Watch 52 musicals, one every week, in 2015.
“Hey, it’s that musical about hippies.” That’s what I knew about Hair going in. Coming out… pretty much the same assessment. But is it a good musical about hippies? Or will all this sunshine and starshine have you reaching for the moonshine? HA HA HA, GREAT JOKE, BILL, YOU’RE THE KING, EVERYONE DRINKS MOONSHINE AND THAT MAKES SENSE. Anyway, Hair!
It’s Vietnam times and square blue-collar Oklahoma farm boy Claude Hooper Bukowski (John Savage) heads to New York City to enlist in the Army. He wants to enjoy a couple days of freedom before doing so, however, and he meets a bunch of smelly assholes that live in Central Park.
They waft right off of the screen.
Lest you think I label them “assholes” from some deep-seated hippie hatred, you should know that they harass everybody in the park, get Claude jailed for crashing the party of a woman he’s attracted to, and invite her skinny dipping only to steal her clothes. If we’re supposed to like these dickbags, the movie has done a poor job of letting us know.
The usual shitheads.
I guess the hippies kind of redeem themselves by coming up with the shittiest plan in the world to save Claude from boot camp, but one noble yet ill-conceived act of selflessness doesn’t really change the fact that they’re pretty insufferable people. I hope shortly after the events of the movie, Claude just gives a half-hearted, “Well, thanks,” and gets the hell away from these dopes.
I’m not saying this was a terrible story, just a simple one, and it feels like it was padded out with hippie shenanigans. Maybe it’s a bad translation from stage to screen, but I came away thinking both the military and the hippies were misguided idiots, and I don’t think I was supposed to.
John Savage’s performance as Claude Bukowski was very strange. He seemed generally confused and out of it the entire time, which was perhaps an intentional choice to convey a sense of disillusionment, but it didn’t work for me. It makes sense when he sees homeless people doing choreography in the park, but it’s also his expression for the rest of the movie. I wrote in my notes that he constantly looks like an Aryan Conan O’Brien post-orgasm, and I’ll stand by that.
His face says, “Huh? Okay,” in every scene.
Honestly, Claude is the only character in the whole movie with clear motivations, so while I could complain about everyone else’s performances, I suppose they did the best they could with the disjointed script they were handed. Take, for instance, Beverly D’Angelo, whose poor little rich girl Sheila Franklin is shown to have a rebellious streak when she’s seen smoking the reefer weeds in secret, but also she hates the park hippies, but also she comes to like them when one of them repeatedly tries to feel her up? But also she’s in love with Claude? What would you do with that role? Whatever Beverly did is fine enough.
And now, hippie speed run!
Treat Williams is George Berger! He’s the foofy-haired one that talks the most and irritates everybody until the end where suddenly he really cares! Acceptable performance!
Hey, this is Hair, not The Wiz!
Annie Golden is Jeannie Ryan! She’s preggers! She’s kinda ditzy and loopy but harmless! She chews gum! Acceptable performance!
Chew go, girl!
Dorsey Wright is LaFayette “Hud” Johnson! He’s black and he’s proud! Fuck your racism! But also he’s such a gigantic dick to his fiancée in one scene that she sings an entire song about his cruelty! Okay! Acceptable performance!
Was I supposed to like you? I’m rethinking this whole movie!
Don Dacus is a fourth hippie! Performance!
Get a haircut!
THE SONGS AND DANCES:
With all that glowing indifference for the story and the acting, you might think I really hated this flick, but let me tell you, the tunes go a long way. Probably the most musically up my alley of all the movies I’ve watched so far for this experiment, the funk soundtrack really helps me forget that not a lot is happening for most of the runtime. Still, there are problems with these numbers, ones that should become apparent as I recount the hits. Let’s begin!
The first song out of the gate (that I already knew thanks to The 40-Year-Old Virgin) is “Aquarius,” and HOLY SHIT. It is amazing, and vocalist Ren Woods FUCKING BRINGS IT. It perfectly captures the contrast of New York hippies with the quiet life of rural Oklahoma. The lyrics are all about… astrology or something… while a bunch of weirdos flail around the park… and police horses dance… but man, what a tune.
Don’t feed them, they’ll follow you home.
And then Berger and Fourth Hippie sing “Sodomy” on a horse. It’s a fine introduction to their characters, as they list off as many sex terms as possible to piss off uptight people. Because their characters like to piss people off, you see. Anyway, the song’s pretty funny, though it kinda just comes out of nowhere and then disappears…
Berger sings “Donna” while Claude is trying to win the attention of… Sheila? What? Okay, hold on, are these songs deliberately only tangentially related to what’s happening? Who is Donna? From the lyrics we can gather that she’s somebody Berger heard is a gorgeous sixteen-year-old virgin from San Francisco, but we never see her or hear about her again. Are any of these tunes going to tie in directly with the plot?
Is that a shrug? Do you hippies know what you’re doing?
