly, he made the ultimate sacrifice in exchange for his friend Claude’s future happiness. The final scene ends with an anti-war mass protest in Washington, D.C. with everyone singing ‘Let the Sunshine in’.
While certain aspects (and of course the Vietnam War) seem dated, the general topic of war vs. peace remains timeless – perhaps now more than ever before. While the acting is satisfactory all-round a lot of the action is expressed through the many songs, including ‘Sodomy’ / ‘Hair’ / ‘Manchester, England’ / ‘I got Life’ / ‘Where do I go?’ / ‘Three-Five-Zero-Zero’ / ‘Good Morning Starshine’ and many more. Well then, what are you waiting for? Tune in and drop out!