Hair [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - British Film Institute
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (17th November 2019).
The Film

"Hair" (1979)

Claude (played by John Savage) is a young man from rural Oklahoma that arrives in New York, en route to Vietnam to join the war effort in the Army. It is there that he meets a group of free loving, free living hippies who are about the same age as him. Led by Berger (played by Treat Williams), their young group immediately befriends the new guy in town, by introducing him to their lifestyle of drugs and love which is completely new to him. While Claude finds the lifestyle intriguing, he has his eyes on the beautiful Sheila (played by Beverly D'Angelo), and upper class young woman he spots at the park. Berger helps out by sneaking Claude and the rest of the hippies into a hosted ritzy party. They all may come from different backgrounds and different places, but they all come together in peace in "Hair".

Based on the 1968 Broadway play of the same name written by Gerome Ragni and James Rado, "Hair" was a musical that debuted at the right time period - just before Woodstock and when the San Francisco hippie culture was spreading to the liberal youth around the world. Anti-establishment, free-loving, and in-tune with nature, it was a far contrast from where the country was in terms of the escalating Vietnam war and the Cold War. It took just over a decade for the film adaptation, which by that time Vietnam dragged out to a communist win, the oil crisis in the Middle East was occurring, man had set foot on the moon, and disco fever was already on its way out. The film adaptation was set as filmmaker Milos Forman's follow-up to "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" which swept the Oscars and was a much loved piece by audiences. Michael Weller was on board to adapt the musical play into a musical film, which took quite a few liberties with the story though incorporating many of the songs that made the play a hit. Incorporating R-rated dialogue and song lyrics, trippy sequences, and a very humorous tone throughout, "Hair" was quite a different project for the director and the first time film writer.

Not all was kept as is, with some major changes in the story. The film version centers around Claude who is a rural kid about to enter the Army, but in the original version, Claude is one of the hippies who is against the draft. The same is the case for Sheila who is not an upper class girl but a girl that is part of the hippie tribe. The play centers around the hippies entirely as they look at how society is moving and how they are against it, but in the film version the perspective is from the "outsiders" of the hippie movement, and how they befriend the hippies and becomes more open minded to the counterculture. The original writers were not particularly happy with the change, but in some ways, it creates more scenes of discussion through their differences and also a way to reach a wider audience. In addition the film sees the hippie group as carefree, doing very little for the peace movement, while the original play is very strongly anti-war with the songs and theme. The changes are quite drastic for ones that are familiar with the play, as it has been on stage in various incarnations and revivals over the years, but the film itself works quite well as an alternate cinematic version rather than a straight up adaptation.

As for the performances, Treat Williams as Berger is especially great as the hippie leader, from his scenes with his parents to the introduction and dance on the party dinner table Dorsey Wright as Hud is also exceptional, with his double life as a hippie and running away from his former life where he has left a girlfriend and young son. They are also great in their musical song and dance routines, as is the rest of the cast. The music and musical performances are definitely a standout, but the humor is also well done, giving plenty of wonderful laugh out loud moments while also having emotional moments as well. The sense of youth and fun is present, while there also themes of consequences and tragedy, making "Hair" a very broad ranged musical with a great number of positive points and worthy of repeated viewings and listenings.

The film opened on March 14, 1979 in the United States but was not a major hit. The $11 million production only grossed $15 million theatrically. In comparison, 1978's musical adaptation of "Grease" grossed a staggering $396 million. The nostalgia for the 50's setting was something for past generations as well as something new for the modern audiences, but for "Hair" it was a little too early and a little too late. The Vietnam War setting and hippie culture was still fresh in people's minds but not enough to say it was vintage or retro. If the film had been made in the early 70's it would have been timely. If made in the late 80's it would have been nostalgic. Instead "Hair" came right in between and failtd to find an audience. Critics were on more of the positive side, with two Golden Globe nominations including one for Best Picture. Though shut out from the Oscars and not being a box office hit, "Hair" still proved to be popular with the songs becoming hits on their own right, the musical being revived, television broadcasts over the years and video sales being strong. From "The Simpsons" to "The 40 Year Old Virgin", it has been referenced in many productions over time. The film was released on DVD by MGM worldwide which only included a trailer as the sole extra. It was later issued on Blu-ray by MGM/Fox which also only included a trailer. This BFI release makes it the first time the film has been released on a home video format with a significant amount of extras.

