• Hair – Olive Signature Edition (Olive Films) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: MGM
    Released on: 6/7/2011
    Director: Milos Forman
    Cast: John Savage, Treat Williams, Beverly D’Angelo, Dorsey Wright
    Year: 1979
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    Hair – Movie Review:

    Released theatrically in 1979 and based on the long running Broadway musical of the same name, Milos Forman’s big screen version of Gerome Ragni and James Rado’s Hair, which he made after his critically acclaimed adaptation of Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, might have hit screens eleven years after the play hit stages, but its message was no less pertinent.

    The movie tells the story of a young Midwestern man named Claude (John Savage) who leaves his family to take the bus to New York City, as he’s been drafted and is going to be sent to Vietnam. During his stopover he heads to Central Park where he meets a group of hippies lead by George Berger (Treat Williams) and made up of a long haired blonde guy named Woof (Don Dacus), a black dude named Hud (Dorsey Wright), and a young pregnant girl named Jeannie (Annie Golden). When they spot some wealthy socialites riding their horses through the park, they tease them a bit and Claude can’t help but notice that one of them is a pretty blonde woman, she being Sheila (Beverly D’Angelo). By chance, they find out her name and figure out where she lives and decide to go crash a party at her place where they’re promptly kicked out by her family. Eventually she and Claude hit it off, and as he gets closer and closer to running out of time before having to report for duty, Berger comes up with a plan to spring him from having to go overseas and fight in a war that none of them believe in.

    Watching Hair again for the first time in at least a decade, it’s surprising to this writer how much they got away with while still managing to maintain a PG rating. Not only does Beverly D’Angelo get naked in two scenes but we’re treated to songs about sodomy, masturbation and cunnilingus as well as the joys of interracial love (quite a taboo years back when the film was made). There isn’t any graphic sex or violence and the film’s message of pacifism and acceptance is still an important one, but it’s stronger than most PG films being made these days, that’s for sure.

    Forman’s film omits some songs, changes up a few others and takes some of the emphasis on LSD use that was prominent in the stage version out of the film version (some, not all – there’s plenty of drug use in the movie). In the stage version Claude is already a hippie when we meet him and he comes from Queens, whereas in the film he’s a straight laced farm boy from Oklahoma before he’s converted to the hippy lifestyle after falling in with Berger and company. Also differing between the two versions is Sheila’s affections, which in the Broadway version lean towards Berger more than towards Claude. Regardless, even with these changes made, the spirit remains the same and the music, which is so important to the production, is still instantly recognizable.

    In the end, the movie should be judged on its own merits and on its own merits it succeeds. The song and dance numbers are performed with a ridiculous amount of enthusiasm and the film has a good sense of humor to it (much of which stems back to the songwriting more than anything else). The camerawork is stylish and the film’s anti-war message still rings true. It’s performed with enthusiasm and spirit and, if nothing else, should be noted for featuring Charlotte Rae and Nell Carter, future eighties sit com queens, in small roles.

    Hair – Blu-ray Review:

    Olive Films presents Hair in an AVC encoded 1.85.1 widescreen 1080p high definition presentation on a 50GB disc taken from ‘a new restoration of the film.’ This is quite a modest improvement over the previous Blu-ray release from MGM. Detail is fairly strong and colors look nice. There are no problems with any noise reduction or edge enhancement and the materials used for the transfer appear to have been in excellent shape, as while we get the natural amount of film grain that we should there’s very little in the way of print damage to note at all, just the odd white speck now and again. Back levels are nice and strong and there are no noticeable compression artifacts to complain about. All in all, a very strong transfer from Olive.

    As far as the audio goes, we get an English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track with optional subtitles provided in English only. While it would have been nice to have the original mix included here, the 5.1 track is a good one, spreading out the score and the musical numbers rather well. It’s balanced properly and the dialogue, most of which is relegated to the front of the mix, comes through cleanly and clearly without any hiss or distortion.

    The last Blu-ray release from MGM included only a theatrical trailer, which was certainly a disappointment to the film’s fanbase. This Olive Films Signature Edition makes up for that, starting with an audio commentary by assistant director Michael Hausman and actor Treat Williams. This track covers a good bit of ground as they discuss the film’s theatrical origins, what it was like on set, working with Forman and the other cast and crew members, having to prepare for the musical numbers, the sets and locations used for the feature, the themes that the story deals with, how the film was received and lots more. There's a fair bit of dead air here and this probably would have been better had there been a moderator on board, but there's good information in here if you don't mind waiting for it.

    Extra features on this release are substantial, starting with a half-hour long featurette entitled The Tribe Remembers which is made up of interviews with cast members Beverly D'Angelo, Don Dacus, Ellen Foley, Annie Golden, John Savage, and Dorsey Wright. It’s a very well-done piece that lets the cast reflect on their experiences working on the picture as they talk about how they got along with one another, working with Forman, thoughts on the material and their characters, what it was like on the shoot, the locations, the music and lots more. There are lots of pertinent clips from the film used in here as well as a nice selection of archival photographs and behind the scenes pictures showing off the cast and crew hard at work.

    Making Chance Work: Choreographing Hair interviews choreographer Twyla Tharp for thirteen minutes as she gives us a bit of background information on her career and how she wound up working on Hair before then telling us about what was involved in putting together the many, and very different, dance scenes that are featured in the picture. Again, the producers of the piece use a nice selection of archival photos and clips from the film to illustrate various points made during the talk.

    Cutting Hair is an interview with editors Lynzee Klingman and Stanley Warnow that runs for twenty-one-minutes. They talk about their training, how they came to work together, working with director Forman, how they tried to create a certain tone and flow in the film, cutting the musical numbers together and lots more. Once again some very cool archival phots and clips from the movie are used in this piece.

    In the HairStyle featurette we sit down with production designer Stuart Wurtzel for a sixteen-minute discussion of what all was required of him during the making of the film and how he went about getting all that was required for the shoot, his thoughts on how Hair differs from most other silver screen musicals, the complexity of certain scenes such as the one with all of the dry ice in the church and quite a bit more.

    Artist, Teacher, Mentor: Remembering Milos Forman is an interview with director James Mangold wherein the director of Walk The Line and Ford Vs Ferrari spends twenty-four-minutes talking about his thoughts on the late Forman and the importance of both his work and his independent process, what it was like working around him on his sets, how he got to know Forman over the years and quite a bit more.

    Rounding out the extras are a theatrical trailer for the feature, an essay on the film by Sheila O’Malle (available on the disc and in hardcopy format as a full color insert booklet included inside the clear Blu-ray case). Menus and chapter selection are also provided.

    As to the packaging, Olive Films includes a slipcover for this release and on the reverse side of the cover sleeve they’ve printed the chapter listings for the feature. It’s a very classy way to dress up an excellent package.

    Hair – The Final Word Review:

    Olive Films, though their Signature Edition series, has finally given Milos Forman’s adaptation of Hair a proper special edition Blu-ray release. The transfer and audio are very strong and there’s an excellent selection of extra features included here to document the film’s history and importance. All in all, a great package for a really solid film.

    Click on the images below for full sized Hair Blu-ray screen caps!