Friday, April 15, 2011

“THOSE ARE HIPPIES, STEPHEN.”

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[From the STMcC archive; written September 29, 2006.]

This resurrected review is now being dedicated to my friend "THE SHREDDER".




























I still remember the moment clearly: It was one day, probably in “The Summer Of Love” (1967), I was eight years old and my Mother was behind the wheel as we turned a corner in Garden Grove, California. Referring to a group of colorful, flowing Flower Children on the corner, waiting for the light to change (second-rate rebels!), I asked, “What are those people, Mom?” Her reply was the first time I’d ever encountered the term hippie. A couple of years later, I would be dressing just like them – Keith Partridge and Greg Brady had nothing on me! (I still have the original patches from my denim jacket: the Yellow Smiley Face; the star-spangled hand forming the Peace Sign; Have A Nice Day; Come Together, etc.)

The one thing that nearly every big city American who came-of-age in the 1960s and ‘70s has in common is the LP soundtrack from the Broadway musical, HAIR. That “Licorice Pizza” (LP) with its green and red cover was in everyone’s collection. Mine spent a lot of time on the turntable.

In 1979, Milos Forman – unquestionably one of cinema’s most talented directors – only four years removed from his monumental, 5 Academy Awards-winning achievement, 'One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest', decided to put the old 1960s icon, HAIR, onto the silver screen. It went mostly unnoticed. The old hippies were now too respectable and forward-thinking in their three-piece suits and plush offices to look back at their past, and the kids had shaved heads and the loud, lean sound of Punk Rock on their minds. Hair? Nobody wore it. Nobody saw it. Too bad.

In a sense, the entire movie is almost like an LSD hallucination. HAIR opens with peaceful shots of a green, pastoral Oklahoma landscape and a son and his dad attempting, in their painfully rigid way, to express their mutual affection before the young man, Claude Bukowski (John Savage), boards a bus for New York City to answer Uncle Sam’s draft notice for an adventure in Vietnam. The old man says, “Don’t worry too much. It’s just these smart people that’s got to worry. The Lord will take care of the ignorant ones.” Soon the screen explodes into Free Love and Psychedelia, but at the end of the picture, the old man’s joke is revealed to have been weirdly prophetic.

[An aside: This has no bearing on anything, but numerous times in the past, Yours Truly was told that he looked nearly identical to John Savage. I always shrugged it off until one day in 1981, Savage’s own best friend, actor Charles Haid, told me the same thing. Then I knew it to be true. Now you know: this reviewer looks like a Savage.]















[John Savage then, and . . . ]









[. . . Later.]

In New York’s Central Park, Claude meets up with a band of hippies led by George Berger (Treat Williams). There are a couple of nifty performances in HAIR: Savage with his hangdog, fish-out-of-water country reticence; Annie Golden as the screen’s most likeable little airhead since Judy Holliday in Born Yesterday; and Miles Chapin as Steve, the put upon “proper” product of old school traditionalism. But unarguably, HAIR belongs to Treat Williams.

Very rarely does an actor just light up the screen with “presence.” James Dean did it in 'East Of Eden' in 1955. Girls in the theatres began screaming the moment he appeared on screen, inexplicably drawn, no doubt, to the brooding intensity of his animal magnetism. In recent times, Val Kilmer playing Doc Holliday in 'Tombstone' stole every single scene he appeared in with the power of his charisma. (Many would put Brando’s portrayal of Stanley Kowalski in 'A Streetcar Named Desire' in this class, though I found it too mannered to believe.) There have been a few others, Treat Williams in HAIR amongst them.

When I first saw this movie in the theatre, I labeled Williams a can’t-miss soon-to-be superstar. Though his work in 'Prince Of The City' was highly acclaimed, somehow Williams whiffed. I thought Kenneth Branagh’s performance in 'Dead Again' was going to propel him to megastar status, too. (Remind me of these misjudgments the next time I tell you that I’m never wrong.) It’s the ultra-cool confidence and dynamic presence Williams exudes that carries this movie and keeps it moving. He is the follicle of HAIR. (I’m sorry! I really can’t help myself.)

