The film glimpses into the social and political upheaval of the late 1960s when young people challenged traditional values and institutions. We’ve compiled a list of fascinating facts that cover everything from the plot and historical context to behind-the-scenes trivia about the film’s making. Whether you’re a die-hard fan or just discovering this film, there’s something on this list for everyone.
The Context Behind the Musical
Discussing the film without first discussing the pioneering play would be remiss. The idea for “Hair” was born within the buzz and energy of the counterculture and hippie movement. Creators James Rado and Gerome Ragni wanted to capture the same excitement on stage. They believed it was important to bring to life a moment in time that might have been lost to history otherwise.
Their endeavor was to help people experience what was happening on the streets – even if it was just a slice. And so, they drew inspiration from East Village youngsters, many of whom were rejecting mainstream society and dodging conscription during the Vietnam War. The creators even immersed themselves completely in the movement by growing their hair long. They had to play the part.
The Original Storyline
“Hair” is an electrifying story about a tribe of free-spirited hippies who champion peace and love during the tumultuous "Age of Aquarius" in New York City. As they embrace a bohemian lifestyle and fight against compulsory service in the Vietnam War, the play's protagonists, Claude, Berger, Sheila, and their friends navigate their romantic relationships and confront the conservative values of their families and society.
Claude Bukowski decides to either join the war and betray his pacifist beliefs or defy the draft as his comrades have done. “Hair” culminates in a powerful and poignant exploration of sacrifice and personal conviction and reflects the true dilemmas many youngsters experienced in those controversial days.
The Journey to Broadway
The journey of "Hair" from off-Broadway to Broadway began as a tale of two unemployed actors, James Rado and Gerome Ragni, who created a musical celebrating the hippie counter-culture. The show debuted at the Public Theatre in New York's East Village in 1967 and was scheduled for only fifteen previews and fifty performances.
But producer Michael Butler saw the show's potential and moved it to a nightclub near Broadway. The play finally made it to Broadway in April 1968 and was directed by Tom O'Horgan, becoming an impressive theatrical experience with 1,750 performances. It went on to have successful runs in various US and European cities, including a staggering 1,997 performances in London.
How Miloš Forman Discovered the Musical
In 1967, Miloš Forman stumbled upon the first off-Broadway performance of “Hair.” Although he couldn't understand the lyrics due to his rudimentary English skills, he was instantly captivated by the music's energy and spirit. Forman went backstage to meet the creators of the show.
He expressed his interest in turning the musical into a film to the creators James Rado, Gerome Ragni, and Galt MacDermot. He even asked to be a potential director for the film adaptation. The idea floated around, and nothing came of it for over a decade, but Forman continued to have a long-standing interest in the production.
Initially, the Stars Did Not Align
Miloš Forman was so enamored with the production that he wanted to bring it to Prague and adapt it for the theater there. He spent time with the creators, and the idea of a movie version kept coming up. There were unexpected and unusual setbacks, though. The creators believed in astrology and refused to make any decisions without consulting their guru.
Unfortunately for Forman, the guru wasn't on board with the project, and "Hair" slipped away time and again. Despite the astronomical setbacks, Forman never lost his love for "Hair," and it ultimately became a cultural phenomenon under his direction.
The Search for the Perfect Cast
Finding the right cast for the stage and film adaptations of “Hair” proved challenging. While James Rado and Gerome Ragni, who played Bukowski and Berger, respectively, were already part of the original cast, other roles still needed filling. Director Tom O'Horgan searched for real rock singers who were part of the street scene.
But many were not interested in theater or had no idea what Broadway was. The original Broadway version featured Diane Keaton, still relatively unknown at the time, singing "White Boys/Black Boys." However, when it came time to make the film, Keaton had become a big star and was no longer suitable for such a small role, so the part went to Ellen Foley.
An All-Star Ensemble
On April 29, 1968, the revolutionary production, directed by Tom O'Horgan and choreographed by Julie Arenal, took the stage with an all-star cast, including the original "tribe" members, Rado and Ragni, who played the lead roles of Claude and Berger. Alongside them was Lynn Kellogg as Sheila and Lamont Washington as Hud.
Sally Eaton and Shelly Plimpton reprising their off-Broadway roles as Jeanie and Crissy, Melba Moore as Dionne, Steve Urry as Woof, and the sensational Ronnie Dyson, who brought the house down with his showstopping performances of "Aquarius" and "What a Piece of Work is Man." The talented Paul Jabara and Diane Keaton (who both later played Sheila) added their star power to this unforgettable production.
Talk About an A-List Cast
Nothing beats the memorable onstage production of Hair. It brought so much to so many and even pulled a few big names out of its sleeve. Keith Carradine and Meat Loaf joined Mary Seymour, Barry McGuire, and Ted Lange, creating magic on stage together. To no one’s surprise, “Hair” became one of the most successful shows of the 21st century.
Hours of pure entertainment and ravishing moments of quality music were delivered to the audience. This was also a cultural turning point that defined and structured a whole generation. The influence it had on America in the 1970s lingers on until this very day, not only in theatre land but also in reality too.
John Savage, Claude Hooper Bukowski
John Savage, who played Claude Hooper Bukowski, portrays a talented and heartwarming actor, and his iconic role in “Hair” has grasped him global recognition. He has magnetic ways and provides an uncompromising performance. He is authentic, and captivating, and brings life into every character he embraced throughout his career.
In the movie, Savage manages to transport the viewers back to the glamorous 1960s and spreads the word about love, peace, and freedom. He is dedicated to his craft and infuses his roles with great emotions and unforgettable moments. He was not the producer's first pick, and he wasn’t guaranteed success, however, nowadays, we can’t imagine anyone else taking the role.
