In 1967 two unknown actor‑writers, Gerome Ragni and James Rado, with composer Galt MacDermot, gave the '60s a musical that captured the rebellious spirit of the times. Hair broke theatrical tradition by featuring an integrated cast that stripped and sang ditties like Sodomy. Despite the shock, Hair was acclaimed for the landmark event that it was, and soon flower children and war protesters everywhere were singing "Let the Sunshine In". However, like many creations trapped In a time slot, the show became dated, almost quaint‑-too young for nostalgia, too old for the '70s. Now film producer Lester Persky, who has almost made a career out of chancy ventures (Taxi Driver, Bound for Glory), has bet $12 million that Hair is ripe for rediscovery. Persky took a further chance this time by hiring a dark‑horse director, Czech emigre Milos Forman (before his Oscar win for One Flew Over theCuckoo's Nest)‑-but the gamble has paid off triumphantly. With a gaggle of talented newcomers and exuberant musical sequences like the Aquarius be‑in (below), Forman has put on film for all time the anger and tenderness of a period so close yet still so faraway.
In converting Hair into a movie property, the biggest challenge was to flesh out a plot where none had existed and to give some depth and emotion to the characters, who on stage were put‑on caricatures. Michael Weller, the off-Broadway playwright who dealt with young misfits in Moonchildren was hired to give substance to the Damon‑and‑Pythias relationship between hippie dropout Berger and his innocent Okie sidekick, Claude, who lusts after an elusive rich girl, Sheila. The one asset from the original show that caused no worry was the memorable score. Not wanting to distort the music with a fashionable disco beat, composer Galt MacDermot has simply given the new arrangements a slightly more emphatic rhythm-‑thereby preserving Hair's most lasting virtue.
More Plot, Brighter Beat Enshrine the '60.
In the movie, an antiwar protester made up like a clown cavorts at the Central Park be‑in.
Hare Krishnas provide the music for Claude's wedding.
Dorsey Wright and Annie Golden are flower children.
Treat William won his role over two dozen competitors.
In a bit of slapstick incongruity, the title song from Hair is belted out by rowdy egg‑bald jailbirds.
At the very first public preview of Hair, which opened the New York Shakespeare Festival Public Theater in October 1967, a little‑known Czech film artist, Milos Forman, went backstage and told the authors he wanted to do their show in Prague. The freedom that would have allowed that to happen collapsed in August 1968, when Soviet tanks crushed the short‑lived "Czech spring." Eventually Forman settled in the U.S., making his first American film in 1971, a commercial flop about runaways entitled Taking Off. He considered using the Hair score for that film but nothing came of the idea. When producer Lester Persky obtained the film rights, he turned to Forman "because of his heritage. He comes from the land of Kafka and he could understand youth in rebellion, since his own country has a tradition of subtle resistance to authorit- ‑they've been dominated so often, so long." After One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest had made him a millionaire and a name director, Forman spent two years on Hair. He shot over 500,000 feet of film (the average is only 150,000) and controls everything down to publicity stills. Forman admits he's glad he had to wait for Hair. "Enough years have passed so we could avoid the tired rhetoric of those times and look back now with humor and understanding on what it was all about."
A Czech Director's American Dream
A mammoth Lyndon Johnson‑like parade puppet from the be‑in sequence hovers behind 47‑year‑old director Milos Forman, now an American citizen. Hair is his seventh film but his first musical.