Monday, June 30, 2014

WTF? Hair (1979)


                Should war movie musicals even exist?  The answer would seem to be “no”.  However, having seen and loved “Oh! What a Lovely War” I have an open mind about this.  Plus it’s not like they are taking over the genre.  It would be hard to compile a top ten list when there are only two movies in the subgenre.  Let me know if you can think of any other examples.  “Hair” is the movie version of the famous stage musical.  It was directed by Milos Forman and received generally good reviews.  It was nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Comedy or Musical.  The dance scenes were choreographed by Twyla Tharp.  The plot was substantially different from the play.

                A country boy named Claude (John Savage) arrives in New York City to join the Army and go off to Vietnam.  Before induction, he meets a group of hippies in Central Park.  They are dancing and singing “Age of Aquarius”.  The flower children are led by the charismatic George (Treat Williams).  These free spirits introduce the rube  to drugs, free love, and pacifism.  Oh, and they are also anti-social status as is seen in their crashing an upper class party at the repressed Sheila’s (Beverly D’Angelo) family mansion.  Sheila joins the troupe and is interested in the evolving Claude.  More dance-laced scenes ensue, but all good trips must come to an end and Claude goes off to boot camp.  We get the only training montage done to music that I have ever seen.  Thank God Twyla did not choreograph this.  Hippies leave no man behind so George and the others drive to Nevada to allow Sheila to say goodbye.  George switches places with Claude.  Hey, it’s a musical.  This switch is temporary, of course.  Claude goes off to Vietnam with a smile on his face, or does he.

Drugs can get you high
                When you are a war movie reviewer, sometimes you have to watch movies you know you will not like.  In this case, I wanted to turn off the movie after 15 minutes, but I stuck with it just to say I watched the whole thing.  I don’t regret it, but I’m not going to brag to my friends about it.  The songs are good and some are great.  The dance numbers are not as silly as I expected.  The movie definitely has the look of a play, but it is not stage-bound.  The acting is fine from a cast that was fairly new.  Treat Williams is outstanding as George.  Interestingly, it was his second big role and the first had been in “The Eagle Has Landed”.  Savage was one year removed from “The Deer Hunter”!  D’Angelo was at the beginning of a nice run that included an Academy Award nomination the next year for “Coal Miner’s Daughter”.  (Oh, and she gets nude twice, if that means anything to you.)  Forman does a good job directing and throws in some tricks like rotating the camera and long range shots.  However, the film is most memorable for the dance numbers. 

Never invite hippies to a dinner party!
                The plot is fairly predictable.  Not if you saw the play.  It differs substantially from the play.  In the play, Claude is already a hippie in the group.  Sheila is also in the group and is in love with Claude and George. The movie has both Claude and Sheila being liberated.  The movie makes a major change by having George end up in Vietnam.  These changes would seem to be an improvement over the play, although the writers of the play would disagree as they were upset with the film version. The play has more of an anti-war theme.  The movie concentrates more on the freewheeling lifestyle of the hippies.  It does not really comment much on the war and surprisingly is not even overtly anti-military.

                In conclusion, I am not a big musical fan although I do have a few favorites.  I would not number “Hair” among them and that’s not because I am anti-hippie.  It does have some good songs and some of them are iconic for my generation so I would recommend it to Baby Boomers just because it’s part of our heritage. 

GRADE  =  C 

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