Although Forman ultimately comes down on the side of the Hippie Movement, he takes jabs at, and also embraces, different aspects of the two social armies engaged in a cultural war that took place at home concurrent with an American “police action” on another continent. And Berger, despite his narcissism and hedonism (the real foundation of the counterculture) which often antagonizes the “authorities” and widens the Generation Gap, is also the peacemaker who can empathize with others and effect a reconciliation. He’s a complex, interesting character and worthy of deep analysis.

There are a few abysmal songs to be found in HAIR, but also some real winners. Most notably, 'Where Do I Go?' (with poor lip-synching from Savage), 'Good Morning Starshine' (For me, Oliver’s #3 hit version from 1969 captures this era like no other song), and especially 'Easy To Be Hard'. This last one anchors a brilliant segment in which Forman’s extraordinary directorial skills are on display. 'Easy To Be Hard' (an outrageously powerful performance by Cheryl Barnes and alone worth the price of the soundtrack) is an exceptional piece in which hippie Lafayette’s cold distance toward his girlfriend is expressed in snowy long shots of him walking away from her and into the city. This is contrasted with close-up shots of her singing, signifying the fullness of the heartrending emotional wound he has inflicted upon her. If this scene doesn’t give you a little chill, you’re a mighty chilly person, friend.

There are several other memorable scenes in HAIR: Though I don’t approve of nudity in movies and I hardly needed to see chunky Beverly D’Angelo sans the costumer’s art, if that bit where she hails a taxi in Central Park doesn’t make you laugh, check for a pulse! And I’m as “straight” as the term gets, but if the Black Boys / White Boys segment with the Army’s induction board doesn’t at least elicit a smile from you, you’re definitely wound a little too tight. Berger’s brief visit with the folks back home is a gem (with a delightful cameo by Antonia Rey playing his mom). And then there’s that surprise ending with its growing sense of claustrophobia and impending doom swallowing up the helpless George Berger – another example of Forman’s artistic vision brilliantly executed.

There is plenty to like about this movie, and it certainly beats the vast majority of what is being produced today. HAIR is a strange “trip”, but one that is worth taking.

~ Stephen T. McCarthy

YE OLDE COMMENT POLICY: All comments, pro and con, are welcome. However, ad hominem attacks and disrespectful epithets will not be tolerated (read: "posted"). After all, this isn’t Amazon.com, so I don’t have to put up with that kind of bovine excrement.
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23 comments:

Marjorie said...

I've never seen Hair. Finally a face to the words.

I thought Kenneth Branagh was a superstar. He certainly has done amazing work with Shakespeare. He was awesome in Harry Potter too.

DiscConnected said...

Never saw "Hair" but from the Savage picture...I kinda see it!

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

MARJORIE ~
You knew that those were photos of John Savage, not me, didn't you?

I took it for granted that readers would understand that, but I went back and added his name to the captions just in case there was any misunderstanding.

Yeah, Kenneth Branagh is fairly well known for his Shakespeare "stuffs" to those who are into Shakespeare "stuffs". (I never saw Harry Potter.) But I was thinking he was destined to become "Household Name Famous", on a par with the likes of Brad Pitt, Jack Nicholson, Clint Eastwood, etc. You know, like A-List Movie Star Fame, but he never achieved that level of "Rock Star" status.

Same with Treat Williams, although this movie should have catapulted him to the very Top. This degree of charisma on the silver screen is extremely rare!


DISCDUDE ~
I never really saw it myself... until about 5 years ago, when I came across that second photo [John Savage "Later"] and nearly fell out of my chair! I almost felt like I was looking into a mirror.

You really oughter see HAIR; I think you might like it (if for nothing else but the music). I have the DVD if ya ever wanna borrow it.

~ D-FensDogg
'Loyal American Underground'

OhJessie said...

