Made nearly a decade after this play took Broadway by storm in 1967, Milos Forman created his own vision of the stage play, working alongside Michael Weller (they would also collaborate on Ragtime). The changes they made are minor — Claude is a Vietnam War draftee instead of a hippy and Sheila is a high society girl — and major — the focus on the film is the peace movement instead of just the hippy antics and the ending is completely different. Many of the songs from the stage version were omitted as well.
Gerome Ragni and James Rado, who wrote the original play along with composer Galt MacDermot, would go on to say, “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.”
Hair focuses on Claude Hooper Bukowski (John Savage, The Deer Hunter) and George Berger (Treat Williams, Night of the Sharks) as they deal with the country attempting to handle the Vietnam War, as well as the people in their orbit. There’s Sheila Franklin (Beverly D’Angelo, The Sentinel), Jeannie Ryan (Annie Golden, who was in the 1977 revival of this show), LaFayette “Hud” Johnson (Dorsey Wright, The Warriors), Woof Daschund (Don Dacus, who has been in Chicago and Badfinger), Hud’s fiancee (Cheryl Barnes, who sang backup for Leonard Cohen along with Laura Brannigan), Sergeant Fenton (Richard Bright, Cut and Run), as well as roles for Ellen Foley (who sang “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” with Meat Loaf), Miles Chapin (Richie from The Funhouse), Broadway star Laurie Beechman, Nicholas Ray (yes, the director of Rebel Without a Cause), Michael Jeter from TV’s Evening Shade, Renn Woods (who sings one of the play’s best-known songs, “Aquarius,” she’s also in The Jerk) and an uncredited David Rose as The Acid King. Rose wrote one of the most famous songs of all time — “The Stripper.” Oh yeah! And the Vietnamese girl singing on “Walking In Space” is an uncredited Betty Buckley, Miss Collins from Carrie.
NBC must have been watching this movie, because eventually Nell Carter and Charlotte Rae would be starring in sitcoms on their network, yet they only get cameos in this film.
Olive Films has given this movie a new HD restoration, as well as plenty of extras, such as audio commentary by assistant director Michael Hausman and actor Treat Williams, featurettes with the surviving actors and interviews with choreographer Twyla Tharp, editors Lynzee Klingman and Stanley Warnow, and production designer Stuart Wurtzel. There’s also “Artist, Teacher, Mentor: Remembering Milos Forman,” a remembrance with director James Mangold (Walk the Line) and an essay by critic Sheila O’Malley.
I expected this film to be incredibly dated, yet at the end, as a huge throng of people ran toward the White House singing “Let the Sun Shine In,” I was overcome with emotion. We’ve been protesting for more than half a century and while forward progress has happened, it sure doesn’t feel like it today. Forman’s film remains vital if it can impact me so.
You can order this blu ray from Olive Films, who were kind enough to send a copy our way.