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Olive Films // PG // February 27, 2018
List Price: $19.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Tyler Foster | posted May 25, 2018 | E-mail the Author
Fresh off a bus from Oklahoma, Claude Hooper Bukowski (John Savage) hasn't been in New York City for more than a few minutes when he first encounters Berger (Treat Williams). Berger lives a hippie, bohemian lifestyle, appearing to be homeless, and he leads a band of equally carefree oddballs around, including Hud (Dorsey Wright), Jeannie (Annie Golden), and Woof (Don Dacus). Although Claude is a country boy who seems to have no experience with drugs or the counterculture, with plans to hit up a few touristy attractions like the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building on his last couple days before he joins the Army in hopes of fighting in Vietnam, he falls right in with the band of rebels, smoking the night away and sleeping in the streets. He also catches the eye of a young woman from an upper-class family, Sheila (Beverly D'Angelo), who takes a liking to both Claude and Berger right away. Before long, Claude finds himself pulled in two directions: his lingering sense of duty that drove him to want to join the war on one hand, and the unexpected freedom that Berger brings to his life and his desire to be with Sheila on the other.

The box copy for Olive's new DVD of Milos Forman's Hair pitches the movie as a culture clash between Sheila's socialite lifestyle and the anti-war, drug-loving peaceniks that Berger leads. Watching the film, sussing out exactly what the film is trying to say about Berger's ideology compared to anyone else's (more Claude's than Sheila's, if anyone's) is a challenge. Berger's crew, who are fun to watch and endear themselves to the viewer as they endear themselves to Claude, are clearly representative of an important cultural movement from the 1970s, but even a cursory glance at the Wikipedia synopsis of the original stage production written by Gerome Ragni and James Rado shows that the film version takes drastic liberty with the story and characters. The result is a rambling movie that features some impressive numbers and strong performances but little in the way of a cohesive thematic message -- it's no surprise that Ragni and Rado disliked Forman and writer Michael Weller's re-interpretation of their work.

To Forman's credit, he has lured an impressive cast of talented actors who all turn in memorable performances. Savage, with his striking features, has both the square jaw of a wannabe soldier, and the wide grin and laid-back attitude of a man who would connect with a person like Berger. Ironically, Williams, who would make something of a career playing straight arrows and soldiers himself, is endearing as the happy-go-lucky type, and fun to watch when he does some of his fast-talking schtick, especially when it comes to bamboozling Sheila's dorky friend Steve (Miles Chapin). Wright gets an intense scene or two, a musical number and a confrontation with an exasperated girlfriend (Cheryl Barnes), while Annie Golden exudes a wounded, hesitant energy that tinges certain moments with a bittersweet quality. Above all, D'Angelo is luminous as Sheila, with a mischievous quality (the opposite of what the box synopsis promises) and other-worldly sweetness that easily convinces the viewer that Claude would fall for her completely. She practically steals the movie, magnetic whenever she's on screen.

Forman (who coincidentally passed away just before the release of this DVD) stages some decent choreography, which mostly gets better as the film goes along. The earliest number, "Age of Aquarius" (memorably spoofed in The 40-Year-Old Virgin) feels a bit clunky, playing like a stage number adapted based on the location shoot. Williams' big number, "I Got Life," is a rollicking step up that has him crashing one of Sheila's fancy parties, and a prison-based "Hair" where the inmates climb the walls then turns around and tops that, before the film peaks with the truly cinematic "Where Do I Go," featuring an extensive crowd of extras appearing and disappearing on a city street, and the LSD-trip song "Hare Krishna," which goes bonkers with surreal visuals as Claude imagines himself getting married to Sheila. There are also a couple of numbers based heavily around race, "Colored Spade" and "Black Boys / White Boys." Seen in 2018, both feel as if they're missing some sort of cultural context that would help explain the intent of the numbers in the movie, as they seem to be commenting on some perception of race that doesn't come across. The film's final number, "Let the Sunshine In," mostly rests on the back of Williams' effective dramatic performance.

Yet, aside from the pleasantness of hanging out with the characters for two hours and an effectively haunting coda, Hair never quite musters up the energy to really be about something. Claude never seems deeply conflicted about his decision to join the Army, and Forman and Weller dedicate no time whatsoever to really crystallizing a deeper resistance on Berger's side beyond the idea that living a free life in the city is more fun than going to Vietnam and potentially dying. Hud puts up a somewhat pointed protest, scoffing at Claude's statement that he wants to fight on Hud's behalf as an American citizen, but once Claude successfully enlists, he never seems to regret it on a personal level. Berger does eventually find himself wrapped up in the idea of fighting, and Williams plays these moments with genuine fear that is affecting, but so much of what happens is a contrivance of coincidence and chance rather than a coherent comment on the way the military-industrial complex chews young men up and spits them out, or the pointlessness of the fight in Vietnam. Hair effectively paints a portrait of a time and place, but stumbles when it comes time to figure out what to say about them.

Olive's new art for Hair picks one of the movie's classic posters and recreates it. It's a stylish and striking image. The one-disc release comes in a cheap Amaray case, and there is an insert inside the case advertising other Olive releases.

The Video and Audio
Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and with a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack, Hair looks adequate and sounds decent on this disc. The opening sequence, featuring some optical titles, is concerning, with heavy grain that ends up turning into compression artifacts, and a shot with some heavy dirt covering the image, fixed in place as the camera pans. However, once Claude gets to the city, the picture clears up, offering decent detail and slightly faded color. Whites appear a bit blown out (look out the open doors behind Williams during "I Got Life"). The music is rendered nicely with a decent amount of surround separation and vibrancy, and dialogue is clear and easy to understand. Both the picture and the soundtrack could use a fresh 2018 remastering for a more optimal presentation, but this is fine. English subtitles are also provided.

The Extras
None, other than an original theatrical trailer.

Milos Forman was an accomplished director, moving onto a trio of impressive biopics: Amadeus, The People vs. Larry Flynt, and Man on the Moon. Although Forman made other successful dramas, Hair calls out for something like the structure of a biopic, some sort of internal foundation that builds to a thematic point. Instead, it's more of a loose snapshot, meandering around until it arrives at an unexpected conclusion. Rent it.

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