If you were hoping Hud gets to sing his own introductory number, he sure does! It’s called “Colored Spade,” and it is 97% a list of ethnic slurs for blacks! I’m no dummy, I get it’s supposed to be mocking racism in America, but it’s still pretty uncomfortable thinking about the fact that it was written by three white guys.
Picture any one of them telling him to take it again from the top.
After that is “Manchester,” which is an okay song, but I’m going to wait until its reprise to talk about it, because instead I’d like to focus on the fact that many of these numbers don’t even break two minutes. It’s baffling. Music fades in, people move around, lyrics with a very loose connection to the story come out, and then gone. It’s a weird way to musical, is all I’ll say.
So, let me skip twenty-nine more of these mini-tunes and get to Berger busting in on Sheila’s hoity-toity party with “I Got Life,” as he dances on the table and names off body parts he has. It’s fun, but this is the third song that’s basically just a list, so I think we can call Hair the BuzzFeed of musicals.
17 Reasons Why Standing in Someone’s Dinner is Everything
Shit, I really hope I learn why this musical is named after follicles… oh, good, a song called “Hair.” Fourth Hippie is asked to get a trim and staunchly refuses, and when a prison psychologist asks him why, this number breaks out. You see… he doesn’t know, but, thankfully, they list all the different ways hair can be styled, because lists are lyrics. I guess.
The prisoners riot, demanding more creative songs.
Let’s see, Claude takes LSD and there are a bunch of weird tunes…
Aryan Conan O’Brien mid-orgasm?
…and then later he sings “Where Do I Go?” which may be the first truly visually interesting sequence in the film (and I say this after an acid trip scene with flames and wire work). Claude questions his place in the world as a bustling city sidewalk crowd begins changing direction simultaneously and finally drops to its knees to single him out. It’s a neat effect that enhances a somewhat forgettable song.
That or somebody dropped 400 quarters.
Oh, continuing the trend of songs I just don’t fucking understand, the army recruiters break into two ridiculously chipper ditties called “Black Boys” and “White Boys,” in which they sing of the pleasures of fucking males of either race. This is intercut with hippie women in the park singing about the same subject, and straight up, I do not get the commentary here. Army recruiters are all secretly attracted to their potential soldiers? Race is as important in combat as it is during sex? McCarthyism? That’s always a safe bet for baffling symbolism. Yep, it’s totally McCarthyism.
Wait! I take it back! It’s the Japanese shift from feudalism to capitalism!
When Hud’s fiancée (Cheryl Barnes) shows up unexpectedly and asks him to come home and take care of his own kid, he flips out about how she’ll never understand his hippie ways, causing her to belt out “Easy to Be Hard,” in which she laments how cold and unfeeling hippies are. This is sort of the moment in which I thought we were supposed to hate the hippies, for caring more about social injustices than the people right in front of them. Or is she a villain, and she’ll just never get the movement, man? If so, maybe don’t show her child crying while she sings the saddest song in the world.
Crazy set of pipes on this downtrodden woman.
Hey, I think I’ve heard “Good Morning Starshine” before! I can’t wait to see its context in this film—oh, a road trip. It’s just a dopey thing to sing on a road trip. Okay.
Come on, Beverly D’Angelo, why not sing “Holiday Road“? I know you know it!
Okay, and now we need to talk about “Manchester,” but we’re gonna get into spoiler territory. So “Manchester” (which, side note, is about how Claude is fresh off the boat from England even though that’s not true at all because none of the songs in this movie make sense) has a line that goes like so: “I believe in God, and I believe that God believes in Claude, that’s me!” Its upbeat and happy when we first hear it, but it becomes dark and depressing when sung by Berger after he’s disguised in Claude’s military uniform and is accidentally shipped off to Vietnam. Thumbs up for a clever reprise. Thumbs down for the stupidest fucking plan I’ve ever heard.
He just had to switch clothes! He didn’t need to go back to boot camp! Dipshit!
Hey, I heard “Let the Sunshine In” at the end of 40-Year-Old Virgin too! It’s a really uplifting song! What’s the context for that?
I THINK THIS LINE’S MOSTLY FILLER:
Hey, I finally get a terrible lyric that fits the title of this section! “Good Morning Starshine,” which I’d like to remind you became a radio hit on its own, surprised me when I realized that nobody bothered to write actual words for half of its nonsense syllables. I’d like you to know that even the DVD subtitles said “fuck it” when confronted with this horseshit…
“Gliddy gloop gloopy, nibby nobby nooby, la la la lo lo,
Sabba sibby sabba, nooby abba nabba, le le lo lo,
Dooby ooby walla, dooby abba nabba,
Early morning singing song.”
Oh, Hair. What were you? A bad adaptation? A film too complicated for simple heroes and villains? A product of its time that hasn’t aged well? No matter what, I’m glad I checked you out. Your songs were catchy as all hell, even if your characters were confusing and your story was wobbly and your message still isn’t clear to me. Maybe I’ll check out the stage version at some point, but I don’t think I’ll be watching you again.
Oh, and Dear Musicals of the Eighties: Please have ten songs or less.