Avant Garde and Controversial
"Hair" challenged society and the conventions of its time. It was uneased due to its portrayal of nudity and its anti-Vietnam War messages. Many scenes and plot lines were introduced to a live audience for the first time and expressed in ways never heard of before. There were controversial moments, such as the desecration of the American flag, which led to acts of violence toward the show’s production.
Now if that wasn’t enough, there was more to come. “Hair” became the talk of the day and even reached the doors of the Supreme Court in more than one case. And with all of that, nothing could get the show off the stage, and it went on performing for many more years.
Forman’s Legendary Casting Process
The casting stage of the film adaptation was no piece of cake. Miloš Forman, the movie’s director, interviewed more than one thousand young actors looking for a chance to shine. He needed seven actors to play the seven leading roles. All actors had to have singing abilities, too, so the mission was challenging. Forman wanted new and unknown faces who could deliver something refreshing and unfamiliar.
John Savage was already a big name; however, Forman wasn’t about to let him go. Annie Golden, too, was already familiar, who impressed Forman when performing in "The Shirts." Together with these few recognized names, Forman collected fewer familiar faces and assembled a remarkable cast for the movie.
Forman on Casting Real People for Bit Roles
Miloš Forman shared his strategy for casting small parts. He often turned to real people to play these roles. According to Forman, bits are incredibly important, even if they only have a few lines. It was difficult to audition actors for all of them. Instead, he asked for real people to play these roles to lend realism to the film. Forman cast a real MP, judge, and psychiatrist for their respective roles.
He admitted to having learned the hard way not always to trust casting directors to choose actors for small roles. The director ended up having to cut two characters since the actors were terrible. Getting a non-actor to play their real-life role was better than a professional actor with no connection to the character.
The Film Premiere
Forman premiered his movie adaptation of "Hair" in 1979 at the Uptown Theater in Washington, D.C. The film garnered a rousing reception from the audience. President Jimmy Carter's foreign-policy advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, was also among the enthusiastic audience members at the American Film Institute benefit premiere. The after-party was a night to remember as disco tunes played, and Brzezinski invited the "Hair" crowd to attend the diplomatic show the following afternoon.
Given the political themes and portrayal of the anti-war movement, he was unsure of what to expect from the audience. Forman was pleasantly surprised that establishment figures and anti-war activists loved the film. For Forman, it was proof that these seemingly disparate groups had more in common than they realized. Everyone wanted peace.
Character Portrayals in the Film
In the musical version of “Hair,” Claude is already a part of the tribe when faced with the dilemma of receiving his draft card. However, in the film adaptation, Claude is portrayed as a naïve young man from Oklahoma who meets the tribe in New York before being drafted.
Meanwhile, Sheila is a prominent member of the tribe in the musical, but in the film, she is a socialite who seeks thrills by secretly spending time with the tribe. As for Berger, he remains a footloose and fancy-free character in the musical. In the film, he makes a sacrifice for Claude.
Treat Williams, George Berger
Treat Williams, the charismatic actor who graced the screens in the movie, mesmerized audiences with his electrifying presence and exceptional talent. With his rugged charm and commanding voice, Williams embodied the essence of his character, effortlessly capturing the spirit of rebellion and freedom that defined the new era of the 1960s. His dynamic portrayal torched the screen, infusing every scene with a palpable energy that resonated with viewers.
Williams's charisma drew audiences into his character's journey, allowing them to experience the euphoria, passion, and turmoil of the era alongside him. His boundless energy and loyalty to his role created a lasting impact, cementing Williams as a powerhouse performer and a cherished part of "Hair's" rich on-stage and on-screen history.
Plenty of Shakespeare References
As the film’s finale draws near, Berger's voice takes center stage, but the background singers' lines take on a Shakespearean twist. The third verse features excerpts from Romeo and Juliet, including the famous "...sealed with a righteous kiss" and "Eyes, look your last, arms take your last embrace." The hauntingly beautiful words of the Bard add depth to Berger's poignant moment.
The closing line, "The rest is silence," is a final nod to Hamlet, completing the powerful homage to two of Shakespeare's greatest works. By incorporating these iconic lines from Shakespeare, the filmmakers added depth and complexity to Berger's solo. It highlights themes surrounding love, loss, and the search for meaning in a changing world.
Nicholas Ray's Final Act
In the film adaptation of the musical "Hair," director Miloš Forman had only one casting regret - Nicholas Ray as The General. But it's not what you think. The General appears in the film's climactic scene to deliver a powerful monologue about the Vietnam War. Sources at Turner Classic Movies said Ray's performance was impressive, but he had to endure heavy smoke during his scene.
In a heartwrenching twist, Forman learned only weeks after filming that Ray was dying of lung cancer. It was likely that the heavy smoke Ray inhaled during filming exacerbated his condition and added a tragic element to his performance.
Adapting “Hair” for the Big Screen
The film adaptation of "Hair" may have retained most of its iconic songs from the original stage production, but there were significant plot changes. One notable change was Claude's background; in the stage production, he was the leader of the Tribe. In the movie, Claude is a young man from Oklahoma who joins the army. Miloš Forman, the film's director, explained that adjustments were necessary because the film required different techniques than stage productions.
Characters on stage can use songs to express themselves, but in film, the camera must show them from various angles and create close-ups to add dynamism. The Broadway musical also focuses on the US peace movement, while the movie captures the carefree spirit of the hippie lifestyle.
An Unexpected Plot Twist
The film version of "Hair" takes a different approach to Claude's death. Claude eventually decides to go to Vietnam in the musical, where he tragically loses his life. His death takes a more unexpected turn in the film. The tribe drives to Claude's Army training center to give him a tearful goodbye.