Part1 -
Whoah, you know, Stephen first of all this is a wonderful review! Second, I really only recently noticed how late it had been made ('79 right?) So I said, "Ah, the genius; the hippie era was over, and Milos took the most symbolic icon/representation of it and memorialized it so it wouldn't be lost. Genius!" But it still hadn't occurred to me that so many people hadn't seen it; I guess I saw it when it came out and then watched it every time it was on HBO or whatever. (But we were fortunate to have that at a time when most people still didn't even have cable at all.) But I am old enough to remember when it was a traveling theater production and all over the radio too; Aquarius was my favorite song when I was very little - I really thought that whenever my parents or whoever turned on the radio and I asked them to find it (and they always did) that it was always playing for me. It was on Mary Tyler Moore where the bohemian Phyllis tells Mary she's taking her daughter, Beth, to see "Hair" (stage production obviously) and Mary was shocked (and the audience was laughing in shock too) - she was like "Isn't that a little...racy? There's a nude scene..." But Phyllis was like that. (God bless Chloris Leachman.)

You have to admire the way the man digs in to a story and gets the beating heart of it onto the screen somehow. (With Cuckoo's Nest, for example, he changed the story and the main character quite a bit from the book - which if you haven't read, please DO - it's not only about the barbarity of the lobotomy period, it's also a metaphor for big government - the "combine"-; yet he still caught the heartbeat of it somehow. Probably because he bothered to read it and he always takes the same care when translating things to film.)

OhJessie said...

Part 2 - I well remember hippies all over the place; I never asked about them, they were just a fact of life. Though my parents were not hippies or you'd be talking to "Moonbeam" or something. I horrified my mother one time when this dude all decked out like Easy Reader from Electric Company sporting an afro like 2 feet wide was walking towards us, and I pointed and yelled "Mommy! He looks just like a buffalo!" Oh she was worried, but he didn't even blink.

"Berger’s brief visit with the folks back home is a gem (with a delightful cameo by Antonia Rey playing his mom). And then there’s that surprise ending with its growing sense of claustrophobia and impending doom swallowing up the helpless George Berger – another example of Forman’s artistic vision brilliantly executed."

Yes, two of the best parts of the film. When his mother takes him aside and he gives her the jeans...sigh. Brilliant. And then the horror of what happens to Berger. Splendid bits of filmmaking there. And the field they cut to - well I won't give it away, apparently a couple people haven't seen it. Get thee to a video store and rent it immediately! You'll end up buying it, but rent to start ;)

Now someone named disc and is into music absolutely NEEDS to see this and own the soundtrack! Like I say, Aquarius is my song...when they open with that - wow; and what a singer she is. And the blonde guy, when he's in jail and they try to cut his hair - and he says he wouldn't kick Mick Jagger out of his bed hehe. I forget how many genuinely funny moments there are. Naturally Nell Carter doing White Boys/Black Boys is hilarious. And you really get a sense of how screwed up this alleged "social justice" movement is when Lafayette (I don't even know no Lafayette!) just walks away from his girlfriend and baby. When she asks the other pregnant girl how she can possibly not care who the father of her baby is...yeah, reality check time. Hippies had this idea that they could all just sort of "share" babies. Yeah, doesn't work that way.

Well thank you for inviting me here and putting this up for me :) Both confirmed Milos fans, obviously :D

OhJessie said...

Also, Keith Partridge wore ruffles and velvet (not that he wanted to; he really did want to do hard rock) and Greg Brady? He's not even on the register. Love both shows and all but on the scales of coolness, yeah, no. But then that was television. Sanitized versions of reality that bear little to no resemblance to it.

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

SHREDDER ~
>>> . . . Whoah, you know, Stephen first of all this is a wonderful review!

Thank you! Naturally, I hoped you might like it.

>>> . . . But I am old enough to remember when it was a traveling theater production and all over the radio too;

Yup, me too. It seemed that EVERYONE I knew - younger than “old” - owned the Broadway musical soundtrack.

>>> . . . (With Cuckoo's Nest, for example, he changed the story and the main character quite a bit from the book - which if you haven't read, please DO

I haven’t, although I have read some stuffs about differences between the book and the movie, and a couple of them were so disturbing that I’m not sure I’d really want my view of the movie altered by some of those more “gritty” and “demented” events.

I’ve thought about reading it over the years, but...

>>> . . . it's not only about the barbarity of the lobotomy period, it's also a metaphor for big government - the "combine"-

I have told people that it’s the best political movie ever made (and I seriously mean that!)

