Hair (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
June 9, 2011 by Dennis Amith
While “Hair” may not be the true film adaptation that the original musical creators have wanted, 40-years-later, I think there are many people today who will think that this film was indeed a product of the times. While the storyline is very different from the musical, on its own, for those today who appreciate ’70s films or hippie culture, may find “Hair” to be an enjoyable film.
Images courtesy of © 1979 Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved
FILM RELEASE DATE: 1979
DURATION: 121 minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (widescreen 1:85:1), English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, Spanish and French Mono, Subtitles: English, Spanish and French
COMPANY: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Twentieth Century Fox
RELEASE DATE: June 7, 2011
Directed by Milos Forman
Loosely based on the Musical Book by Gerome Ragni, James Rado
Written by Michael Weller
Produced by Michael Butler, Lester Persky
Associate Producer: Robert Greenhut
Cinematographer: Miroslav Ondricek
Edited by Alan Heim, Stanley Warnow
Casting by Howard Feuer, Jeremy Ritzer
Production Design by Stuart Wurtzel
Set Decoration by George DeTitta Sr.
Costume Design by Ann Roth
John Savage as Claude Hooper Bukowski
Treat Williams as George Berger
Beverly D’Angelo as Sheila Franklin
Annie Golden as Jeannie Ryan
Dorsey Wright as Lafayette aka Hud
Don Dacus as Woof
Cheryl Barnes as Hud’s Fiancee
Richard Bright as Fenton
Nicholas Ray as The General
Charlotte Rae as Lady in Pink
Miles Chapin as Steve Frankling
Claude leaves the family ranch in Oklahoma for New York where he is rapidly indoctrinated into the youth subculture and subsequently drafted.
In 1967, James Rado and Gerome Ragni along with Galt MacDermot created a rock musical known as “Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical”, which was a product of the era which was about anti-Vietnam war, the hippie culture and sexual revolution.
The musical had success on Broadway and Off-Broadway and even the Broadway cast recording was a million seller and songs becoming top 10 hits.
Over a decade later, the rock musical received its film adaptation courtesy of director Milos Forman (“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, “Amadeus”, “Man on the Moon”) and written by Michael Weller (“Ragtime”, “In Spite of Love” and “Los Angels”) and unfortunately, the original creators James Rado and Gerome Ragni were unhappy with the film and to this day, both original creators insist that a true adaptation of their musical has not been created. But despite Rado and Ragni’s unhappiness, the film did receive positive reviews from the film critics, especially many who have not watched the original rock musical.
It’s important to note that the rock musical and the 1979 film adaptation differ greatly.
“Hair” is a musical about a farm boy named Claude Hooper Bukowski (played by John Savage) who is from Oklohama. Claude heads to New York City in which he will enjoy the sights of the city before he enters the Army and serve in the Vietnam War.
But when he arrives to New York City, the first things he sees are hippies singing music and wealthy women riding their horses through the park. The hippies are led by George Berger (played by Treat Williams) and a group of people which include Woof Daschund (played by Don Dacus), a pregnant Jeannie Ryan (played by Annie Golden) who doesn’t know who the father of her child is and LaFayette “Hud” Johnson (played by Dorsey Wright).
The hippies are curious about the horses and try to get the women to let them ride them but the women avoid them and ride quickly to get away from them.
When the hippies ask for money from Claude, he doesn’t know why the hippies are asking money from him but he does give them a quarter.
The hippies then use the quarter to break into a public pay phone and use the money to rent horses to ride and eventually one breaks loose and George manages to get the horse and ride it and eventually he becomes smitten with the wealthy debutante Sheila Franklin (played by Beverly D’Angelo).
Because he has helped the hippies, George Berger and friends talk to Claude and learn from him that he is planning to join the military and wants to see New York the best he can. Because he doesn’t know his way around, George and friends want to help him and the first thing they do is get him stoned and hear the music and other hippies dance to it.
As Claude says goodbye to his new hippie friends, while George is taking a leak, he sees a newspaper article with Sheila’s photo and tells Claude that if he likes her, he should go to the party that is being held for her. At first Claude is hesitant, since he feels that one must be invited to a party but his hippie friends tell him that they can go.
So, once they go to the party, it happens to be a black tie event and the hippies start making their presence known at the party. During dinner, Sheila’s father tries to tell George and his friends to leave but George tells everyone that Claude should be respected because he is joining the US Army to fight for them and that he likes Sheila and wants five minutes for him to see her. And of course, because the hippies defied Sheila’s father to leave, the hippies including Claude are busted and sent to jail.
But Claude has his emergency money to get himself out of jail and join the Army but George tells him that he knows no one in New York and if he wants to get around, he should use the money to get George out and then George will get the money to let everyone free.
And George manages to do so and tries to flirt with Sheila in order to get money and also tries to get money from his parents as well. But in the end, George pulls through and manages to free his friends including Claude.
But as their friendship grows, one thing remains… Claude is still going through joining the Army and George and his friends are against it. Claude tells them that he is fighting for their rights, the hippies tell him that they don’t believe in the war and they don’t want him to fight for him. In fact, they would rather have him stay home and be with Sheila but Claude is determined to join the Army and fight in Vietnam causing a little friction between him and George.