That's when his loyal friend Berger switches places with him so Claude can spend one final night with the tribe. Tragically, the soldiers get deployed that very night. Berger, still posing as Claude goes to Vietnam and tragically gets killed in action. The film is about the senselessness of war, but most of all, it is about friendship.
Cheryl Barnes: a Vocal Powerhouse
Ravishing Cheryl Barnes was familiar on Broadway before she gave a performance of a lifetime in the movie adaptation of Hair. The production of “Godspell” and "Jesus Christ Superstar" both were privileged to have Bernes as part of their cast. Her remarkable vocal range became her hallmark.
When she auditioned for ‘Hair,” Forman, the director, said that she was nothing like anything that ever came his way, and at the time, she left everyone in the auditioning room speechless. He had never experienced anything like it before. Bernes ended up playing Hud’s fiancé, and she slipped perfectly into the role.
The Music was Different
When adopting "Hair" from the stage to the screen, significant changes were made to the plot, resulting in the rearrangement, shortening, and alteration of many songs. Ten songs from the musical did not make it into the film, while two were used only as background or instrumentals. Composer Galt MacDermot wrote a new song called "Somebody to Love."
The filmmakers removed a few verses from "Manchester, England" and a small portion of "Walking in Space." Although the characters in the movie do not sing "Don't Put It Down" and "Somebody to Love," both songs are used as background or instrumental music for scenes at the army base. These changes allowed the film to tell its unique story while incorporating some of the beloved songs from the original musical.
Aquarius, Phenomenal on Stage and on Screen
“Aquarius” opens the gate to a whole new language in theoretical music, and for many viewers, the version of this song as presented in the movie is the most captivating one. This number is undoubtedly the one that stands out the most, both in the Broadway and wide-screen versions, and serves as a perfect introduction to the movie.
The exquisite vocal abilities of Renn Woods are astonishing, and unsurprisingly, she was considered one of the best singers in the movie. The film adaptation of “Hair” is a vibrant, colorful, and often chaotic portrayal of such a unique time in history when music took such a significant part and made it so incredibly special.
Beverly D'Angelo, Sheila Franklin
Beverly D'Angelo, a luminary in her portrayal in the movie "Hair," left an indelible imprint on the hearts of audiences. With her uncompromising presence and unique vocals, D'Angelo brought depth and complexity to her character, creating a mesmerizing performance. Her portrayal effortlessly embodied the free-spirited, independent women of the era. D'Angelo's powerful voice soared through the screen, infusing each note with passion and emotion, leaving audiences fascinated.
Beyond her musical prowess, D'Angelo's ability to convey a range of emotions with nuance and subtlety showcased her exceptional acting skills. Her portrayal resonated deeply, evoking laughter and tears, as she captured her character's hopes, dreams, and struggles and the era they represented. D'Angelo escalated her Hollywood career, and we enjoyed watching her in many huge hits that followed.
The Massive Effort Behind Spectacular Musical Sequences
For many, “Let the Sunshine” is what the entire story is all about, and the song, both in the musical and in the movie, brings a memorable and iconic scene. The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, is where the scene was shot, and the production had to recruit thousands of extras to fill the background; overall, 20,000 people were responsible for the magnificent outcome.
One of the most memorable moments in the movie, and in this scene alone, was the thousands of dancers and singers against the Lincoln Memorial. It stands as a powerful symbol of the counterculture movement and the shout for peace during those difficult and controversial times.
Thematic Differences in the Film
When you think of the 1960s, it’s almost impossible not to think about the hippie movement, which was in full swing at the time. By the time the movie came out, the movement had already passed its prime; however, controversial topics such as prejudice, intimate freedom, and substance use not going anywhere.
The movie became a retrospective of the effects the movement contributed to that era; however, it provides a wider vision of the overall influence. The movie lacks depth and personal connections to the themes. It does not explore them to an extent. It attempts to examine the hippies but doesn’t analyze the movement so the viewers can deeply understand it.
The Voice Behind “Walking in Space”
The name Betty Buckley may not sound familiar at first, however, if we mention the “Walking in Space” song in the movie adaptation of “Hair,” you will know exactly what we are referring to. Buckley provides her beautiful voice to the Vietnamese girl in this song, providing a memorable and powerful scene.
It expresses the yearning for peace and freedom and sharing the chaos the war left behind. The emotions in the song cannot be ignored. Although she only plays a minor part in the movie, Buckley deserves much more credit for her role. It is small and short, however, it leaves a mark that lingers on the way after the movie ends.
How 10,000 Extras Brought the Hippie Movement to Life
The Central Park sequences in the film involved a staggering number of extras and background artists. Approximately 10,000 New York residents participated in several memorable scenes in the film. These sequences were shot on location in Central Park and included musical numbers such as "Colored Spade," "Ain't Got No" (also known as "I'm Black"), and "Aquarius" (also known as "The Age of Aquarius").
The sheer number of people involved in these scenes adds to the vibrant and energetic atmosphere of the film. Their presence infused a sense of community and togetherness, personifying the core values of the hippie movement in the ‘60s.
George Lucas Almost Directed the Film
George Lucas was not bypassed when the thoughts of a director for “Hair” came to the working table. As he was focusing on “American Graffiti” at the time, Lucas had to turn it down, unaware of the significance the movie was about to bring with it; however, we don’t underestimate the success of “American Graffiti” and the classic it became.
The film's final version, directed by Miloš Forman, was embraced by the audience and received great phrases from the critics. The movie couldn’t have been treated any other way as it presents Forman’s unique vision and interpretation of the theme.