>>> . . . I pointed and yelled "Mommy! He looks just like a buffalo!"

Ha! Opinionated and politically incorrect even back then, eh?

>>> . . . And you really get a sense of how screwed up this alleged "social justice" movement is when Lafayette (I don't even know no Lafayette!) just walks away from his girlfriend and baby.

Yep. That’s one place where Forman really shined a light on the narcissistic, hypocrisy of the Hippie movement. Great, great, great scene! And the way Berger suddenly and almost unexpectedly becomes “the voice of reason and sanity”.

>>> . . . Well thank you for inviting me here and putting this up for me :) Both confirmed Milos fans, obviously.

Thanks for stopping by and checking it out!

~ D-FensDogg
‘Loyal American Underground’

Peter said...

Hello again, Stephen. Hope you are keeping well. We were in contact last year. If you recall, I recommended a film by Jean-Pierrre Melville called Léon Morin, Priest. You mentioned that you had bought a copy of it. What did you think of the film? I hope you enjoyed it.
Peter

Peter said...

Kenneth Branagh is a very good actor. He was excellent in his role as Wallender on television. His filmed version of Hamlet is one of his best films.

My favorite Treat Williams role was in Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead.

Marjorie said...

The problem with blogging in the morning is that you have more "blond moments". haha!

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

PETER ~
Howdy! Yes, sure I remember you. You're the kind gentleman (in Ireland, as I recall) who made me aware that the original version of 'Monte Walsh' was now available on DVD. (I bought 3 copies of it.)

In fact, on several occasions I have thought of you and wondered where you disappeared to so suddenly.

And yes, I did get a VHS copy of Jean-Pierrre Melville's 'Léon Morin, Priest'.

It's a movie I will definitely want to watch again at some point as it took me a bit by surprise the first time. I thought it was "interesting", and I am NOT using "interesting" as a euphemism for "bad".

I was very much intrigued by the characters and the storyline; what caught me by surprise was the ending, that seemed to leave everything unresolved.

Of course, realistically speaking, an unresolved ending like that makes sense, it's just that we Americans are accustomed to a different style of storytelling. I'm sure you've noted a pretty drastic difference between American movies and (what I would call) "Foreign" movies, generally.

In some ways (which I will refrain from describing in detail), I can really identify with the priest character, and the sort of closed yet open-ended denouement of the relationship between the priest and the woman is something I can relate to. Unfortunately.

Now that I don't have expectations about where the story might be going, I will watch it again someday and pay closer attention to some of the details I may have overlooked due to those (American movie-induced) expectations I came in with.

I have never even heard of "Wallender", but then I have watched very, very little television since about 1992.

I have heard of "Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead" but never seen it. I will add it to my NetFlix queue.

Over the years, I had only watched a couple of scenes here and there of Treat Williams' "Prince Of The City", and the day after posting this blog bit, I also added that movie to my NetFlix queue.

It's difficult to believe that, for me, either movie will match his performance in "Hair", because I thought he just OWNED the screen in "Hair" in a way that few actors or actresses ever have. But we shall see.

Thanks for checking in again, Brother.

~ D-FensDogg
'Loyal American Underground'

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

MARJORIE ~
Ha! I understand. I think the important thing is that we don't REMAIN blonde.

Hey, methinks you ought to rent "Hair". (A little birdie told me you're an ex-hippie. But even if you're not, I think you'll dig the movie, at least to some degree. Treat Williams really put on a show. Charisma up the wahzoo.)

~ D-FensDogg
'Loyal American Underground'

Marjorie said...

Stephen, I took your advice and saw Ordinary People today. It brought tears to my eyes at least 4 different times. The scene that really struck me was when his mother was setting the table and he had this vulnerability that just said , "love me" when all he really said was her name. And she was just more distant and cold than ever. I wanted to cry for him and punch her in the face. Great great movie thank you for pushing me to actually watch it.

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

Dang, MARJORIE, you don't waste any time. That’s great! I’m so pleased you liked it. I was SURE you would because, based on what little I actually know about you, it seemed to me that this was EXACTLY the sort of movie you would appreciate and identify with.

