I first saw Hair when I was a little kid. I remember my first experience with the movie vividly because of the circumstances: my parents, grandmother, sister, and I were sitting in my grandmother’s music room with a take-out dinner from Ribs n’ Bibs (a fine Chicago establishment). My sister and I were probably around six years old and this was the only thing on TV. My parents knew the movie but my grandmother didn’t. We found out later that she had seen the play version of it, but didn’t make the connection. We watched the movie as a group until we got to a section with lots of nudity. At that point, my grandmother grabs the remote and turns the television. From there went a huge “conversation” between her and my parents about appropriate types of imagery for little kids. My grandmother eventually won and we didn’t get to finish the movie. We couldn’t have cared less about the nudity, but loved the songs. So we waited until everyone deemed us old enough to see it (and we remembered that we wanted to see it!)
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Milos Forman, the man known for movies like Lolita, directed the film. The movie is based on a play by Gerome Ragni and James Rado with music by Galt MacDermot. Choreography was done by Twyla Tharp. The main characters are Claude, our young midwestern hero and Berger, the leader of a group of Central Park hippies. They are played by John Savage and Treat Williams. People who I am told were well-known actors of the time, but ones that I have never heard of again play the other hippies.
Hair is the story of a young man from midwestern cornfields and finds himself in New York City, touring around before he leaves to fight in Vietnam. He comes across a group of hippies in Central Park that adopt him into the group. This is mostly a story of his time with the group and how they change his views of the world.
OK, so that’s the story. Yippee. What the movie’s really about is counterculture: sex, drugs, music, and politics. That’s the fun stuff and what made the movie so important.
I see the story lines in terms of the corresponding songs. This means that I don’t remember the order of all of the movie’s events, but rather the order of the songs. Oddly enough, the soundtrack to the movie has songs that are not actually in the movie. I believe that they are from the play, but I’ve seen different versions of the play that do not include all of them. I haven’t figured all of that out yet.
Age of Aquarius. This is the opening song from the movie and one of the most important. The movie starts with a huge group of people in Central Park dancing to the song. Twyla Tharp, one of the greatest, most unique choreographers of all times, choreographs it. “This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius…”
Manchester. This song is a huge joke. The hippies in Central Park sing this to our young hero, making fun of him as an outsider. This is how they tease him about his innocence in regards to their world. “Manchester, England England. Across the Atlantic Sea…” He is obviously very frightened and intimidated. Yet this is very funny.
Hair. This is the title for good reason. The lead hippie, played by Treat Williams, crashes a party with his friends and sings this song. It is performed on top of a table during the middle of the formal dinner. It is filled with sexual innuendoes, provocative dancing, and amusing imagery. This is the heart and spirit of the film.
Walking in Space. This song corresponds to a specific episode in the film as well. Our young hero experiences LSD for the first time and finds himself in a fantasy world. This is the song that he hears. In this fantasy, he gets married, flies, becomes a father, and finds himself in the middle of various bizarre religious rituals. When I first saw the film, I couldn’t understand the scene for anything. Now, I see it as beautiful.
The Flesh Failures/Let the Sunshine In. This is the final song of the movie. Berger and Claude have switched places so that Claude can see Sheila, his love, one more time before his troop leaves for Vietnam. Sadly, Berger ends up going to Vietnam in his place, dying in the war. This is the song that corresponds with this time. It is more than just about grief of an individual: it’s about grief for a society. It is one of the most moving songs of the film.
I could go into every song from this movie in great detail, but nothing I write will ever really be able to describe the feelings that it brings out. It is a movie against war, classicism, and closed minds. It is about love, respect, and differences. It is about racism and politics. It is about drugs, music, and the spirit of this period of time. It is about idealism. It is indescribable.
Hair is not a movie for little kids. While this is a movie that everyone can enjoy, it works on different levels for different people. Hair is an experience.