Bruce Springsteen and Madonna Auditioned for the Film
During casting for the film, a young and unknown Madonna, along with music legend Bruce Springsteen, were among the many aspiring actors and musicians who auditioned for roles. That’s right. Neither one made the film, but their auditions are a testament to the popularity and cultural significance of the production.
It also speaks to the allure of Hollywood at the time. It's fascinating to imagine what could have been if Madonna or Springsteen had been part of the film. Would it have launched their careers even earlier? Or would the film's legacy be different altogether? A classic case of what could have been.
Annie Golden, Jeannie Ryan
As Jeannie, Annie Golden effortlessly captured the spirit of youthful rebellion and hope, embodying the essence of the turbulent 1960s. Golden's vibrant performance and powerful vocals resonated with audiences, evoking a range of emotions. Her portrayal of Jeannie showcased both vulnerability and resilience, captivating viewers with her raw and heartfelt delivery.
She was the immature and childish member of the clan that tagged along, however, her innocent was what softened and eased their rough existence. Beyond her remarkable performance in "Hair," Golden's versatile career in theatre and film has cemented her as a respected and cherished artist, leaving a lasting impact on the industry and earning her a dedicated fan following.
Pockets of Sanity While Filmmaking
Filmmaking is a grueling and all-consuming process, taking a heavy toll on the mind and body. Miloš Forman knew this feeling all too well. He once shared that filmmaking consumed him. There was never a time when he didn’t feel exhausted and drained. He found himself constantly brooding about the film, even off-set, and could never relax completely.
Forman turned to games to break free from this endless cycle of preoccupation. He played chess, pool, pinball, tennis, and cards. Playing games allowed him to take his mind off the work and give him the mental space he needed to recharge.
Stage Vs Screen
Gerome Ragni and James Rado, and composer Galt MacDermot expressed their dissatisfaction with the film adaptation of "Hair.” They believed the film did not capture the true essence of the hippie movement. According to them, the film portrayed hippies as "oddballs" and failed to show their complexities or connections to the peace movement.
They remarked that, aside from some songs, character names, and the title, the film version had little resemblance to the original Biltmore production. The original creators maintained that an authentic and accurate adaptation of “Hair” has yet to be made for the screen. Just some food for thought.
Many Critics and Fans Loved The Film
Truth be told; not everyone was happy with the movie version of “Hair.” While the musical production team was not entirely satisfied with the movie version, the audience seemed to prefer it over the Broadway on-stage original take. The soundtrack of the movie became a huge hit, and the overwhelming energetic performances were highly appreciated.
The fans of the original stage performance enjoyed the movie interpretation, and we can safely say that despite its detractors, it was a success. Forman only adopted some highlighted moments from the original plot and built a unique storyline that could have been thought of independently.
Accolades and Recognition
The film "Hair," directed by Miloš Forman and based on the hit Broadway musical, took the world by storm with its catchy tunes and groovy visuals. It was a film that captured the spirit of the 1960s and touched the hearts of audiences around the world. And it didn't go unnoticed by the award-giving bodies.
Lead actor John Savage's performance earned him a New Star of the Year in a Motion Picture—Male nomination. The film also earned a nomination for Best Foreign Film at the 1980 César Awards, one of France's most prestigious film awards. Although it ultimately lost to Woody Allen's "Manhattan," it was still an honor to be recognized among some of the year's best films.
Unpacking the Message of “Hair:” Then and Now
The musical premiered on Broadway in 1967 - a time of political and social upheaval in the United States. Its themes of anti-war sentiment, free love, and counterculture ideals resonated with young people of the time, fast forward to a few years later, when the film adaptation was released in 1979, and the world had moved on from the counterculture movement.
The film inadvertently became a period piece on the late 1960s and early 1970s hippie movement. Since then, every production of “Hair” has been set in the past as a self-styled period piece. Modern-day audiences are mostly unaware of the political and social context behind the original musical. They are often surprised to learn that "Hair" was a symbol of the peace movement in the 1960s.
Intersection of Politics and Art
Miloš Forman, the director of the film adaptation of "Hair," reportedly planned to stage a production of "Hair" in his home country of Czechoslovakia. Things did not go as planned since the Soviet Union invaded the country in 1968, effectively ending the Prague Spring and resulting in a clampdown on artistic and cultural expression.
The experience left a deep impression on Forman, who was forced to flee the country. The rest is history. Forman's success in Hollywood is the stuff of legend. His interest in "Hair" was not just artistic. It was deeply personal. The musical represented creative freedom and rebellion against authority - themes that especially hit home for Forman.
The Unforgettable Nell Carter
Nell Carter made her iconic debut in the movie version of “Hair.” This was not her first time appearing on the widescreen, and she had had her time on the Broadway stage, however, her astonishing performance in the movie is what gave her wider awareness.
In the movie, Carter showcased her remarkable vocal abilities, and she takes part in the soundtrack. Playing part of the hippie clan was a kickstart to her fruitful career. She went on to receive an Emmy award for her performance in “Gimme a Break,” and she grasped a Tony nomination for her participation in “Aint Misbehavin.”
Suzette Charles: the Uncredited Voice of Frank Mill
In the film version of "Hair," the song "Frank Mills" was included originally. Suzette Charles played the role of Crissy and performed the song. Sadly, the song did not make it into the final movie. Charles eventually left the production as a result. Interestingly, Charles went on to become Miss America five years later after Vanessa Williams was disqualified.
Although the original RCA soundtrack doesn't credit the singers for the movie version, the souvenir program includes an extended play recording of selected songs from the film listing names of vocalists. It confirms that Suzette Charles sang "Frank Mills" in the movie.
