Drafted into the army, young Claude Bukowski arrives in New York and stumbles upon a group of hippies in Central Park. They convince Claude to pursue a beautiful woman, break a few rules and reconsider the army. But Claude still chooses to enlist. In a bid to save Claude from Vietnam, the group travels across the country in an adventure that ends with a shocking event.
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“You’ll give me the money if I cut my hair?!”
Responsibility, war, peace, love and…hair. Lots of hair. Milos Forman’s Hair, loosely based on the Broadway musical, brings to screen the story of Claude Bukowski (John Savage), a fresh-from-the-farm Oklahoma boy who meets George Berger (Treat Williams), leader of a group of pacifists living on the streets of New York.
The film begins quiet and calm, scanning a vast country road where Claude climbs aboard a bus taking him away from home. The landscape slowly changes, and with the first chords of the bass guitar, Claude’s in Central Park, smack in the middle of a musical number, Aquarius. It’s a whole new world of colour, gyrating bodies and drug trips. The film never returns to the first serene moments of the story, instead pulling the audience into the fun, frenzied lifestyle of Berger and his friends.It’s the sixties and America is committed to sending able-bodied citizens to fight for freedom in Vietnam. Claude is ready, but Berger represents the huge chunk of America that does not agree with or support the war. So Berger invites Claude to experience an alternative choice; crashing bourgeois parties to meet a beautiful woman, breaking rules and letting go. Singing and dancing ensues.
Highlights include the gorgeous New York streets and Central park, the cart-wheeling choreography and dizzying camera sweeps during the musical numbers. Black Boys/White Boys and Sodomy are some of the more hilarious song lyrics and visuals. And of course, the ultimate tribute to hair; a song dedicated to :
Hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair
As a film, Hair contains all the elements needed for a screen musical: catchy songs, impressive choreography (by the famous Twyla Tharp), costumes and hair (oh, the hair!) and fantastic sets – in this case, the streets and parks of New York. Where the film falters however, is in the slow-moving plot which differs from the Broadway musical. The film introduces Berger and his hippie friends Jeannie, Hud, and Woof who try to help Claude get the girl. But after the party crashing, jail singing and skinny dipping, the audience is left to wonder, where is this going?
Thankfully, that’s when the story picks up; near the last half hour when Claude leaves for Nevada to join the war. Screenwriter, Michael Weller injects a sharp moment of conflict for one of the free-loving characters, Hud, when he’s confronted by the mother of his child. In a fiercely sung number, Hud’s fiancée, (Cheryl Barnes), sings Easy to Be Hard. She represents the men and women forgotten by those who align themselves with a cause. Her song shines an ironic light on Berger’s quest to save Claude from the cause he believes in. She sings:
From that moment, the film whips forward, traveling to Nevada where Berger’s last effort to save Claude results in tragedy from a seemingly silly game.
The last song, Let the Sunshine In, is visually stunning as it pans across an enormous crowd that keeps growing. Holding American flags and waving peace signs, the crowd protests the Vietnam War in Washington. Shots of the individual faces in the crowd create a powerful image of both hope and loss, ending the film on a profound note.
Hair is a fun, adventurous glimpse into the hippie, rock sub-culture; a musical that extols the virtues of “snaggy, shaggy, ratty, matty” hair but also through a single song asks the audience to consider loyalty, choice and sacrifice.