I haven’t seen ‘Ordinary People’ for ages. I’ll guesstimate that the last time I saw it was circa 1990, when my friend ‘The Kansas Kid’ and I were collecting ‘Top 25 Favorite Movies’ lists from everyone we knew.

But what’s oddly coincidental is that just last week I purchased the movie for the first time – a used DVD copy for $5. from a Blockbuster Video store near me that was closing (and now has closed) its doors.

I haven’t watched the DVD yet, but it’s sitting next to my TV, waiting for the first opportunity.

I would have been EXTREMELY surprised if you didn’t like ‘Ordinary People’ a great deal. It’s good to know that I must have some basic awareness of where you’re comin’ from.

I may even try to find that particular scene you mentioned and watch it tonight before I go to bed.

One of the less intense scenes that I always liked, and which has stuck with me all these years, is the one where Timothy Hutton has met that girl and they seem to be clicking, and he’s walking home and singing like a love-struck kid. I’ve known that feeling, and he played it spot-on!

~ D-FensDogg
‘Loyal American Underground’

Marjorie said...

I really loved that singing scene. It was one of the few lighthearted moments where you know that this kid might just be okay. Plus, I'm one of those people who sings when I'm in my comfort zone. I just burst out singing if I'm in a good mood and at home.

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

MARJORIE ~
I'm sitting here with a toothbrush in my mouth (literally!), preparing for bed. (The one place where I NEVER brush my teeth is the bathroom. Go figure.) I watched the whole movie. Which means we saw it on the same day.

Every bit as good as I remembered it being. So many memorable scenes. I remember watching it on the big screen all those times and thinking someday I would find a girl like Maureen McGovern. (Is that her name? The actress who played Hutton’s love interest?)

Dang, Timothy Hutton was SO GOOD in this movie! He was SO “James Dean”!

You’ve seen James Dean in ‘East Of Eden’, right? If not, run, don’t walk! Dean established the high-water mark in that scene where he gives his dad – as a birthday gift - all the money he’d lost on his farming experiment. In my opinion, all dramatic scenes must be graded against that one, for Dean set the standard.

I guess this was just an ‘Ordinary People’ kind of day, eh?

~ D-FensDogg
‘Loyal American Underground’

Marjorie said...

I have never seen James Dean in anything. I did read East of Eden. That is a great read! I guess I will have to watch the movie now.

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

MARJORIE ~
Yeah, I read 'East Of Eden' also. Steinbeck is one of my all-time favorite authors. The movie, however, is based only on a small segment of the book. It's great!

~ D-FensDogg
'Loyal American Underground'

Arlee Bird said...

I bought the Hair DVD a while back and my wife and I watched it a couple years ago. She doesn't like musicals very much, but she did seem to enjoy the film more that I would have expected. I too liked the film, not having seen it when it originally came out. Your assessment that the film came out at the wrong time to be appreciated is quite correct I think.

Our "hippie" culture in East Tennessee was more like mountain man or country boy hippies. We weren't so much antiwar or counterculture like the California hippies, but more get-high and raise-hell and do outdoor mountain things redneck hippies. We were closer to traditional conservative values that much of the counter-culture movement of that time.

Those were some good times. Wish I had a time machine to go back for a visit to see if we were idiots or what.

Lee
Tossing It Out
Twitter hashtag: #atozchallenge

Peter said...

Stephen,
I noticed you like 'True Grit'. Have you seen the remake by the Coen Brothers? I liked it a lot. They have made some really enjoyable films. 'The Hudsucker Proxy' is another good movie by them.

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

BOID ~
>>> . . . Those were some good times. Wish I had a time machine to go back for a visit to see if we were idiots or what.

Yeah, I hear ya. I sometimes wonder if the boys and I were really as funny as we seemed, or was it just the booze laughin'?


PETER ~
No, Brother, I haven't seen the 'True Grit' remake. I heard a variety of opinons from people I know personally, from "absolutely terrible" to "fairly entertaining".

Even if I thought I would enjoy it, I wouldn't be too likely to see it, as I have kind of a negative view of Hollywood remaking movies that have been established as "classics". And 'True Grit' would certainly qualify, in that the original won an Academy Award for John Wayne, a true American icon.