Twyla Tharp's Film Choreography Debut
There is more than the cast and the soundtrack when considering a movie production. One of the remarkable parts of the movie version of “Hair” is the choreography. Twyla Tharp is the name behind the uncompromising dance in the movie. She is respectively known for her uncompromising contribution to ballet work, both on stage and on the widescreen.
The professional relationship between Tharp and Forman gave birth to unforgeable pieces of work, and Tharp managed to create wonderful pieces that merged perfectly with the plot’s time of age. Her work in ‘hair” set a foundation for Tharp’s future collaboration with the movie industry, including her involvement in huge hits like “Amadeus” and “Ragtime.”
Melba Moore and Ronnie Dyson Reprised Their Roles
There are a few unfamiliar names in the movie’s cast, Melba Moore and Ronnie Dyson being among them. Like many other members of the cast, the two were extreme performers who are remarkably remembered for their moving scenes in the movie adaptation of the phenomenal musical.
The movie's producer was not planning on giving either of them up and asked them to play their musical roles in the movie too, which they gladly did. Their incredible vocal performances were showcased when the two took part in the unforgettable “3-5-0-0” number. They went on to play roles in many other Broadway musicals, however, their part in “Hair” had become some sort of a hallmark.
Casting Took Over a Year
It took almost a year to complete the casting process for the movie. There was no compromising, and Forman, the movie’s director, was out there, seeking the perfect actor to match the perfect role. Bringing the musical characters to life on the big screen was not an easy task. The potential actors had to have the perfect features to suit their intended role and be brilliant at singing and dancing too. They needed the complete package.
There were many roles to fill, not only of the main clan but of the additional singers that contributed dramatically to the plot. It was never an option to compromise when casting for the minor roles in the movie, and the production insisted on having only the best for each part.
Forman on Why the Film Didn’t Do Well
Miloš Forman once shared his thoughts on why the film didn't do too well overall with critics and audiences. He said the film was too late to be relevant to the time it was depicting and too early to be considered a nostalgic throwback. Essentially, the movie missed its mark by not being able to effectively capture the cultural zeitgeist of the era in which it was set.
Despite its lukewarm reception upon release, "Hair" has become a beloved classic in the years since. It continues to resonate with audiences who appreciate its bold, daring, and unapologetic approach to storytelling.
The Film Struck a Chord With Forman
When Miloš Forman decide to go back to directing, it was after a four-year break from the movie industry. In 1976, Forman completed directing “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest,” which amazed the film industry. It was a masterpiece that hadn’t been seen before, and Forman received praise and deliverance.
It became one of the most appreciated movies of all time. Forman took a break from directing following his disappointment with the industry. He wanted to express his artistic views, however, there wasn’t always enough room for them. Only when the “hair” project came knocking on his door, that he decided to return to what he did best.
The Perfect Setting
“Good morning, Sunshine” is one of those moments when you cannot wipe off the grin from your face. It is one of the most memorable scenes in the movie adaptation of “Hair,” and the breathtaking location it was filmed only adds to and enriches the scenery. The gang in the car, singing their daily worries away, was filmed in the never-ending Nevada desert, and the production couldn’t choose a better sight.
America’s longest road, Highway 50, was the place to take the perfect shot. The attention of the viewers of the movie was completely locked onto the gang in the car, which was intended. The focus was on the catchy yet meaningful lyrics, and the bland and mysterious landscape behind them was what made it possible to be.
Forman Wore Multiple Hats
Miloš Forman was not just busy directing the film but also becoming an American citizen while filming took place. Forman also took on a new role as the head of the film department at Columbia University. Talk about juggling multiple responsibilities! Despite the added workload, Forman successfully balanced everything and brought his unique vision to life on the big screen.
Who knows, maybe his citizenship ceremony and new job title even served as inspiration for some of the themes in "Hair:" the pursuit of the American dream, the search for identity, and the importance of individual freedom. It all makes sense now.
In the courthouse scene, an intriguing revelation emerges, shedding light on the enigmatic character of Woof. It is unveiled that his full name, reflective of his true essence, is Woof Dachshund. Delving into this peculiar nomenclature, one cannot help but draw fascinating connections. The chosen name, Dachshund is synonymous with the endearing wiener dog breed.
It indicates potential parallels between Woof's personality and the distinctive traits attributed to these canine companions. Although the precise reasoning behind this name choice remains covered in mystery, it tantalizingly suggests that Woof might possess qualities akin to a wiener dog's charming, spirited nature, inviting curiosity and speculation among those who confront him.
The Film was a Smashing Success in Hungary
At first, the movie “Hair” wasn’t such a huge success. In 1980 it was a big hit in Hungary, but the audience wasn’t so impressed in the United States. The viewers found it difficult to let their hair down and embrace the freedom and new era the movie introduced, and themes of rebellion and youthful idealism were difficult to digest.
The regime in Hungary at the time was strict and limiting, so the people saw what they had been wishing for in the movie. The country’s political climate at the time was a restraint on the people, and the commercial success the movie brought, only emphasizes the statement it had on the cultural impact.
John Savage in Two Very Different War Films
You might have recognized John Savage from his remarkable performance in “The Deer Hunter” (1978), which came out just a year before “Hair.” Although both movies cover, in one way or another, the dark days of the Vietnam War, they couldn’t be more different in how they shine.
"The Deer Hunter" was a heartbreaking drama about how the war engraved its mark in so many soldiers’ souls, while on the other hand, “Hair” emphasizes what those who were against the war were hoping for. Savage’s performance in both movies was equally impressive, and both present his versatility and unique interpretation of the characters.