Who is right? Who is wrong? “Hair” shows us the counter-culture between the young men like Claude who feel they are fighting for America by fighting the Vietnam War and the hippies who are against the war.
But in this film adaptation of the rock musical, there is a twist ending that will shock viewers.
“Hair” is presented in 1080p High Definition (Widescreen 1:85:1) AVC @ 37 MBPS. While the opening scene with Claude leaving Oklahoma looks like it has aged, is full of noise and white speckles, once the story shifts to Claude’s arrival in NYC, fortunately, the picture quality gets better.
While this 1979 film probably looks much better than its DVD counterpart, I can tell you that “Hair” does look good but not great. There are whit speckles and there are moments where colors are vibrant but also times where I found the colors a bit muted and saturated. But for the most part, you do see detail from the hair, to the ’70s outfits and there is a good amount of grain throughout the film and at times, the black levels look nice and deep.
While I can’t personally comment on how much better it is from the DVD release, “Hair” does look very good on Blu-ray but I have seen other films from the late ’70s look a lot better.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“Hair” is presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, Spanish and French mono. The film is primarily dialogue and musically driven, so center and front channels are what you hear the most throughout this film. There are times when instruments such as electric guitar are utilized and carefully balanced through the surround channels but it’s not an immersive track and possibly the music could have used the surround channels a bit better. But for the most part, the lossless track is good, just not great!
Subtitles are English SDH, Spanish and French.
“Hair” comes with the following special feature:
- Theatrical Trailer – The original theatrical trailer for “Hair”.
If there is one thing that can be said with “Hair”, it is a late ’70s film that feels authentically real, it feels that it was shot in the late ’60s and if anything, while a bit farfetched, the crazy actions of the characters does help the ending.
I point this out because I know that both James Rado and Gerome Ragni, creators of the original “Hair” musical did not like how the film was changed. The musical is about Claude, a leader of the Tribe hippie group, a group of bohemians who choose to live the life that they want but yet, when the men receive their draft cards, Claude makes the decision to not burn them like the other guys and ends up joining the military. While the musical maintains its psychedelic nature and was a product of those times, the movie made in 1979 was almost a farce.
Where the musical’s theme was the hippie movement and the creators focused on what was wrong with America at the time, may it be racism, environmental destruction, poverty, sexism and sexual racism, the musical also showed the prevailing belief of the unpopular Vietnam War. The music and its lyrics took on those topics and those topics were featured in the musical.
In the movie, the situations have changed as Claude is not originally but a farm boy from Oklahoma who has traveled to NYC and the situation between he and and the character of Sheila are much different in the play. In the play, Sheila is with Berger and of course, you get a surprise ending.
And while there are those who debate of which story is better, I can easily say that if you have never watched the musical before and more than likely many people living today that are interested in this film and are more in touch with the current and last generation will enjoy the film.
Part of the success of “Hair”, aside from its music and story was that it was a product of that time. Many people felt like these characters, they lived like these character depicted in the musical and with their “love one another” bohemian mentality, it showed.
And for those who are watching it today for the first time that were not part of that generation, one may watch and think this is how the hippie movement was. This is how people behaved and in truth, I’ve watched enough hippie films to know that there was much more nudity in these gatherings, much more drug use than was depicted in the film. Granted, there was so much you can do back in 1979 but still, the movie downplayed the psychedelic nature of Claude who had taken the narcotic.
But for those not familiar with those times and began watching the movie today and are open to hippie culture, I can see some of them probably enjoying this film and seeing that twist in the end. “Hair” is unlike many musicals that are released on film today and even back in 1979, a year after “Grease”, it was a film that carried that psychedelic feel, a depiction of what took place a decade earlier.
But although I was a child who grew up in the ’70s, I know full well that by that time, the hippie movement was over for many years and by then, times were near the closing of the disco era, so I don’t know if the efficacy of this film was strong enough as the musical that made sense as it was a product of that time. I’m sure many people that were part of the hippie movement probably looked at the film as unappealing and a dishonor to both Rado and Ragni but this film is 40-years-old now and I wouldn’t be surprised if this film is seen by people today and assumed as if it was a product of the time.
“Hair” looks and feels of a film released back in the late ’60s and early ’70s.
As for the Blu-ray release, while I don’t know how much better the Blu-ray is from the DVD, like many Blu-rays on DVD, I could imagine that the contrast and detail of “Hair” on Blu-ray is much better. But still, this is a catalog title that has been given a barebones release and its unfortunate that there are no special features included at all. It would have been nice to revisit some of the talent, even for a reunion. Even a featurette on the making of the film, the differences or an audio commentary would have been nice.
Overall, “Hair” was an intriguing film because I thought it was made earlier than 1979. I personally enjoyed the twist at the end and how different this musical film is compared to many musical films that have been released in the last 40-years. There really is nothing like it and although it may not be the true adaptation that James Rado and Gerome Ragni would have wanted, I do feel that people of today can still enjoy the film if they are open to ’70s style culture.
“Hair” is worth checking out but is it worth owning as a barebone Blu-ray release? I’ll leave that up to you.
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