Note this is a region B Blu-ray and region 2 PAL DVD set

Video

The BFI presents the film in the 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio in 1080p AVC MPEG-4. The transfer comes from an HD master by MGM. The opening credits sequence is very rough with heavy grain from the optical printing, but things pick up much better right from the "Age of Aquarius" sequence. Skin tones are fair, colors look natural, and damage such as speckles and dust are on the minor side, though they can still be spotted out and can be a bit drastic in some shots. Colors don't pop as much as one would expect and there is a bit of inconsistency, but overall is a fair transfer rather than a great one.

The film's runtime is 120:59 on the Blu-ray and 116:03 on the DVD accounting for 4% PAL speed-up.



















Audio

Blu-ray:
English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
English LPCM 2.0 Stereo

DVD:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo

There are two options for the audio, a 5.1 mix to mimic the theatrical 70mm 6-track surround track and the the alternate theatrical 2.0 stereo mix. The 5.1 track is very vibrant with the musical sequences, with instruments coming in from various speakers, with vocals also being spread at times. As for the dialogue sequences they are mostly mono, and well balanced with the music and effects. The 2.0 stereo track also sounds fine, but is obviously not as spread and full as the surround track.

There are optional English HoH subtitles for the main feature, captioning the dialogue as well as the songs.

Extras

This is a dual format set with the film and extras on the Blu-ray and the film and extras on a PAL format DVD.

DISC ONE (Blu-ray)

Nicholas Ray in Conversation (1969, audio only) (55:37)
Recorded at the National Film Theatre in London in 1969, film critic VF Perkins has a lengthy chat with filmmaker Nicholas Ray about his career in Hollywood, talking about the making of They Live by Night, Johnny Guitar, The True Story of Jesse James and more. As the event took place a decade before he was cast in the small role in Hair, there is no discussion of that film or the original play. The extra plays as an alternate audio track with the main film. Once the conversation finishes, the audio reverts back to the film’s audio track.
in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

"Aquarius" 1966 short (7:39)
This animated short directed by animator Nancy Hanna is an otherworldly experience using drawings of space and other worlds in panning and zooming motions throughout.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, Music LPCM 2.0

"San Francisco" 1968 short (15:56)
A short film featuring quick flash montages of the city of San Francisco, it’s notable that it features Pink Floyd’s Interstellar Overdrive as the background music.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, Music LPCM 2.0

"Indian Pop Instrumental" c1970 short (3:01)
Psychedelic colors and images paired with Indian inspired music is presented here.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, Music LPCM 2.0

"Discomania" 1979 short (25:14)
In 1979 disco dancing was losing its steam as breakdancing was gaining traction with hip hop, but this short film made in the post Saturday Night Fever time period would not seem to show a sign of slowing down. The short chronicles the geeky kid David who becomes inspired to learn disco dancing by watching films and going to the clubs. Although he is quite terrible in his moves, there are frequent looks at his daydreams where he is a master on the dancefloor. The print is in extremely good condition showcasing the beautiful and colorful clubs with great music as well.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

Image Gallery (15:13)
An automated slideshow of promotional stills, behind the scenes stills, poster and concept art, and more.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4

Trailer (2:50)
The original trailer is remastered, looking very good with colors and sounding great as well.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.85:1, in English LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles


DISC TWO (DVD)

Nicholas Ray in Conversation (1969, audio only) (54:54)
"Aquarius" 1966 short (7:22)
"San Francisco" 1968 short (15:18)
"Indian Pop Instrumental" c1970 short (2:55)
"Discomania" 1979 short (24:13)
Image Gallery (14:36)
Trailer (2:44)

The same extras are repeated in standard definition.


Booklet
A 32 page booklet is included in the first pressing. First is an essay about the film and its background by Ellen Cheshire that goes into the film’s production as well as about the adaptation and differences between the stageplay and the film. Next is an interview with screenwriter Michael Weller conducted by Ellen Cheshire on the writing and the adaptation. A biography on Milos Forman, a contemporary review, special features information, credits, transfer information, acknowledgements, and stills are also included.


There is a good amount of extras offered on the disc which is far ahead of the international Fox Blu-rays which only have a trailer. Some of the extras on this disc seem a little out of place though. Nicholas Ray is barely in the film yet a full audio interview is included, which has no information about the making of this particular film. Was there no interview with Milos Forman or the original creators that could have been used instead? Discomania is an interesting contrast to the music of 1979 and the hippie culture of the late 1960s, and feels again out of place here.

Overall

"Hair" took some time for the film adaptation to find an audience, and as a musical that looks at class structure, culture and counterculture, and relationships in various angles, it is a fine film, even if it doesn't follow the structure of the original stage musical. The BFI finally gives the film a selection of extras for a home video release, though note that not many of them are directly connected to the film itself. Still comes as recommended.

The Film: A- Video: B Audio: A Extras: C Overall: B

 


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