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Monday, June 29, 2020

HAIR -- DVD Review by Porfle

I've always had mixed feelings about director Milos Forman's colorful film adaptation of the 60s musical HAIR (Olive Signature Films, 1979), starting from the first time I ever saw it on cable back in the 80s. Or rather, the first five or six times I saw it, since I was a big rewatcher in those days even if I wasn't totally sold on the movie but liked certain parts of it while not caring for others.

The parts I didn't care for included, well, the characters. Or most of them, anyway. By that time, the allure of the hippie lifestyle had long since worn off for this boomer and I started regarding them as the manipulative leeches that they often were, rebelling against the "straight" life while begging members of it for money and eschewing possessions while doing their best to attain them.

Treat Williams' blustery hippie leader Berger is one of the worst offenders, a self-righteous manchild who's really an irresponsible con man at heart. When he and his "tribe" of fellow hippies encounter a young Oklahoman named Claude (John Savage) hanging out in Central Park before his impending induction into the Army, Berger thinks it would be funny to try and induct him into the ways of the hippie while steering him romantically toward a haughty debutante (Beverly D'Angelo as Sheila) who strikes Claude's fancy as she rides a horse majestically through the park.

Berger and his gang invade Sheila's fancy debutante ball with all that insufferable "free-spirited" attitude and delight in disrupting all its various proprieties to the point where he ends up stomping down the length of the dining table while shaking his ass at everyone (to the delight of Charlotte Rae, representing the open-minded oldie who finds such behavior giddily charming).

During this time we see John Savage giving a meaty performance as the confused Claude, who wants to do his military duty but is seduced into the seemingly "free" hippie life, especially after he's persuaded to drop LSD (the surreal sequence that follows is Forman's attempt to be Ken Russell for awhile, something he's not very good at).

With the pushy Berger amusing himself with the lives and feelings of Claude and Sheila, we also get to know the rest of the tribe and aren't always impressed. Jeannie (Annie Golden) is pregnant but doesn't know or care whether the father is blonde-haired Woof (Don Dacus) or the African-American Hud (Dorsey Wright), who also has a fiancee and a small son whom he seems to have abandoned.

It's to the credit of director Milos Forman (AMADEUS, ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST, MAN ON THE MOON) and screenwriter Michael Weller (who adapted the musical play by Gerome Ragni & James Rado and Galt MacDermot) that these societal outsiders aren't too overly romanticized even though we're often meant to find their antics funny and/or liberating.

There's also a certain veneer of realism that keeps things from getting too fantastical or stylized. Twyla Tharp's choreography is designed to look like a bunch of everyday people dancing around rather than a troup of professional, precision dancers. Real exteriors are used both in New York (mainly a rather grimy Central Park) and Nevada. The Army base where Claude ends up is a hellishly hot, dusty, joyless place.

Most of my reservations about the story were resolved with the stunning climax of the film, which contains a satisfying plot twist and a stirring rendition of "Let the Sunshine In" (a fitting bookend to the opening "Aquarius") which brings the film to a rousing conclusion.

Most of the play's familiar songs are reproduced in outstanding performances which feature the likes of Ellen Foley, Nell Carter, Melba Moore, and Betty Buckley, the latter soloing on my favorite number, the gorgeous "Walking In Space."

(On the non-singing front, keep a lookout for other such familiar faces as Richard Bright, Miles Chapin, and director Nicholas Ray.)

Even the Stylistics lend their voices to the incredibly strange musical number "Black Boys/White Boys" in which military officers inspecting naked recruits espouse their unbridled joy. Rivaling Betty Buckley's performance is Cheryl Barnes as Hud's spurned fiancee belting out the classic "Easy To Be Hard." Beverly D'Angelo handles the hit "Good Morning, Starshine." And of course the title tune is given a raucous, somewhat overbearing workout.

Strangely enough, it's my love-hate relationship with HAIR that has always made it interesting to watch.  Perhaps it's best that the film neither overly glorifies the hippies (when Berger goes home to beg money from his parents, we see what a phony he is) nor condemns them outright. And Forman's style is an uneasy juxtaposition of the real and the surreal, which pretty much represents that period in history as well as anything.

YEAR: 1979
LANGUAGE: ENGLISH (with optional English subtitles)
VIDEO: 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio; Color


    New HD restoration
    Audio commentary by assistant director Michael Hausman and actor Treat Williams
    “The Tribe Remembers” – with actors Beverly D’Angelo, Don Dacus, Ellen Foley, Annie Golden, John Savage, and Dorsey Wright
    “Making Chance Work: Choreographing Hair” – with choreographer Twyla Tharp
    “Cutting Hair” – with editors Lynzee Klingman and Stanley Warnow
    “Hair Style” – with production designer Stuart Wurtzel
    “Artist, Teacher, Mentor: Remembering Milos Forman” – with director James Mangold
    Essay by critic Sheila O’Malley

STREET: 6/30/2020
CAT: OS021
UPC: 887090602105
SRP: $39.95


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