The film was directed by Miloš Forman (who received a César Award nomination for his work on the film) and adapted for the screen by Michael Weller (who would collaborate with Forman on a second picture, Ragtime, two years later). Cast members include Treat Williams, John Savage, Beverly D'Angelo, Don Dacus, Annie Golden, Dorsey Wright, Nell Carter, Cheryl Barnes, Richard Bright, Ellen Foley and Charlotte Rae. Dance scenes were choreographed by Twyla Tharp and performed by the Twyla Tharp Dance Foundation. The film was nominated for Golden Globe Awards for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy and New Star of the Year in a Motion Picture (for Williams).
Hair is a musical focusing on the lives of two young men in the Vietnam era against the backdrop of the hippie culture.
Claude Hooper Bukowski (John Savage) is a naive Oklahoman sent off to New York City after being drafted by the Army. Before his draft board-appointment, Claude takes a self-guided tour of New York, where he encounters a close-knit "tribe" of hippies led by George Berger (Treat Williams). As Claude looks on, the hippies beg for change from a trio of horseback riders...including upper-class debutante Sheila Franklin (Beverly D'Angelo). Claude later catches and mounts a runaway horse, which the hippies have rented, and with which Claude exhibits his riding skills to Sheila. Claude then returns the horse to Berger, who offers to show him around.
That evening, Claude gets stoned. He is then introduced to various race and class issues of the 1960s. The next morning, George finds a newspaper clipping which gives Sheila's address. The tribe - including Hud (Dorsey Wright), Jeannie (Annie Golden), and Woof (Don Dacus) - crash a private party for Sheila...who (secretly) enjoys the disruption of her rigid environment. After the hippies are arrested, Claude uses his last dollar to bail George out of prison - where Woof's refusal to have his hair cut leads into the title song.
When Sheila is unable to borrow any money from her father, George returns to his parents' home. His mother gives him enough cash to bail out his fellow hippies...who subsequently attend a peace rally in Central Park, where Claude drops acid. Just as Jeannie proposes marriage to Claude, in order to keep him out of the Army, Sheila shows up to apologize. Claude's "trip" reflects his inner conflict over which of three worlds he fits in with: his own native Oklahoman farm culture, Sheila's upper-class society, or the hippies' free-wheeling environment.
After snapping out of his acid trip, Claude has a falling-out with the hippies...ostensibly due to a mean trick they pull on Sheila (taking her clothes while she's skinny-dipping, which forces her to hail a cab in just her underwear), but also due to their philosophical differences over the war in Vietnam - and over personal versus communal responsibility. Claude reports to the draft board as planned, completes his enlistment, and is shipped off to Nevada for basic training.
It's now Winter in New York when Claude writes to Sheila from Nevada. She in turn shares the news with George and his fellow hippies. George cooks up a scheme to visit Claude in Nevada. Meanwhile, Hud's fiancée (Cheryl Barnes) - with whom he has a son, LaFayette Jr. (Rahsaan Curry) - wants him to marry her as they agreed. The hippies trick Sheila's brother Steve (Miles Chapin) out of his car, then head west to visit Claude.
Arriving at the Army training center where Claude is stationed, the hippies are turned away...ostensibly because the base is currently on alert, but also because the surly MP in charge of the guard-post doesn't like their looks. Accordingly, Sheila chats up Sergeant Fenton (Richard Bright) at a local bar. She lures the sergeant, with intimations of sex, to an isolated back-road. There the hippies relieve Fenton of his uniform and his car, both of which George uses to infiltrate the Army base. He finds Claude and offers to take his place for the next headcount, so that Claude can meet Sheila and the others for a going-away picnic they're having for him in the desert.
As fate would have it, just after a disguised Claude slips away to the picnic, the base becomes fully activated with immediate ship-outs for Vietnam. George's ruse is (somehow) never detected; he gets herded onto the plane and shipped out, in place of the AWOL Claude...who arrives back just in time to see the plane flying off toward Asia.
In Arlington Cemetery, much later, Claude and Sheila gather with the remaining hippies around George's headstone. As "Let the Sunshine In" plays, Claude and company join the crowd at a full-scale peace-protest in Washington D.C.John Savage as Claude Hooper Bukowski
Treat Williams as George Berger
Beverly D'Angelo as Sheila Franklin
Annie Golden as Jeannie Ryan
Dorsey Wright as LaFayette "Hud" Johnson
Don Dacus as Woof Daschund
Nell Carter as Central Park singer ("Ain't Got No" and "White Boys")
Cheryl Barnes as Hud's fiancée
Richard Bright as Sergeant Fenton
Ellen Foley as Black Boys
Miles Chapin as Steve, Sheilas brother
Charlotte Rae as Lady in Pink
Laurie Beechman as Black Boys
Nicholas Ray as the General
Michael Jeter as Woodrow Sheldon
Renn Woods as The Girl with Flowers in Her Hair
Both the film's plot and soundtracks were greatly changed from those of the musical stage play.In the musical, Claude is a member of a hippie "Tribe" sharing a New York City apartment, leading a bohemian lifestyle, enjoying "free love", and rebelling against his parents and the draft, but he eventually goes to Vietnam. In the film, Claude is rewritten as an innocent draftee from Oklahoma, newly arrived in New York City to join the military. In New York, he gets caught up with the group of hippies while awaiting deployment to Army training camp. They introduce Claude to their psychedelically inspired style of living and eventually the tribe drive to Nevada to visit him at training camp.
