Hair – The Musical
Hair is a 1979 film adaptation of the 1968 Broadway musical of the same title about a Vietnam war draftee who meets and befriends a tribe of long-haired hippies on his way to the army induction center. The hippies introduce him to their environment of marijuana, LSD, and unorthodox relationships.
Hair was directed by Milo Forman, who was nominated for a César Award for his work on the film. Hair cast members include Treat Williams, John Savage, Beverly D’Angelo, Don Dacus of the rock band Chicago, Annie Golden, Dorsey Wright, Nell Carter, Ellen Foley, Charlotte Rae as well as Johnny Maestro, Jim Rosica and Fred Ferrara of the rock group The Brooklyn Bridge, and The Stylistics. Hair dance scenes were choreographed by Twyla Tharp and performed by the Twyla Tharp Dance Foundation. The film was nominated for a Best Picture Golden Globe Award, and Williams was nominated for a Golden Globe as New Star of the Year in a Motion Picture – Male.
In this adaptation of the hit Broadway musical Hair, a naive farm boy from Oklahoma named Claude Hooper Bukowski (John Savage) heads to New York City to enlist in the Army and serve in the Vietnam War. In Central Park, he meets a troupe of free-spirited hippies led by a young man named George Berger (Treat Williams), who introduce him to a debutante named Sheila Franklin (Beverly D’Angelo). Inevitably, Claude is sent off to boot camp in Nevada, but Berger and his band of merry pranksters including Woof Daschund (Don Dacus), LaFayette “Hud” Johnson (Dorsey Wright) and Jeannie Ryan (Annie Golden) do what they can to rescue Claude from a tour of duty in Vietnam.
A few verses from “Manchester, England” and a small portion of “Walking In Space” have been removed. The film omits the songs “The Bed”, “Dead End”, “Oh Great God of Power”, “I Believe in Love”, “Going Down”, “Abie Baby,” “Air,” “My Conviction,” “Frank Mills,” and “What a Piece of Work is Man” from the musical. The latter five songs were originally recorded for the film, but were eventually cut, as they slowed the pace of the film. They can be found on the motion picture soundtrack album, although they were omitted on the 1990 reissue. While the songs “Don’t Put It Down” and “Somebody To Love” are not specifically sung by characters in the movie, they are both used as background or instrumental music for scenes at the army base. There are several other differences from songs in the movie and as they appear on the soundtrack, mainly in omitted verses and different orchestrations.
The Hair plot is changed in the film. Many of the songs have been shortened, sped up, rearranged, or assigned to different characters to allow for the differences in plot. Opinions are mixed as to whether the film was an improvement over the stage show.
In the original Hair stage show, the character Claude Bukowski is a hippie who eventually joins the army and is sent to Vietnam. In the movie, the plot was changed so that Claude comes to New York City from Oklahoma after he is drafted and befriends a group of hippies before being sent to Army training camp. They introduce him to their psychedelically-inspired style of living, and eventually drive to Nevada to visit him at a training camp. In the play, Claude is from “dirty, mucky, polluted Flushing,” in Queens, but wishes he was from “Manchester, England,” which explained why he sang a song with that title. The song remains in the film, though with a joking introduction by Berger – “he just got off the boat” – to make it apply to Oklahoma native Claude.
In the Hair musical, Sheila Franklin is a hippie who falls in love with Berger, not Claude. Jeannie was “knocked up” by a speed freak, not by either Woof or Hud.
Arguably, the most extreme change is Berger’s death in the finale. In the original play it is Claude who dies in Vietnam.
Original Hair writers James Rado and Gerome Ragni were unhappy with the film. In their view, Forman failed to capture the essence of Hair in that hippies were portrayed as “oddballs” and “some sort of aberration” without any connection to the peace movement. Both are quoted as saying: “Any resemblance between the 1979 film and the original Biltmore version, other than some of the songs, the names of the characters, and a common title, eludes us.” In their view, the screen version of Hair has not yet been produced. However, Hair the film was generally well-reviewed. Writing in The New York Times, Vincent Canby called it “a rollicking musical memoir…. [Michael] Weller’s inventions make this Hair seem much funnier than I remember the show’s having been. They also provide time and space for the development of characters who, on the stage, had to express themselves almost entirely in song…. The entire cast is superb…. Mostly… the film is a delight.”
Hair was shown out of competition at the 1979 Cannes Film Festival.