Cinemalphabet: H is for Hair! (1979)
When Hair came back to Broadway last year my reaction was, “What in the name of Donnie Dacus is going on here?” On a cynical level I figured it was a johnny come lately attempt at dual war discourse, which may or may not be a fair assessment.
If you’re not acquainted with the musical, here’s the cheat sheet:
- It tells the story of a somewhat racially diverse rag tag band of hippies who dance and sing their way through some of the most turbulent events of the late 60s.
- Music by Galt MacDermot Lyrics James Rado & Gerome Ragni. Book by James Rado & Gerome Ragni
- Original Broadway run includes: Diana Keaton (a train you’d be well advised to miss) Melba Moore, Ben Vereen, Keith Carradine, Barry McGuire, Ted Lange and Vicki Sue “Turn the Beat Around” Robinson.
- has a nekkid scene sung to an incredibly punishing song called Walking in Space that starts all slow than then gets wocka wocka horntastic accompanied by appropriate amounts of jiggly bits liberating themselves from fashion stylist tape.
- has helped more folks memorize Hamlet’s “What a Piece of Work is Man” than the Shakespearean text itself.
That said, it’s one of my favorite musicals. Moreover I have both seen and been in more than one or two productions of this musical – a staple of any production being there is more drama than the cast party of The Poseidon Adventure. Usually my contribution consists of singing Aquarius and then quickly ushered away from the mic to serve as colorful seat filler hippie, later reemerging to sing all the songs with “n-word” in the lyrics and if the production is really edgy – sing White Boys made popular by both Melba and my hero Neil Carter.
Ever since Milos cast a black woman to sing “Aquarius” in his film, if I audition for the production I say, “Let’s save a week, I’ll sing Aquarius and Three-Five-Zero-Zero and meet my quota of pulling random audience members on stage for Let the Sunshine sing-a-long.” – another staple of most productions.
The 1990 John F. Kennedy High School Production La Mommie graciously agreed to take both myself and my hippie friend Nicole to featured stand out performances by a senior name Joel, best known to us as the “hot guy in domestics at Target”. It also featured us being plucked from the audience to hippie dance ourselves up to the stage and sing along with the theater geeks, who graciously allowed us use of their mic packs.
My first production as an actual cast member involved so many arrests for hippie happy possession (not me!) – necessitating many casting changes and had me playing SHEILA at one point – was so terrible we didn’t bother with the full six scheduled runs. It also involved me playing Claude, then rising from the dead to sing “Let the Sunshine” and of course, pulling random strangers from the audience to accompany the cast on stage.
Milos Forman, like Hal Ashby and Barbet Schroeder (Reversal of Fortune) is a director whose work and themes I thoroughly enjoy, yet have never managed to gather my thoughts about him in any legitimate way. When trying to articulate my thoughts regarding Forman, I kept coming back to his ability to capture a sense of American Jingoism without mock or judgment, something I often find cheesy when the same elements are used in an Oliver Stone film.
Hair is the culmination of me getting Forman. Seeing the way he captures both the truisms of American life and the folly of it. The last scene in the movie presents stunning and chilling images of young boys, many of color and probably most of working class or poor backgrounds marching in precision into what looks at times to be a meat grinder.
Wasn’t it though?
That image has stayed with me evoking that level of intensity since I originally watched the film over twenty five years ago. When I think of Mr. Milos – and I often do – I picture an old world craftsperson working in a shop carving items for sale at market. I picture slow and careful movement of fingers, the dance of shavings falling to the ground and the simple yet elegant results of his labor.
That right there is what Forman does best.