A Collaboration for the Ages
"Hair" was Miloš Forman and Michael Weller's first collaboration. This was followed by the 1981 historical drama "Ragtime," which was no less of a success. The two had a strong partnership, with Weller's writing and Forman's directing bringing out the best in each other's talents while respecting each other’s responsibilities. Unsurprisingly, their films became classics and will forever be appreciated in the industry.
"Hair" captures the unique spirit of the '60s culture and manages to reproduce the remarkable musical that was on stage not long before. "Ragtime" (1981) was an adaptation of E.L. Doctorow's novel that was a huge hit at the time. The film was a musical drama set in the early 20th century, exploring themes such as prejudice and social affairs, matters that anyone could relate to.
Lester Persky Enters the Picture
Picture this: It's 1972, and producer Lester Persky walks into a theatre to watch a show that will change his life forever. That show was "Hair," and Persky was so taken with it that he decided he had to make it into a movie. He shelled out $1,050,000 to buy the film rights from Michael Butler, the man who produced the original stage production.
Fast forward a few years, and Persky's dream becomes a reality when the film version of "Hair" is released in theatres. It may not have been a box office smash, but it certainly made an impact on audiences.
It was Fate that Miloš Forman and John Savage Should Meet Again
It seems like destiny may have had a big part to play in bringing together John Savage and Miloš Forman. John Savage had played the character of Billy Bibbit in the off-Broadway production of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," which won him the Drama Circle Award for Best Actor.
A few years later, Forman directed the play's film adaptation, which won several Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. It's a small world in the world of theatre and film. The universe conspired to bring these two together again, and they didn't disappoint fans with "Hair."
Let’s Not Forget Trudy Perkins was in the Film
Trudy Perkins is a name that might not immediately ring a bell, but chances are you've heard her voice before. In fact, if you've seen the 1978 comedy thriller "Foul Play," you've definitely heard her sing the on-camera vocal solo and theme song, "These Hands." And in "Hair," she joined forces with Nell Carter and Charlayne Woodard for the rousing number "White Boys."
Perkins was more than just a talented singer. She was a multi-talented performer who appeared on Broadway and in films throughout the 1970s and 1980s, earning praise for her performances in shows like "Ain't Misbehavin'" and "Your Arms Too Short to Box with God." Unsurprisingly, her voice is an integral part of the musical landscape of "Hair."
The Film Created Cinematic History in Germany
Thanks to Dolby Stereo technology, the German audience enjoyed “Hair” in their local language. The movie was dubbed into their local language, which became a huge success, paved the way, and introduced Dolby Stereo technology to the world. Modern technology was used in all languages and led the way to global recognition.
The German version of “Hair” was a box office hit, and it grossed over 12 million DM (local currency at the time). It was the most successful cinema entry that year in Germany and, since then, it has become one of the most successful foreign films in general.
Spain Wasn’t as Welcoming
The film only played for two days with subtitles in Madrid's Artistic Metropol theatre. It was surprising, given the time's high demand for foreign films. It's possible that the film's controversial themes and anti-establishment message did not resonate with Spanish audiences or that the movie simply did not receive much promotion or distribution in the country.
Unfortunately, there is not much more information available on the limited release of "Hair" in Spain. It does open up discussions on how the film industry operates in different countries and how cultural and language barriers can affect the distribution and reception of films.
The Film Won Hearts But Never Any Awards
You would have thought that such a remarkable movie like “Hair” would have won at least one award, but in fact, the truth is, it was nominated for a few but never grasped any. In 1980 “Hair” was nominated for two Golden Globe Awards, one for Best Motion Picture, Musical, or Comedy and one for Best Original Song Score.
Despite not winning any of these, the movie left its mark in the industry and, to this day, is considered a masterpiece, both in theme and in breaking boundaries. It inspired a new generation with new messages of love, freedom, and peace. The movie’s soundtrack is still constantly listed, and all lyrics are still very much relevant.
Reading Between the Lines
When it comes to the title of this movie, there's more than meets the eye. The "infinity symbol" over the letter "I" is not just a funky decoration; it actually changes the meaning of the word "hair." Instead of referring to the stuff on your head, the title can be read as "Har," a French verb infinitive meaning "to hate."
This is quite ironic, given that the musical is all about spreading love and rejecting war. It's a clever play on words that adds an extra layer of meaning to the title and highlights the counterculture movement's playful and subversive nature. It's no wonder that this musical is still beloved today and considered a classic of its time.
Things are Never What They Seem
The revelation in the film's final shot is a powerful moment that adds a deeper layer to the characters of Jeannie and Woof. Throughout the movie, it's implied that Hud is the father of Jeannie's baby, but the final shot contains subliminal messaging that suggests otherwise. Jeannie holds her baby, and Woof protectively places his arms around her.
Woof, not Hud, has been supporting her and the child. This twist is a testament to the film's storytelling and character development. It shows how the characters have grown and changed throughout the course of the story. It also serves as a poignant reminder that things are not always as they seem and that the truth can sometimes be unexpected.
Hud is Actually LaFayette “Hud” Johnson
Lest we forget, Hud’s full name is LaFayette Johnson. He is one of the main characters who eventually becomes a part of the hippie tribe. Hud comes across as a bit rough around the edges initially, but as the movie progresses, we see his softer side as well. His nickname 'Hud' is short for 'Hudson,' which is a reference to the Hudson River that runs near his hometown.
Moreover, his real name, LaFayette Johnson, also carries significant cultural and historical weight. LaFayette was the surname of the French general who played a major role in the American Revolution, and Johnson is a common surname in African-American communities.
