Thursday 27 June 2013

Movie Review: Hair (1979)

The film adaptation of the Broadway musical show, Hair the movie rides along with the music. The better songs make for the better screen moments, while the many more mundane musical numbers result in significant stretches of tedium.

The Vietnam War is raging, and idealistic Claude Bukowski (John Savage) leaves the family farm in Oklahoma and heads to New York for a couple of days of sightseeing prior to joining the army. Claude falls in with a group of hippies led by the charismatic Berger (Treat Williams) and his friends Hud (muscular), Jeannie (pregnant) and Woof (very long-haired). The hippies introduce Claude to their anti-war counter-culture and before long he is experimenting with drugs and sleeping in the park.

Claude also falls in love at first sight with rich society girl Sheila (Beverly D'Angelo). Berger arranges for his group to gate-crash a posh party at the house of Sheila's parents, an intrusion that briefly lands Berger, Claude and all their hippie friends in jail. Claude eventually enlists, leaving his New York friends on a sour note as he relocates to Nevada to undergo basic army training. But Berger wants to do good with his new friend, which triggers a cross-country road trip and another reunion between Claude, the hippies and Sheila.

Director Milos Forman and screenwriter Michael Weller took considerable liberties with the story to try and create an experience applicable to the screen. Consisting of very few spoken words, Hair strings along the musical song and dance numbers and attempts to create a passable narrative. But with no time invested to create interesting characters, the film works only in parts. There is plenty of energetic jumping around in the park, but often the prevailing sense is of a group of well-intentioned amateurs getting together for a fun day of hijinks and being caught on film.

The better parts easily coincide with the can't-miss hit songs, Aquarius, Hair, Let The Sunshine In and Manchester providing the backdrop to the more stirring movie sequences. The other impressive highlight features Berger singing I Got Life while dancing and prancing on the all-dressed table at Sheila's stuffy party, the one time that the movie properly nails the essential culture clash at the heart of the musical.

The many other songs may have worked well on stage, but here they occupy chunks of time with not much going on in terms of forward-moving energy. The film stalls early and often as yet another musical number triggers yet another celebration of peace, love, lust, sex, and drugs, a message that is well and truly delivered inside the first 20 minutes.

The actors have little to work with in terms of character development. Claude the innocent, Berger the hippie and Sheila the d├ębutante are exactly that, one-word summaries of stereotypes with no meaningful opportunity for evolution. Savage, Williams and D'Angelo are adequate within the limits imposed on them.

Hair does conjure up an excellent ending, an unintended sacrifice defining the meaning of true friendship. In a movie with as many good hair days as bad hair days, at least the ending is stylishly spiked.

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