Sunday, July 5, 2020

HAIR (1979) (Olive Signature Blu-ray Review)

HAIR (1979)

Label: Olive Signature
Region Code: A
Rating: PG
Duration: 121 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widecsreen (1.85:1)
Director: Milos Forman
Cast: John Savage, Treat Williams, Beverly D’Angelo, Dorsey Wright, Don Dacus, Annie Golden, Charlotte Rae, Nell Carter

Synopsis: In New York City for the first time while on his way to enlist in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, Oklahoma farm hand Claude Hooper Bukowski (John Savage) meets up with a freewheeling group of Central Park hippies led by the irrepressible George Berger (Treat Williams, Deep Rising). When the unlikely friends meet upper-middle-class debutante Sheila Franklin (Beverly D'Angelo, The Sentinel), sparks fly between the country boy and the city girl, and Berger's troupe attempts to keep the young lovers together.

Sometimes you just don't "get it" when you watch a movie, and the first time I saw Hair (1979) was probably as a highschool freshman, and I certainly didn't "get it". I'd heard my folks talk about it being "wild and crazy", and at some point I ended up watching it on VHS with a girlfriend, and as soon as Bukowski (John Savage, Lucio Fulci's Door Into Silence) ends up in Central Park seeing the hippies do a song and dance routine I was already checked out if I am being honest, at that point the only musical I could stomach was Annie (1982), which at one point was my younger brother's favorite movie, it might still be.

This hippie-culture shock spectacle was a bit out of date when it hit the cinemas in '79, a full decade after the Summer of Love, and by the time I saw it over a decade after that I was full-on into gory horror films, punk rock and metal, and these goofy hippies were purely comical to me, a dated relic from the past that I couldn't relate to at that time. Not long after that ill-fated watching I smoked weed for the first time, started listening to the Grateful Dead a bit, watched Woodstock (1970) and Easy Rider (1969), and while I still wasn't quite "into it" I had more of an appreciation for the counter-culture hippies of the 60's at least, and appreciated the idealistic goals of the movement that largely drown in it's excess.

That said, I didn't end up re-visiting Hair (1979) again until this week, courtesy of a new Blu-ray edition from Olive Films. It's the story of a young man from the Midwest named Claude (John Savage, The The Deer Hunter) who has been drafted during the era of the Vietnam War, lucky him. Before being sent off to boot-camp he travels to New York City, where in Central Park he encounters a "tribe" of hippies lead by the free-spirited George Berger (Treat Williams, Dead Heat) with a majestic mane of hair, who is joined by long-haired hippie type Woof (Don Dacus), black hippie Hud (Dorsey Wright, The Warriors), and Jeannie (Annie Golden, Orange Is The New Black), whom is pregnant. The father of her child could be either Hud or Wood, she's not quite sure which, this being the era of free-love, and she's not too concerned with it either, even offering it to Bukowski as an excuse to get out of being drafted.

The hippies take an immediate liking to the naive Bukowski and get him high, opening his mind to the social and cultural revolution happening at the time. At Central Park Bukowski spots an attractive blonde debutante named Sheila (Beverly D’Angelo, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation) riding horses with friends, briefly making her acquaintance after skillfully halting a runaway horse. The next day Berger convinces Bukowski to join him in crashing a dinner party at the home of Shelia, upsetting her snooty family and making quite a scene, but the shenanigans succeed in catching the attention of Sheila.

Sheila sort of splits her affections between the more outgoing Berger over Bukowski, but with time running short before he has to report for enlistment they do eventually bond, before he ends up at boot camp. In his absence the tribe along with Sheila make a cross-country trip to reunite with him before he leaves for Vietnam, leading to a comically doomed finale for one characters that while highly improbable still packs a punch in a silly sort of way that works for the film. 

I liked the film a lot more than I did the first go around, the main cast is uniformly excellent, and the myriad of counter-culture musical numbers hit a lot of the right notes with me as well. A few of these songs are quite risque for that era, particularly songs like the masturbation-themed "Sodomy", the racially charged "Colored Spade" and the celebration of multi-racial love "White Love/Black Love", all with some excellent choreography, with vocals highlights from Nell Carter (Modern Problems) on a pair of memorable tunes, and Cheryl Barnes belts out the wonderful "Easy To Be Hard". Let's not forget the iconic tune "Aquarius", though my favorite version of that nugget is the nightmarish Killdozer/Alice Donut team-up!

A testament to how ratings standards have changed is that the Beverly D'Angelo is seen topless in not one, but two, scenes, which could never happen these days regardless of the context, the 70's and 80's were a different time. It's a gorgeous film, skillfully directed by Milos Forman (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) with cinematography by Miroslav Ondříček (Amadeus), and of course all the colorful hippie costuming, but overall it's got a reality based look about it, the New York City scenes looking appropriately gritty and trashy in that era, with the only real visual flourishes coming during a surreal bad-trip scene that happens inside a church.