The Filmmakers Worked With the Army for Some Scenes
Forman once shared that the US Army cooperated in making the film. He and screenwriter Michael Weller came up with an intense climax set at an Army base, where Claude, one of the main characters, undergoes infantry training. His hippie friends from New York unexpectedly show up, and chaos ensues. These scenes were shot at Fort Irwin, a National Guard installation in California.
Despite initial struggles, the Army eventually accepted the production, which was a significant achievement. Forman noted that this would never have happened in any other country. The soldiers were excellent to work with, and their authenticity and experience benefited the film.
Forman on His Best Casting Decision
Director Miloš Forman believed that his best casting discovery was Cheryl Barnes. Despite her years of experience as a professional singer, Barnes had never had a big break and was working as a maid to support herself when she auditioned for "Hair." The director knew from the first few notes that she had a special talent. When they finally shot her number in Washington Square, her acting matched her singing perfectly.
After filming in Barstow, Barnes decided to stay there and work as a waitress while the Army sequences were shot. She remained in Barstow for almost a year, playing the piano and composing her own songs. When Forman and the crew found her again, she moved to San Francisco and worked at Happy Doughnuts.
Why Forman Chose Michael Weller to Write the Film
In an interview, director Miloš Forman shared how challenging it was to find the right writer to do justice to the source material. He sifted through more than a dozen candidates before finally settling on playwright Michael Weller. Weller stood out from the pack for his ability to bring grounded realism to the story.
Forman said ninety percent of the writers he met had tired cliches about the 1960s—heavily psychedelic, where everything was a fantasy world. Weller was able to capture the funny contradictions of the counterculture era, having experienced them first-hand himself. His interpretation felt much truer to life.
Filmmaking Across Countries and Ideologies
According to Forman, dealing with capitalist investors and state bureaucrats was neither harder nor easier when trying to launch a film. The success of any venture depended on the caliber of the people in authority. In Czechoslovakia, several filmmakers worked productively for a state filmmaking monopoly because the authority was sympathetic to their work.
The bigger challenge is that a filmmaker's future is entirely dependent on one person's judgment, and if that person does not like the project, it can lead to constant frustration. Forman recognized that being in America had its advantages. One could shop around and talk to different studios or backers. If one person doesn't like your idea, you can always try it with someone else.
A Fresh Sound and Orchestration
If you've ever listened to the original Broadway soundtrack of "Hair," you may have noticed some differences in the music. The filmmakers altered several songs to fit the different formats and plots of the film. Perhaps the most noticeable difference is the use of full horn and string sections in the movie soundtrack, as opposed to the jazz combo used in the original Broadway production.
The change in orchestration gives the music a different feel and sound, and it's one of the things that makes the movie soundtrack stand out from the original. Purists may prefer the original Broadway soundtrack, but the movie’s unique interpretation of the music is worth experiencing in its own right.
It was the Opening Night Film at Cannes
It's a harsh truth of the movie industry, but not all films that end up at Cannes Film Festival are competing for some award or recognition. Some are simply honorable visitors. The film’s presents at the festival were making a mark for what it stood for. It was there to highlight its statement.
The movie industry’s elite gathered to discuss the new entries from around the world, and "Hair” could not be ignored. Attending Cannes Festival was a perfect opportunity for the film to be recognized by a wider audience and be noticed by some of the most important people in the industry.
The Battle for Movie Rights
Forman once revealed that he lost his rights to the film to the studio, which eventually led to his receiving the 1997 John Huston Award for Artists' Rights. He explained that in his original contract, he had a clause that gave him the right to approve any network sale of the film. However, the studio did not sell it to a network but instead sold it to syndicated television, which Forman did not have that right.
As a result, the film was shown on 115 syndicated stations all over the United States, with 11 of the musical numbers cut out. Despite the changes, the film was still presented as a Miloš Forman film, which he found utterly unethical.
On the Small Screen
After its initial release, “Hair” made its way to the small screen with VHS releases from 20th Century Fox Video in 1982 and later from MGM/UA Home Video, distributed by Warner Home Video. But it wasn't until the late '90s that fans could enjoy the film in high-quality widescreen format, with MGM Home Entertainment's release of a Region 1 DVD on April 27, 1999.
And as technology continued to advance, so did the film’s availability on home media, with a Blu-Ray release on June 7, 2011. Now viewers can enjoy the film's vibrant colors and stunning cinematography in the comfort of their homes like never before.
Some Songs from the Musical Don’t Feature in the Movie
When the producers began working on the movie version of the musical, they initially wanted to use all of the songs that appeared in the original show. Eventually, it was decided to drop some songs as they tended to be slow and intimidating and interfered with the movie’s momentum.
"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," were all left out, however, they are included on the movie’s soundtrack album. They were not good enough for the screen, however, they are a symphony to the ears.
Gerome Ragni Wanted to Play Berger
When it came to casting the iconic role of Berger in the film adaptation of "Hair," there was some disagreement among the creators of the original musical. Gerome Ragni, one of the writers, was eager to play the part himself, but ultimately, he decided to go with actor Treat Williams.
The reason? Williams, at 27 years old, was closer to the age of the character than Ragni, who was in his mid-30s at the time. While Ragni may have missed out on the chance to play Berger on screen, Williams went on to deliver a memorable performance that helped make the film a classic.
The Plot Thickens
When "Hair" first hit the stage, some critics found it lacking in plot. But when it was adapted for the big screen, writer Michael Weller added just enough structure to make it work without sacrificing the free-spirited essence of the original.
The film follows a wide-eyed young man from the Midwest, played by John Savage, as he arrives in New York City to join the army and finds himself drawn into the world of a group of hippies living in Central Park. It's a story that captures the spirit of the counterculture era and the clash between generations, all set to a killer soundtrack.
