Hair (film)

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Theatrical release poster by Bill Gold
Directed byMiloš Forman
Produced by
Screenplay byMichael Weller
Based on
Music byGalt MacDermot
CinematographyMiroslav Ondříček
Edited by
CIP Filmproduktion GmbH
Distributed byUnited Artists Pictures
Release date
  • March 14, 1979 (1979-03-14)
Running time
121 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$11 million
Box office$15,284,643

Hair is a 1979 musical anti-war drama film based on the 1968 Broadway musical Hair: An American Tribal Love-Rock Musical about a Vietnam War draftee who meets and befriends a "tribe" of hippies on his way to the army induction center. The hippies introduce him to marijuana and LSD, and their environment of unorthodox relationships and draft evasion.

The film was directed by Miloš Forman (who was nominated for a César for his work on the film) and adapted for the screen by Michael Weller (who would collaborate with Forman on a second picture, Ragtime, two years later). Cast members include Treat Williams, John Savage, Beverly D'Angelo, Don Dacus, Annie Golden, Dorsey Wright, Nell Carter, Cheryl Barnes, Richard Bright, Ellen Foley and Charlotte Rae. Dance scenes were choreographed by Twyla Tharp, and were performed by the Twyla Tharp Dance Foundation. The film was nominated for two Golden Globes: Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, and New Star of the Year in a Motion Picture (for Williams).


Hair is a rock musical focusing on the lives of two young men against the backdrop of the hippie counterculture of the Vietnam era. Claude Hooper Bukowski is a naive Oklahoman sent off to New York City after being drafted by the Army ("Age Of Aquarius"). Before his draft board-appointment, Claude takes a self-guided tour of New York, where he encounters a close-knit "tribe" of hippies led by George Berger. As Claude looks on, the hippies panhandle from a trio of horseback riders including Sheila Franklin, a debutante from a wealthy background ("Sodomy"). Claude later catches and mounts a runaway horse, which the hippies have rented, and with which Claude exhibits his riding skills to Sheila ("Donna"). Claude then returns the horse to Berger, who offers to show him around.

That evening, Claude gets stoned on marijuana with Berger and the tribe. He is then introduced to various race and class issues of the 1960s ("Hashish", "Colored Spade", "Manchester", "I'm Black/Ain't Got No"). The next morning, Berger finds a newspaper clipping which gives Sheila's address. The tribe members—LaFayette "Hud" Johnson, Jeannie Ryan, and "Woof Dacshund"—crash a private dinner party to introduce Claude to Sheila, who secretly enjoys the disruption of her rigid environment ("I Got Life"). After Berger and company are arrested, Claude uses his last $50 to bail Berger out of jail—where Woof's refusal to have his hair cut leads into the title song of the soundtrack ("Hair").

When Sheila is unable to borrow any money from her father, Berger returns to his parents' home. His mother gives him enough cash to bail out his friends. They subsequently attend a peace rally in Central Park, where Claude drops acid for the first time ("LBJ", "Electric Blues/Old Fashioned Melody", "Hare Krishna"). Just as Jeannie proposes marriage to Claude, in order to keep him out of the Army, Sheila shows up to apologize. Claude's "trip" reflects his inner conflict over which of three worlds he fits in with: his own native Oklahoman farm culture, Sheila's upper-class society, or the hippies' free-wheeling environment.

After snapping out of his acid trip, Claude has a falling-out with Berger and the tribe members, ostensibly due to a practical joke they pull on Sheila (taking her clothes while she's skinny-dipping, which forces her to hail a taxi in just her underwear), but also due to their philosophical differences over the war in Vietnam—and over personal versus communal responsibility. After wandering the city ("Where Do I Go?"), Claude finally reports to the draft board, completes his enlistment, and is shipped off to Nevada for basic training.

It's now Winter in New York when Claude writes to Sheila from Nevada ("Walking In Space"). She, in turn, shares the news with Berger and his friends. Berger devises a scheme to visit Claude in Nevada. Meanwhile, Hud's fiancée—with whom he has a son, LaFayette Jr.—wants to marry as they had apparently planned to earlier ("Easy To Be Hard"). The tribe members trick Sheila's brother Steve out of his car, then head west to visit Claude.

