Claude Bukowski (John Savage) boards a bus and leaves Oklahoma and his father behind because he has received a draft card telling him to attend an inspection in New York with a view to having him join the U.S. Army and be sent to fight in the Vietnam War. When he arrives in the Big Apple, he heads for Central Park where he notices a group of hippies cavorting and asking passersby for spare change. Three well-to-do riders go by on horseback and unintentionally attract their attention; one thing leads to another and soon Claude is riding after them on a horse hired by the hippies, little knowing these new friends will change his life forever...
Here's a curious thing, a film musical of the famed stage production of Hair which appeared about ten years too late to be relevant, and about ten years too early to be effective as nostalgia. This may have been down to the fact that it takes so long for movies to get made in Hollywood, although Godspell managed it about the right time, so make of that what you will. What director Milos Forman and company made of Hair was a revised version of the original which alarmed the purists and especially the creators of the 1968 hit, changing characters and songs about, and altering the plot in such a way that it turned into a bad joke, complete with groaning, would-be ironic punchline.
The depiction of the hippies in particular was more 1979 than 1968, as to a man (and woman) they are a bunch of self serving, arrogant goofs whose idea of a good time is to disrupt the squares: any political dimension to their antics is noticeably absent. This in spite of references to the war throughout, which according to this was merely an inconvenience to those young Americans hoping to enjoy themselves: the supposedly tragic ending comes across as hopelessly shallow and no substitute for genuine emotion. A lot of this can be also laid at the feet of the casting, with Treat Williams as Berger, leader of the hippies, a particularly badly thought out character as smug doesn't begin to describe him.
Berger isn't some wild-eyed visionary at the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, he's some berk who is only out for himself, and full of overbearing self-confidence with it. We have to accept that the callow Claude would be sufficiently charmed by this bunch of undesirables to want to hang about with them, but as the film does he takes the tourist's route around the late sixties, halfheartedly joining in with their japes and dropping acid to envisage himself getting married as people fly around in the church over his head. After a while you begin to wonder who this film was for, as you cannot imagine the now grown up hippies of the era warming to this representation of their worldview.
Or was it a misrepresentation? Did the filmmakers in fact hate the hippies and wish to show them up for the selfish hedonists they thought they were? Was this adaptation an act of revenge designed to turn the audience off this generation for good? This was made just at the time that punk had rendered the hippies deeply unfashionable, so maybe here was a riposte to those who swallowed all that peace and love stuff? Alternatively, this was also the era of disco, so perhaps the characters in this had been drawn from the contemporary pleasure seekers of the late seventies? Whatever, if it was not for the odd decent tune Hair 1979 would be pretty hard to sit through, with its irksomely self-satisfied air and muddled sense of purpose. They don't all take their clothes off either, although some do, and any tone of togetherness generated by the Vietnam conflict is missed by miles, so you'd be better off watching a movie from 1968 than this.