Why Dorsey Wright was Perfect as Hud
Dorsey Wright's experience with "Hair" went beyond just his role in the film. Prior to his performance in the movie, he had already showcased his talents in the Broadway revival of "Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical." He brought a wealth of knowledge and passion for the show to the set, which undoubtedly enriched his performance as "Hud" in the film.
With his prior experience in stage production, Dorsey brought a unique perspective and authenticity to his role. He played a significant role in ensuring "Hair" stayed true to its roots while also capturing the essence of the counterculture era.
You Know a Film is Good When Roger Ebert Loves It
Acclaimed film critic Roger Ebert raved about "Hair" and gave it a four-star rating. In his review, he expressed his initial doubts about the movie's ability to appeal to modern audiences, but those doubts quickly evaporated as he was completely blown away by the opening number, "Age of Aquarius."
Ebert marveled at how the eclectic choreography created a synchronized and powerful visual statement: "This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius." Despite the movie's origins in the socially turbulent 1960s, Ebert felt that "Hair" was not a period piece but a vibrant and relevant portrayal of those times that could still speak to modern audiences.
The Cast Reunited in 2019
In 2019, the 1979 movie "Hair" cast had a reunion at a restaurant in New York's Central Park. The gathering was deeply nostalgic, complete with plenty of singing of the movie's famous songs. Treat Williams, who organized the reunion, said that being back with his "Hair" family was like a reunion with old friends.
The songs from "Hair" were a hit back then and were still being sung around the world, even in high schools. According to Williams, the story still resonates with people today because of its themes about finding oneself and breaking out - especially for young people still finding their strength and independence.
John Savage’s Personal Connection with the Film
John Savage, aka Claude Bukowski, had a personal connection to the story of "Hair." Savage's own experiences during the Vietnam War era mirrored those of his character. Savage was also portraying a soldier in "The Deer Hunter" at the same time and had lost a childhood friend at Kent State.
Though Savage himself avoided the draft due to having young children, many of his friends were not so lucky and were shipped off to fight in the war. For Savage, "Hair" was not just a movie; it was his life. He was surrounded by the reality of war and its impact on his generation, with friends being attacked at home for demonstrating against the conflict.
Annie Golden on How the Film Changed Her Life
Annie Golden, who portrayed the optimistic Jeannie in “Hair,” has since had a successful career in both acting and music. She has gained attention for her role as Norma in the popular Netflix series "Orange Is the New Black," a character who, interestingly enough, does not speak. Golden landed the role in “Hair” after director Miloš Forman spotted her performing with her punk rock band, The Shirts, in New York's underground clubs.
Forman preferred to work with unknown actors and raw talents, and he chose Golden for the part of Jeannie. Golden considers her role in Hair to be "life-changing." She credits Forman with recognizing her talent and giving her a chance to shine.
Annie Golden Has “Hair” to Thank for Her Role in Orange is the New Black
Annie Golden landed the role of mute inmate Norma in the hit series "Orange Is the New Black" thanks to producer and writer Jenji Kohan. Kohan had seen "Hair" as a child and was struck by Golden's performance. Kohan believed that Golden deserved to be a household name, and her role in "Orange Is the New Black" helped make that happen.
The proof is in the pudding. Golden's performance in the critically acclaimed series is a testament to her talent as an actor. Even without any lines, she conveys the depth of her character's emotions with just a subtle movement of her head or a pursing of her lips.
The Musical That Changed Broadway, the Film Not So Much
The rock musical that premiered off-Broadway in 1967 and on Broadway in 1968 captured the spirit of the countercultural movement of the time. Its creators, James Rado and Gerome Ragni drew inspiration from their lives and the people around them, even casting some original members from the hippie gatherings they attended.
With its authentic portrayal of the era, “Hair” enjoyed immense popularity, running for 1,750 shows on Broadway and inspiring 19 international productions by 1970. Despite a generally positive reception, the 1979 film adaptation failed to become a critical or commercial success. Many people believed the film fell short of the musical's message.
A Ground-Breaking Production
“Hair” was pathbreaking in its portrayal of racial integration in the Broadway musical scene. Nearly a third of the cast was African American, and unlike previous productions, the black characters were portrayed as equals rather than servants or slaves. This was a significant shift from traditional roles for black people in entertainment. In fact, an Ebony magazine article hailed Hair as the most significant outlet for black actors in the history of the US stage.
The show's songs and scenes also tackled racial issues head-on. One notable example is "Colored Spade," a song that introduces the character Hud, a militant black man. The song is a long list of racial slurs, culminating in the declaration that Hud is the "president of the United States of love."
Among the Best of the Best
We are not the only ones who think “Hair” is a must-watch classic. The New York Times listed the movie as one of the best 1000 movies ever made. And we agree. Thousands of movies were made over the years; this one-off incredible piece remains one of the best.
The storyline, which is unique, and the controversial plot are what keep this movie a never-ending story that will probably never age. Making it to the Best 1000 Movies Ever list is not only a great honor for the creators of "Hair," but it also solidifies the film's place in the history of cinema.
Bring it Home
The iconic film adaptation of the musical "Hair" found its way into countless homes when it was released on VHS in 1982, bringing vibrant energy and timeless songs to almost every home. This release marked a pivotal moment, allowing fans to relive the joy and spirit of this unique and controversial era in the comfort of their own living rooms.
The magnetic performances, dazzling visuals, and infectious music that defined the movie could now be experienced again and again. As the reels spun on VCRs across the world, viewers were transported back to the turbulent 1960s, feeling the thrill of rebellion, the power of love, and the longing for a better world. The VHS release of "Hair" became a cherished treasure.