Arriving at the Army training center where Claude is stationed ("Three-Five-Zero-Zero", "Good Morning Starshine"), the hippies are turned away...ostensibly because the base is on alert, but also because the MP on duty doesn't like their looks. (The MP also assumes a condescending attitude toward Berger, caricaturing his perceived vernacular.) Sometime later, Sheila chats up army sergeant Fenton at a local bar. She lures the sergeant, with intimations of sex, to an isolated desert road, acquiring his uniform. The hippies steal Fenton's car, and Berger cuts his hair and puts on the uniform (symbolically becoming a responsible adult), then drives the sergeant's car onto the Army base. He finds Claude and offers to take his place for the next headcount so that Claude can meet Sheila and the others for a going-away picnic they're having for him in the desert.

As fate would have it, just after a disguised Claude slips away to the picnic, the base becomes fully activated with immediate ship-outs for Vietnam. Berger's ruse is never discovered; clearly horrified at the prospect of joining the war, he is herded onto the plane and shipped out. Claude arrives back to see the base empty and the plane Berger is presumably on taking off and flying to Southeast Asia ("Let the Sunshine in").

Months later, Claude, Sheila, and the tribe gather around Berger's grave in Arlington National Cemetery, in a scene implying he was killed in the war. As "Let the Sunshine In" plays, they mourn the loss of their friend. The movie ends with what appears to be a full-scale peace-protest in Washington, D.C.


Differences from stage version[edit]

The film's plot and soundtrack both differed greatly from those of the original musical stage play; consequently, the original creators were unhappy with the adaptation.


  • In the musical, Claude is a member of a hippie "tribe" sharing a New York City apartment, leading a bohemian lifestyle, enjoying "free love", and rebelling against his parents and the draft, but he eventually goes to Vietnam. In the film, Claude is rewritten as an innocent draftee from Oklahoma, newly arrived in New York City to join the military. In New York, he gets caught up with the group of hippies while awaiting deployment to Army training camp. They introduce Claude to their psychedelically inspired style of living and eventually the tribe drive to Nevada to visit him at training camp.
  • In the musical, Sheila is an outspoken feminist leader of the Tribe who loves Berger as well as Claude. In the film, she is a high-society debutante who catches Claude's eye.
  • In the film, Berger is not only at the heart of the hippie Tribe but is assigned some of Claude's conflict involving whether or not to obey the draft. A major plot change in the film involves a mistake that leads Berger to go to Vietnam in Claude's place, where he is killed.
  • The musical focuses on the U.S. peace movement, as well as the love relationships among the Tribe members, while the film focuses on the carefree antics of the hippies.


  • The film omits the songs "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" from the musical. The latter five songs, even though recorded for the film, were eventually cut, as they slowed the film's pace.[citation needed] (they are included on the motion picture soundtrack album)
  • A few verses from the songs "Manchester, England" and a small portion of "Walking in Space" have been removed
  • While the songs "Don't Put It Down" and "Somebody to Love" are not sung by characters in the film, they are both used as background or instrumental music for scenes at the army base.
  • A new song written by MacDermot for the film is "Somebody to Love".
  • Several other differences from songs in the movie appear on the soundtrack, mainly in omitted verses and different orchestrations. One notable difference is that the Broadway version used only a jazz combo while the movie soundtrack use orchestrations that make ample use of full horn and string sections.[2] Many of the songs have been shortened, sped-up, rearranged, or assigned to different characters to allow for the differences in plot.

Response from creators[edit]

Gerome Ragni and James Rado, who wrote the original musical along with composer Galt MacDermot, were unhappy with the film adaptation, saying it failed to capture the essence of Hair in that hippies were portrayed as "oddballs" and "some sort of aberration" without any connection to the peace movement.[3] They stated: "Any resemblance between the 1979 film and the original Biltmore version, other than some of the songs, the names of the characters, and a common title, eludes us."[3] In their view, the screen version of Hair has not yet been produced.[3]


The film received generally favorable reviews from film critics at the time of its release; it currently holds a 90% "fresh" rating on review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes from 21 reviews. The critical consensus reads, "Spiritedly performed by a groovy cast and imaginatively directed by Milos Forman, Hair transports audiences straight to the Age of Aquarius."[4] Writing in The New York Times, Vincent Canby called it "a rollicking musical memoir.... [Michael] Weller's inventions make this Hair seem much funnier than I remember the show's having been. They also provide time and space for the development of characters who, on the stage, had to express themselves almost entirely in song.... The entire cast is superb.... Mostly... the film is a delight."[5] Frank Rich said: "If ever a project looked doomed, it was this one" (referring to the "largely plotless" and dated musical upon which it was based, Forman's and Tharp's lack of movie musical experience, the "largely unproven cast" and the film's "grand budget"); but that in spite of these obstacles, "Hair succeeds at all levels—as lowdown fun, as affecting drama, as exhilarating spectacle and as provocative social observation. It achieves its goals by rigorously obeying the rules of classic American musical comedy: dialogue, plot, song and dance blend seamlessly to create a juggernaut of excitement. Though every cut and camera angle in Hair appears to have been carefully conceived, the total effect is spontaneous. Like the best movie musicals of the '50s (Singin' in the Rain) and the '60s (A Hard Day's Night), Hair leaps from one number to the next. Soon the audience is leaping too."[6]

Awards and honors[edit]

The film was shown out of competition at the 1979 Cannes Film Festival.[7]

At the 37th Golden Globe Awards, the film was nominated for a Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, and Williams was nominated for New Star of the Year in a Motion Picture – Male. The film was also nominated for Best Foreign Film at the 1980 César Awards, losing to Woody Allen's Manhattan.

Years later, Forman cited his loss of his moral rights to the film to the studio as eventually leading to his 1997 John Huston Award for Artists Rights[8] from the Film Foundation:[9]

What was behind that [award] was that one day I had in my contract that when the studio wants to sell Hair the network but they have to have my, you know, consent or how would they...what they do with it. But I didn't have this, so what they did, they didn't sell it to the network, they sold it to syndicated television where I didn't have that right. What happened: the film played on 115 syndicated stations practically all over the United States, and it's a musical. Out of 22 musical numbers, 11 musical numbers were cut out from the film, and yet it was still presented as a Milos Forman film, Hair. It was totally incomprehensible, jibberish, butchered beyond belief...

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:


All lyrics are written by Gerome Ragni, James Rado; all music is composed by Galt MacDermot.

Disc One
1."Aquarius" (Ren Woods)4:47
4."Colored Spade"1:34
5."Manchester" (John Savage)1:58
6."Abie Baby/Fourscore" (Nell Carter)2:43
7."I'm Black/Ain't Got No"2:24
9."Party Music"3:26
10."My Conviction"1:46
11."I Got Life" (Treat Williams)2:16
12."Frank Mills"2:39
15."Electric Blues/Old Fashioned Melody"3:50
16."Hare Krishna"3:20
Disc Two
1."Where Do I Go?"2:50
2."Black Boys" (Ellen Foley)1:12
3."White Boys" (Nell Carter)2:36
4."Walking in Space (My Body)"6:12
5."Easy to Be Hard" (Cheryl Barnes)3:39
7."Good Morning Starshine" (Beverly D'Angelo)2:24
8."What a Piece of Work is Man"1:39
9."Somebody to Love"4:10
10."Don't Put It Down"2:25
11."The Flesh Failures/Let the Sunshine In"6:06

Home media[edit]

Hair was released on VHS by 20th Century Fox Video in 1982 with later VHS releases from MGM/UA Home Video. The film was released on DVD by MGM Home Entertainment on April 27, 1999, as a Region 1 widescreen DVD, and on Blu-Ray on June 7, 2011.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "HAIR (AA)". British Board of Film Classification. 2012-03-20. Retrieved 2012-12-29.
  2. ^ Ruhlmann, William. "Hair (Original Soundtrack)". AllMusic,
  3. ^ a b c Horn, pp. 117–18
  4. ^ ""Hair (1979)"". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved August 23, 2016.
  5. ^ Canby, Vincent (March 14, 1979). "Hair". The New York Times.
  6. ^ Rich, Frank (March 19, 1979). "Cinema: A Mid-'60s Night's Dream". Time. Retrieved 2011-07-05.
  7. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Hair". Retrieved 2009-05-25.
  8. ^ "Artists vs. Solons: Helmer Forman feted for rights fight". Variety. April 20, 1997. Retrieved 2011-07-05.
  9. ^ "Interview with Milos Forman". The John Tusa Interviews. BBC Radio 3. Retrieved 2011-07-05.
  10. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved 2016-08-13.
  11. ^ "AFI's Greatest Movie Musicals Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-13.

External links[edit]