CIP Filmproduktion GmbH
Milos Forman, a director of films about the recent past (minus Amadeus), created this 1979 film based on a 1967 musical of the same name , written by James Rado and Gerome Ragni. The film focuses on the friendship of two archetypes of the American 1960s: the free-spirited flower-child and the conservative army recruit. Clean-cut country-boy Claude Bukowski, on his way to army army training, stops in Central Park in New York City (for some reason), where he meets John Burger and his group of hippie friends who end up becoming his surrogate family while he stays in the city. Shortly after Bukowsky befriends Burger and company, they meet Shelia, a debutante from an upper-crust family who becomes another unlikely associate to the hippie gang.
This is what Bukowski sees when he arrives at Central Park:
The film explores a number of hippie tropes, mostly through the songs that now echo through various appropriations in other forms of popular culture, for example this:
These songs cover topics such as new age spirituality, destruction of racial boundaries, hallucinogenics, free love, war, sunshine, and non-conformity - which is symbolized by hair:
John Burger is a tough NY hippie, recalling Abbie Hoffman in his attitude and appearance and fast-talking demeanor. Here's Burger singing "I Got Life" as he ruins dinner:
He might also be a prefiguration of Ferris Bueller, whose antics bring his his friends to unlikely places where they are unwelcome (such as a posh garden party hosted by Sheila’s family) and, following Bukowski’s enlistment, into the army base. Ultimately, Bukowski and Burger essentially switch places, as Burger is inadvertently sent to Vietnam while posing as Bukowski on the army base so that Claude can visit his hippie friends off-base. The final turn of the film shows Burger’s headstone as Let the Sun Shine blasts. This final scene includes the most visually striking (and haunting) shot of the film (seen from 2:32 in the video clip below), a show which shows the perspective of the soldiers walking in pairs into the absolutely dark interior of the cargo-plane that carries Burger into oblivion. The shot provides the viewer with the perspective of being just above the soldiers of shoulders, giving the viewer the point of view of a protective spirit about to abandon its ward.
Apparently the film adaptation was disappointing to Rando and Ragni for its great reduction of the anti-war stance of the stage musical, rather placing the bulk of its emphasis on the free-spirited lifestyle of the whole hippie thing (“...man”). Who knows why this happened? Government-Hollywood conspiracy? A loss of the sense of urgency as the film production followed the end of the war by a few years? That there was a deemphasizing of the anti-war aspect of the ‘60s in Forman’s Hair, is surprising, because in the more recent Taking Woodstock, the anti-war attitude of the era is absent, even though the more recent film includes a character that is a Vietnam-vet turned long-haired hippie. Compared to Taking Woodstock, the final scenes of Hair appear forcefully radical.
Some of the songs have been heavily sampled for music of the 1990s rave culture - here’s one example: