Dazed and Confused

I don't understand the 70s.

I realize that this is most likely because I was not raised in an environment of "Make Love Not War" and because I can't understand what it means to live under the threat of the draft, and also because I like to take a shower EVERY DAY.

I am thinking about this because I watched Hair this weekend. And I know that some people have pointed to this as a generationally iconic play and that others have said that Hair is the embodiment of the anti-establishment movement, but ...

I don't get it.

I didn't watch Hair as a sociological study; I watched it because I'm a theatre teacher and I like musicals. And I know that every filmed musical is going to lose something in the translation, so I tried to keep that in mind. But even making allowances for the fact that everything is better onstage (well, it IS), I was still underwhelmed. Maybe if I'd been high ...

I know I'm not the target audience for this musical since I was just a baby when it premiered. And since my parents were both in the military. And since I don't do drugs.

But you know I never let anything stand in the way of criticism.

I haven't seen Hair onstage, so the following addresses the movie.

There's this kid, Claude, who's in NYC for a couple of days before he joins the Army and goes off to boot camp. And he meets up with this group of hippies in Central Park; their leader is this guy named Berger. And I spent most of the movie, by turns, thinking that Berger was hot and then wondering if that was David Lee Roth and then asking myself what it said about me if I thought David Lee Roth was hot, which I don't. But Berger is played by Treat Williams, not David Lee Roth, so ... WHEW! dodged a bullet there. <-- unintentionally ironic statement; you'll see.

The rest of the hippies in this little group are Woof, who has long blond hair; Hud, who is Black (capitalized because that is his role in this film: be black, and every stereotype associated with it); and Jeannie, who is pregnant, but she doesn't know if the baby is Woof's or Hud's and she doesn't particularly care.

Anyway, there are some snooty rich girls who are riding their horses in Central Park and there's this scene where Claude goes chasing after them on a rented horse that has run away and it was all very unnecessary--I thought--and trite and was mainly an excuse to reinforce the fact that Claude is a Country Boy and therefore out of his league with the rich girls.

Then there is some drug use. I thought it was pot but then they started smoking a little pipe and in my experience--which consists entirely of a Very Special Episode of Different Strokes--marijuana is smoked like a cigarette, but maybe they were doing something else, I don't know. They got stoned, is what I'm saying.

And then next day Claude is all, "I'm gonna go sight-seeing," because it's his first time in the Big City, you see, and they don't have subways and skyscrapers and them new-fangled horseless carriages back on the farm. But Berger talks him into crashing a party at some rich folks' house, and the house belongs to one of the horse-riding girls from the park. So they crash it and the rich girl's dad calls the police and the hippies go to jail.

So the prison people are getting their razors ready to shave the hippies' hair, and Woof THROWS A FIT. Seriously, this GROWN UP PERSON stomps his feet and twists his head back and forth and says, "No no no no no no no no," and I could not believe it. THIS? was the Voice of a Generation? THIS? is supposed to open my eyes to the underhanded doings of The Man? THIS? is how you protest things you think are unfair or unethical? I am going to remember that for the next time somebody proposes a cut in education funds.

The hippies (and Claude) come up in front of a judge who says they can bail themselves out if they want. The hippies, of course, have no money, but Claude does! So he is going to pay his bail and leave but the hippies start giving him a guilt trip about how he's BEING SELFISH and ABANDONING them. And I thought, "Cripes, people, he has known you for TWO DAYS." There are people I've known for years that I wouldn't pay their way out of prison. I'd totally be like, "Think of it as a learning experience," and then I'd laugh my way out to freedom. Well, but I am mean, though, and have not had the Bong-Bonding Experience.

But Claude is a wuss, and he gives in. Berger is bailed out, and he says that he "knows the streets" and that he will get the "bread" to get everybody else out. So here is how he gets the money: he asks his mommy for it. No, I am not kidding. I sat, disbelieving, on my couch and thought, "Oh, so Berger is a POSER," what with his stable middle-class roots and his intact nuclear family and his living room with the flowery wallpaper. And I have to admit that David Lee Roth/Treat Williams was not looking so hot to me at that moment.

So everybody is out to jail, and they all go to Central Park where there is a big demonstration of some sort. Or maybe it wasn't. The problem with peaceful protests is that sometimes you are just walking in a park, minding your own business, and you sit down to eat your lunch in an open field where there are hundreds of other people, and you think they're just enjoying the sunshine like you are, only it turns out the next day that you're in the paper because you accidentally walked in on a group that wants to free some convicted felons on account of they weren't read their rights at the time of their arrest sixteen years ago, and you didn't know it because there was no yelling.

At this particular protest/normal day in Central Park, some random guy is walking around distributing acid. And I thought it was particularly funny that he would just drop it on people's tongues; it reminded me of a Catholic mass, during the communion, when some of the congregation just go up to the priest and open their mouths like baby birds and he places the wafer directly on their tongues.

So Claude has this acid trip and dreams he is marrying the rich girl, Sheila. But everybody is flying around and there is weird music and I am never dropping acid, I'll tell you that.

And when he comes out of it, he goes skinny-dipping in the park with Sheila, only Berger and Hud and Woof run away with her clothes. And she is mad at Claude and takes a cab home, naked.

So Claude goes off to boot camp, even though Berger and the rest try to convince him to stay with them and be homeless in the park. But he will not change his mind, and off he goes.

Time passes, Jeannie is now about seven months pregnant, I guess, and she finds out that Hud has a girlfriend and a kid and his real name is Lafayette. But Jeannie doesn't care, because people should be free to love who they love, even if it means that you leave your kid behind.

It's almost time for Claude to be shipped off to Vietnam, so Berger and the gang hijack Sheila's friend's car and rush off to Arizona to "rescue" him. But it turns out the camp is on lockdown because somebody played a protest song over the PA system (I think?) and Claude can't leave. So Sheila fake-seduces an officer and steals his uniform, which Berger then puts on he sneaks onto the base. And he finds Claude and tries to get him to come out to where the hippies are, but Claude, who is a sell-out because he believes in Rules and Order and Accountability, refuses. Berger finally convinces him by switching uniforms with Claude and Claude, dressed as an officer, sneaks off the base and has a picnic with the hippies, while Berger, dressed as a private, mainly says, "Present!" during rollcall.

Claude is on his way back to the base when his squadron gets called up to Vietnam, only Berger is there, pretending to be Claude. And they are flying out in ten minutes and Claude drives fast and he runs but he is not in time and Berger goes to Vietnam.

Okay, here is where I found out that am not affected by this movie as other people may have been, because I found it hiLARious that Berger had been a victim of his own machinations, and I was laughing uncontrollably and then the next scene was in Arlington Cemetery and the shot was of Berger's tombstone. And I stopped mid-chortle and said, "Oh," and understood that mine was the wrong reaction.

And that is the end of the movie.

I felt, watching the credits roll, that I must have missed something. Because I was not inspired or uplifted or anything like that. And I didn't even think the music was all that great. And usually I am all over funky dance sequences, but I didn't have any kind of reaction to that either.

Maybe it's just that I was born in the wrong decade, or that I didn't have the kind of upbringing that would lead me to appreciate the themes of Hair. Except the major themes seem to be 1) government is bad, and 2) drugs are good.

And while I was watching, I remembered an episode of some news show I saw back when US soldiers first went to Iraq, and how a high school was producing this play and some parents were all up in arms over it. I think some people saw Hair as a way to protest going to Iraq, while others did not appreciate countercultural ideas being presented by and to high school-aged kids.

At the time, I was like, "Shuh. Hippies," and went on with my life, but now ... now, I think to myself, "What HIGH SCHOOL is allowed to produce this play?" I would be SO fired if I even thought about it for my school! And I realize that maybe the fact that I live in the South, in a very conservative Christian region, may have something to do with that, but ... still. I am very uncomfortable with the idea of putting fifteen and sixteen-year-olds up on a stage and telling them to pretend to be high. (Not that they wouldn't know how to do it, mind you). I can't think that would go over so well in my community.

On the whole, Hair (the movie) was an unsatisfying movie to watch, and while I'm not saying I would never see the play, I probably would come out of that theatre just as confused as I was having watched the movie.

1 comment:

Lady S said...

Um...and they get naked.

Yes, pot is sometimes smoked in a pipe. I've never smoked up, but isn't that just something people know?

The play is much better than the movie and the songs, just by themselves, are great.

I was born in 1976 and I love this show. I wonder if it is your upbringing that causes you not to be able to relate.


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