Directed by Milos Forman
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 121 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, 2.0 French, Spanish
Subtitles: SDH, French, Spanish
MSRP: $ 19.99
Release Date: June 7, 2011
Review Date: June 8, 2011
Some stories are clearly in and of their time and others transcend it. Hair, the “American Tribal Love-Rock Musical” (as it was so billed during its original four year Broadway run) was initially produced during an era of free love, flower power, and counterculture revolution. It was the first rock music score that managed to catch fire on Broadway, and its almost free-form amalgamation of music and vague storytelling featured casual nudity (the cast was free to doff clothes at the end of the first act or not as the spirit moved them) and a score that featured almost thirty songs. But by the time of its 1979 movie version, the music and themes had become passé. No amount of clever filming could recapture that lightning-in-a-bottle moment when Hair first exploded into the American consciousness. Now more than thirty years removed from the film’s premiere, the movie plays as a definite period piece, a very effective if somewhat flawed look at a generation of young people who opposed not only war but the restrictions of a buttoned-up society, and the images that director Milos Forman puts together with that sometimes grating and sometimes exhilarating score certainly catch one’s attention and stay seared in the memory. Beyond its rudimentary narrative, Hair is a movie of memorable sights and sounds.
Two days before reporting for Army induction, Claude Bukowski (John Savage) arrives in New York City and runs into a hippie colony made up of George Berger (Treat Williams), Woof (Don Dacus), Hud (Dorsey Wright), and Jeannie (Annie Golden). He also meets a decidedly non-hippie on horseback, debutante Sheila Franklin (Beverly D'Angelo) with whom he’s immediately smitten. For two days, Claude is introduced to the free and easy lifestyle of these social dropouts: he smokes his first joint, crashes Sheila’s debutante party, goes on an LSD trip, and gets thrown in jail. Then, it’s off to basic training in Nevada while his friends back in New York wonder why he feels such a sense of duty and obligation and begin to miss him.
From the helter-skelter ramblings of its stage libretto, Michael Weller has fashioned a reasonably interesting narrative through-line for his screenplay, one which serves the songs quite well. While all but five of the tunes from the original stage version have been shoehorned into the film in one way or another, the half a dozen or so that really work well certainly equal the best film musical numbers staged in movies over the past few decades. “The Age of Aquarius” (warbled superbly by Ren Woods) gets the film off to a sensational start with Forman’s revolving camera capturing the sights and sounds of New York’s Central Park and the thrill that only the best opening numbers in musicals can deliver. (Twyla Tharp’s choreography here with her dancers and with mounted policemen in the park is quite impressive through elsewhere in the film, her stylized posings and movements don’t always mesh well with ordinary dance steps). Treat Williams’ declaration of his free-wheeling lifestyle “I Got Life” captures the joie de vivre of his character as well as anything in the film while Forman also uses songs effectively in two terrific montages: “My Body/Walking in Space” for Claude’s basic training sequence while the group’s road trip to see their friend makes “Good Morning, Starshine” something really special. If you want the very essence of Broadway musical comedy, you’ll find it with the hilarious, satirical “Black Boys/White Boys” (the one time the score veers closest to a traditional Broadway sound) while the film’s bittersweet climax adds poignancy to “Let the Sunshine In.” Interestingly, Forman, two-time winner of the Best Director Oscar, was able to easily mesh his directorial style with the very unique and individualistic demands of the film musical, something fellow award-winners like John Huston (Annie), Richard Attenborough (A Chorus Line), and Sidney Lumet (The Wiz) had no success doing at all.
Though John Savage gets top billing in the film and gives a very efficient performance as the initially naïve and later more seasoned Claude, Treat Williams walks away with the honors as the charismatic Berger. Singing with raw expressiveness and confidence (Williams had been in Broadway choruses before gravitating to the movies) and unafraid of the piece’s required nudity, his performance gives Hair its real charge. As the boys’ love interest, Beverly D'Angelo seems a bit old for her role and her singing seems small in “Good Morning, Starshine” (she brought the house down a year later as Patsy Cline in Coal Miner’s Daughter with a much more powerful vocal and histrionic performance), but she gets the job done. Annie Golden’s quirky, pregnant flower child symbolizes the era about as well as anything while Dorsey Wright and Don Dacus complete the hippie quartet efficiently but without great style. Look closely, and you’ll find Nell Carter, Charlotte Rae, Melba Moore, and even director Nicholas Ray among cameo performers.
The film is presented in its theatrical 1.85:1 aspect ratio and is delivered in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. MGM hasn’t seemingly done much clean up with the film which has traces of dust specks throughout. In fact, the opening scene as father and son bid goodbye to one another is quite dated looking, dirty, rather soft, and devoid of much color. Once we get to Central Park, however, things clear up and sharpness and color saturation become much stronger and more pleasing. Flesh tones look accurate, and black levels are quite good as well. The film has been divided into 44 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix presents the score to very good advantage though the volume level seems a trifle reduced. The orchestra and choral ensembles occupy both fronts and rears during the musical numbers with solo singers (as well as the well recorded dialogue) occupying the center channel. Not a lot has been done with ambient sounds either in Central Park, the debutante party, or in boot camp, but there are fleeting instances of surround activity in each of those venues. There are no problematic age-related artifacts to mar the audio experience.
The theatrical trailer is presented in 1080p and runs for 2 ¾ minutes.
3.5/5 (not an average)
Milos Forman’s Hair is an enjoyable and entertaining period musical. It makes sense out of the rambling stage story and presents almost all of the stage score accurately and faithfully (even if too many of the songs are more like musicalized lists than real numbers). The Blu-ray doesn’t offer much bonus material and isn’t the cleanest and sharpest of musicals in high definition, but it’s definitely a step up from the film’s release on DVD and is certainly recommended as an upgrade for fans of the movie.