There are large expository gaps within the musical numbers in Milos Forman’s adaptation of Hair, as first pointed out by a Variety staff writer. I haven’t seen the musical on stage so I haven’t seen it done better. The songs in the film seem like a part of the conversation but director uses the songs to create one set piece after another. What he did to ‘Aquarius’ was awesome but it’s a song that no one can mess that up.
But with my second viewing, I discovered songs that I didn’t pay attention. In ‘Walking in Space,’ the song doesn’t perfectly match with the visuals, but I like the effort within the metaphor. The actress sings the song well. I don’t think it’s the best cast musical (the movie settled with actors who can kinda sing and kinda act, sometimes singing the most passionate songs with the deadest eyes I’ve seen in people), but there’s a little magic in the film when the vocals can sometimes hint on the pathos and beauty of the song they’re singing. It happens in this number.
Also, ‘Claude’s (John Savage) going to the Army’ is established in the beginning of the film instead of making it a shocking twist in the end. At least the movie has a story now instead of it being two hours of hippies – is that a pejorative? – dancing in Central Park. But with a little narrative, the audience lost the sincerity of the activist movement in the late 1960’s. Sheila (Beverly D’Angelo) stumbles into the hippies instead of being already a part of them. The film portrays guys like Berger (Treat Williams) as beggars, hustlers and apathetic deadbeats. Sure, there were probably a lot of beggars, hustlers and apathetic deadbeats within the movement, but they could have at least had a cast member who knows about the issues. Despite my limited knowledge, Hair is the most eloquent, articulate, incendiary, explosive musical I’ve listened to and this movie didn’t fully tap into those great qualities.
I hate watching movies that I used to like in high school, because the spark of rebellion I saw in those movies fade away.
Word vomit on the film’s context – there were a lot of movies in the ’70’s that tackled the ’60’s as the subject, like a nation took ten years to finally talk about the collective destruction and trauma. Most of those films were Vietnam War films, articulating the multiple deaths in a generation of men. But some focused on the counterculture and its battles fought at home, like Serpico, a film that portrayed a man’s limitless access to information and culture. Or Shampoo and Carnal Knowledge, about the feelings hurt during free love.
(p.s. I also forgot about Norman Jewison’s Jesus Christ Superstar, although it’s ambiguous as to which decade or time in history that the film is representing.)