I got a real kick watching this again, I still don't love it, musicals are just not my thing, but the counter-culture messaging and visuals are fun and pacing is quite good. The main attraction for me is seeing a quite young Beverly D'Angelo, the nudity certainly didn't hurt, and a pair of actors who were TV staples for me in the 80's when I was a kid, those being Charlotte Rae who played Mrs. Garrett in the TV sitcom The Facts of Life (1979-1986)), and the aforementioned Nell Carter who was in Gimme a Break! (1981-1987), both of which I loved as a kid. They may not be the biggest stars in the film but they're the ones that hit the nostalgia-button for me in a big bad way.

Audio/Video: Hair (1979) arrives on Blu-ray from Olive Films as part of their Olive Signature series, framed in 1.85:1 widescreen in 1080p HD, in what is advertised a brand new restoration of the film. The image looks filmic with an appropriate amount of film grain, the source is in fantastic shape with only a few white speckles to be found throughout. The color pallete is natural looking and the black are solid, with good contrast levels, offering modest depth and clarity. I never did see the previous MGM Blu-ray from nearly a decade ago so I don't have a comparison for it, but to my eyes this is a great looking HD release of the film. 

Audio is limited to English DTS-HD MA 5.1 with optional English subtitles. There's good separation throughout and the musical numbers and score spring to life in the surrounds. Everything sounds well-balanced, it feels authentic, but I do wish they would have included the original stereo mix as well.  

Onto the extras we begin with a brand new audio commentary with assistant director Michael Hausman and actor Treat Williams, it's quite good when they're actually talking but there is a bit of dead air as they seem to sit back and enjoy the film from time to time without comment. They get into the origins of the theatrical version, working with the cast and crew, what it was like working with the late Milos Forman. They touch on quite a bit even with the dead air, it's a solid track, but it seems they could have used a moderator to keep the commentary on track and paced.

On top of the commentary we get a handful of new featurettes produced by Elijah Drenner, beginning with the 30-min 'The Tribe Remembers'with interviews from actors Beverly D'Angelo, Don Dacus, Ellen Foley, Annie Golden, John Savage, and Dorsey Wright. It's a great remembrance of the film with much of the time dedicated to remembering the late Milos Forman, the way he worked and what made him so special, he having created an atmosphere on-set that freed up the actors to go all out. It's a great mini-doc with lots of behind-the-scenes images sprinkled throughout, and let me just say that Beverly D'Angelo is still a cutie these days, I have always had a crush on her, ever since seeing her National Lampoon's Vacation (1983). Strangely Treat Williams is not present for these interviews, so it's nice that we got that commentary with him.

Legendary choreographer Twyla Tharp (Amadeus) shows up for a 12-min 'Making Chance Work: Choreographing Hair' who goes into how she came to work on Hair after refusing it several times, her strict requirements and how she choreographed based on environments and sets, and the strong suites for each of the actors.

The 21-min 'Cutting Hair' features both editors who worked on the film, Lynzee Klingman (A River Runs Through It) and Stanley Warnow (The Honeymoon Killers), and it's a fairly fascinating discussion of how both came into the field of editing and how it was they started working with Forman.

'HairStyle' is a 16-min interview with production designer Stuart Wurtzel (Brighton Beach Memoirs) who gets into what it was like to set design on this particular musical, including the surreal bad-acid trip at the church. 

Director James Mangold (Logan) gives 24-min appreciation of the director with 'Artist, Teacher, Mentor: Remembering Milos Forman', beginning with taking a screenwriting class with him, his influence on his own filmmaking, and what makes Hair so special.

The last of the extras is a 3-min trailer for the film and an essay by critic Sheila O'Malle, which is also included in the 8-page booklet that accompanies this release. The single-disc release arrives in a clear keepcase with a sleeve of artwork featuring a new cover illustration, on the reverse side is an image from the film with along with a song list. As part of the Olive Signature series it also gets an attractive slipcover with the same artwork, and inside there's a 8-page booklets with stills, movie posters and an essay on the film by critic Sheila O'Malle. 

Special Features: - New Restoration of the Film 
- Audio commentary by assistant director Michael Hausman and actor Treat Williams
- 'The Tribe Remembers' with actors Beverly D'Angelo, Don Dacus, Ellen Foley, Annie Golden, John Savage, and Dorsey Wright (30 min) 
- 'Making Chance Work: Choreographing Hair' with choreographer Twyla Tharp (12 min) 
- 'Cutting Hair' with editors Lynzee Klingman and Stanley Warnow (21 min) 
- 'HairStyle' with production designer Stuart Wurtzel (16 min) 
- 'Artist, Teacher, Mentor: Remembering Milos Forman' with director James Mangold (24 min) 
- 8-Page Booklet with an Essay by critic Sheila O'Malle
- Trailer (3 min) 

While I don't exactly love this film I do love that Olive Films via their Olive Signature imprint finally give this counter-culture cult-classic the love it deserves on home video. If you're a fan of this film, or checking it out for the first time, this Blu-ray looks and sounds fantastic and the extras are plentiful and deep-diving. Hats off to Olive Signature for the excellent work they did here, and to Elijah Drenner and his crew who produced the brand new extras on it.