I LOVE the original, and Wayne is my favorite silver screen personality, so I was sort of aghast just hearing that a remake was in the works.

I didn't really mind that 'Monte Walsh' was remade (even though the remake wasn't nearly as good as the original) because 'Walsh' wasn't considered a Hollywood classic (except by a small group of us Western aficionados) and was mostly unknown to people in general.

Making movies about comic book superheroes, old television series shows and remaking the earlier classic movies from Hollywood (such as Judy Holliday's 'Born Yesterday'; 'Miracle On 34th Street'; 'The Longest Yard' - yeah, to me 'The Longest Yard' was a "classic"; and worst of all, Marlo Thomas having the arrogance to attempt a remake of 'It's A Wonderful Life') just indicates to me a real dearth of new ideas in Hollywood.

The only old classic I can think of that was remade and done as well as the original was 'Father Of The Bride'. But the remake was sufficiently different to justify its retelling, and I thought both versions were equally good in different ways.

But yeah, I'm generally not a fan of remakes, and especially when the orignal is a classic, or at least highly esteemed.

~ D-FensDogg
'Loyal American Underground'

Anonymous said...

">>> . . . I pointed and yelled "Mommy! He looks just like a buffalo!"

Ha! Opinionated and politically incorrect even back then, eh? "

Did you ever imagine me as anything but opinionated? LOL.

But seriously, I don't even know HOW I knew about buffalo then - was it Marlin Perkins??? I mean I was like THREE. There was no real way to know about buffalo (not on the east coast); so how the hell did I come up with that? And so...so SUDDENLY? And...BUFFALO? Where did THAT come from?

Poor mom, she was so scared (but then she was taught to fear negros) (hey, did you know this spell-check underlines negroes and negros both?) Apparently since my grnadmother was almost raped by black men that makes negros verboten.) but like I say the guy didn't blink an eye. Hell, he knew he was a freak with that insane afro. (OMG spell-check even checks "afro" wtf?) Why? We grew up with Morgan Freeman the Easy Reader! WTF?

Hair...**I** grew up with an afro and though I was tormented for it, I say it grows character. Guess I gotta, since what other choice do I have? LOL. (Oh, "gotta" doesn't get spell-checked.)

Ok, I'm gonna lay some words on you - easy reader - give it a minute http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5u8MY7PjSXU (The guy I saw had an afro about 12 inches wider lol.)
Next to come - the RIGHT way to ask congress for money.

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

McSHREDDER ~
>>>....Did you ever imagine me as anything but opinionated? LOL.

Well, you know, you're such a wallflower, so shy and blushing that...

Ha! Alright, enough of that load of BS-ing.

>>>....But seriously, I don't even know HOW I knew about buffalo then - was it Marlin Perkins??? I mean I was like THREE. There was no real way to know about buffalo (not on the east coast); so how the hell did I come up with that? And so...so SUDDENLY? And...BUFFALO? Where did THAT come from?

Aww, heck, the two things ALL kids know about are dinosaurs and buffalo. They don't even need to be taught about them; all kids come into this life utterly fascinated by and knowledgeable about dinosaurs and buffalo. It's just some natural, instinctual thang that children are born with.

>>>....(Oh, "gotta" doesn't get spell-checked.)

Ha!-Ha!
Well, I guess perhaps that makes sense. I mean, "Gotta" has become an American classic.

How 'bout "Palooka"? Does that get dinged by Spell-Check? Hopefully not. "Palooka (It's A Grand Old American Name)". [Google that along with "Clyde McCoy" and you'll discover just how FAR OUT there - how eclectic - my taste in music is!]

>>>....Ok, I'm gonna lay some words on you - easy reader - give it a minute http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5u8MY7PjSXU (The guy I saw had an afro about 12 inches wider lol.)

Aww, shoot, Shredder, that ain't hard to believe. Heck, half of the Black guys pictured in my 1974 junior high school yearbook have afros four times that big. No, seriously, truthfully, I no kidding you-uh!

~ D-FensDogg
'Loyal American Underground'