If you haven’t checked out my reviews of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas or The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, you should probably know that I’m a big fan of the hippie culture (even if Hunter S. Thompson was exploring why hippie culture essentially went out of existence) and the acid subculture that grew out of the late 1960’s. Also the fact that I’ve reviewed every single episode of Glee should be a clue that I love musicals. So, I’ve known about the existence of Hair, the classic counter-culture musical from the 1960’s celebrating the hippie lifestyle and the peace movement, pretty much my entire life. I also knew that there was a movie made in the late ’70s that was a very loose adaptation of the stage play directed by Milos Forman (Amadeus). Well, as luck would have it, the film version of Hair was the next movie in my instant queue for Netflix. While it’s far from the best musical I’ve ever watched, it still had an awesome soundtrack and was a surprisingly tragic mix of comedy and drama, and for fans of fun movie musicals, Hair might run a little long, but it’s worth your time.

 

Set at the height of the Vietnam War, Hair is about a group of hippies living in Central Park led by the charismatic Berger (Treat Williams) and their newest friend, Claude Butowski (Carnivale‘s John Savage). Claude is an innocent and naive Okie (that may or may not be from Muskogie [yuk yuk yuk]) who has come to New York for a three day stay before being drafted to fight in the Vietnam War. As Claude befriends these hippies and experiments with drugs for the first time, he learns that there’s more to life than the straight and narrow conventional American life he had been living. In the park, Claude also meets Sheila (National Lampoon‘s Beverly D’Angelo), a society debutante who is also struggling with her place in society. After the fun in NY ends, Claude is still forced to ship off to Nevada for basic training. The hippies plan one final trip down to Nevada to say goodbye to their new friend, but when tragedy strikes, they have to learn that the darkness infesting our society in the 60’s can hit everyone even if you try to isolate yourself from it.

A musical is defined by its songs, and Hair has fantastic performances in Spades. “Age of Aquarius” is a classic hit (and remains my favorite section of 40 Year Old Virgin). The title track is another single that has stood the test of time, as well as “Easy to Be Hard” which I seem to remember from one of my dad’s CD’s but I can’t remember each one. I think Three Dog Night covered it, but it may have been someone else on the Once Upon a Song ballad CD he had (great compilation album btw). Not every song is a homerun, but there are so many (and they almost all fit in the rock/soul opera vein) that you don’t care when one song drags on a little too long or isn’t as instantly singable as “Age of Aquarius”. The main cast all have great voices and Treat Williams was a real find as Berger. The costume work on the film was also phenomenal as you really felt like you were looking at authentic wear from the hippie era. I want to dress like that in real life.

The movie overstays its welcome at times, and there are definitely moments when it is just a little too silly for its own good (the acid trip sequence seems like it was written by someone who had never actually done acid) but hey, it’s a movie about hippies. It’s supposed to be a little out there. Even with all of its flaws, it still manages to capture the peace and love of the era while showing the darker realities that were just waiting to explode beneath the surface. If you like hippies or musicals, Hair is a delicious trip back into a more innocent era with some messages that remain relevant in today’s day and age. While much of what the hippies believed in seems fairly silly in retrospect, their appreciation of love and the common humanity that binds us together means that there still plenty of valuable lessons we can gleam from their bohemian lifestyles.

Final Score: B+

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