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Celebrating love and freedom in the shadow of Vietnam
on 7 October 2008
It is a great surprise to discover that a musical can celebrate 'Hippy' beliefs and still maintain a dark shadow. A draft-card is burned at the beginning of the film; the spectre of Vietnam is ever-present.
'Hair' is at once a study of class, individuality, 'Counter-culture' beliefs, gender-equality and anti-war activism. Added to this potent mixture is the symbolism of growing one's hair; alluding to personal assertiveness, freedom, natural beauty and individuality. Near the end of the film there is a touching scene of one of the hippies getting his hair cut. The mood is tense and a portent of tragedy looms.
The music is fabulous: percolating rhythms and tunes that stick in your head. Sometimes the lyrics are rattled off fast ('Donna') and the tumbling syncopated harmonies make it hard to catch everything ('Hair'), but you get quite swept up in the passion and energy. Treat Williams is phenomenal as the lead hippy, with a great voice to boot. In the middle of all the high-octane songs such as 'Black Boys/White Boys', 'Let the sun shine in', 'Good Morning Starshine', 'Aquarius' and 'Manchester England' there is a lovely soulful ballad, 'Easy to be Hard', that I had never heard before. Absolutely beautiful.
This is a thrilling film of an underrated musical. Within all the 'Hippy'-versus-'Straight' posturing, there is a deep well of meaning and truth. I wouldn't call myself a hippy, but I was enthralled and moved. Hair is great - Grow it! Show it!