In the musical, Sheila is an outspoken feminist leader of the Tribe who loves Berger as well as Claude. In the film, she is a high-society debutante who catches Claude's eye.
In the film, Berger is not only at the heart of the hippie Tribe but is assigned some of Claude's conflict involving whether or not to obey the draft. A major plot change in the film involves a mistake that leads Berger to go to Vietnam in Claude's place, where he is killed.
The musical focuses on the U.S. peace movement, as well as the love relationships among the Tribe members, while the film focuses on the carefree antics of the hippies. Berger enjoys hugging Claude, and may be sexually attracted to him.
The film omits the songs "The Bed", "Dead End", "Oh Great God of Power", "I Believe in Love", "Going Down", "Air", "My Conviction", "Abie Baby", "Frank Mills", and "What a Piece of Work is Man" from the musical. The latter five songs were originally recorded for the film, but were eventually cut, as they slowed the film's pace. (they are included on the motion picture soundtrack album)
A few verses from the songs "Manchester, England" and a small portion of "Walking in Space" have been removed
While the songs "Don't Put It Down" and "Somebody to Love" are not sung by characters in the film, they are both used as background or instrumental music for scenes at the army base.
A new song written by MacDermot for the film is "Somebody to Love".
Several other differences from songs in the movie appear on the soundtrack, mainly in omitted verses and different orchestrations. One notable difference is that the Broadway version used only a jazz combo while the movie soundtrack use orchestrations that make ample use of full horn and string sections. Many of the songs have been shortened, sped up, rearranged, or assigned to different characters to allow for the differences in plot.
Gerome Ragni and James Rado, who wrote the original musical along with composer Galt MacDermot, were unhappy with the film adaptation, saying it failed to capture the essence of Hair in that hippies were portrayed as "oddballs" and "some sort of aberration" without any connection to the peace movement. They stated: "Any resemblance between the 1979 film and the original Biltmore version, other than some of the songs, the names of the characters, and a common title, eludes us." In their view, the screen version of Hair has not yet been produced.
Nevertheless, the film received generally favorable reviews from film critics at the time of its release; it currently holds an 89% "fresh" rating on review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes. Writing in The New York Times, Vincent Canby called it "a rollicking musical memoir.... [Michael] Weller's inventions make this Hair seem much funnier than I remember the show's having been. They also provide time and space for the development of characters who, on the stage, had to express themselves almost entirely in song.... The entire cast is superb.... Mostly... the film is a delight." Frank Rich said; "if ever a project looked doomed, it was this one" (referring to the "largely plotless" and dated musical upon which it was based. Forman's and Tharp's lack of movie musical experience, the "largely unproven cast" and the film's "grand budget"); in spite of these obstacles, "Hair succeeds at all levels—as lowdown fun, as affecting drama, as exhilarating spectacle and as provocative social observation. It achieves its goals by rigorously obeying the rules of classic American musical comedy: dialogue, plot, song and dance blend seamlessly to create a juggernaut of excitement. Though every cut and camera angle in Hair appears to have been carefully conceived, the total effect is spontaneous. Like the best movie musicals of the '50s (Singin' in the Rain) and the '60s (A Hard Day's Night), Hair leaps from one number to the next. Soon the audience is leaping too."
The film was shown out of competition at the 1979 Cannes Film Festival.
At the 37th Golden Globe Awards, the film was nominated for a Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, and Williams was nominated for New Star of the Year in a Motion Picture - Male. The film was also nominated for Best Foreign Film at the 1980 César Awards, losing to Woody Allen's Manhattan.
Years later, Forman cited his loss of his moral rights to the film to the studio as eventually leading to his 1997 John Huston Award for Artists Rights from the Film Foundation:
What was behind that [award] was that one day I had in my contract that when the studio wants to sell Hair
...to the network but they have to have my, you know, consent or how would they...what they do with it. But I didn't have this, so what they did, they didn't sell it to the network, they sold it to syndicated television where I didn't have that right. What happened: the film played on 115 syndicated stations practically all over the United States, and it's a musical. Out of 22 musical numbers, 11 musical numbers were cut out from the film, and yet it was still presented as a Milos Forman film, Hair
. It was totally incomprehensible, jibberish, butchered beyond belief...
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:2004: AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs:
"Aquarius" – #33
2006: AFI's Greatest Movie Musicals – Nominated
All lyrics written by Gerome Ragni, James Rado; all music composed by Galt MacDermot.
Hair was released on VHS by 20th Century Fox Video in 1982 with later VHS releases from MGM/UA Home Video. The film was released on DVD by MGM Home Entertainment on April 27, 1999, as a Region 1 widescreen DVD, and on Blu-Ray on June 7, 2011.