in , , , , ,



‘…a showcase for the charisma of a young, of the moment cast and specifically Treat Williams, whose uproarious performance of I Got Life, accompanied by a plate-smashing revolt at a posh dinner party, captures the rebellious spirit of the sixties with elan…’

One of the odd effects of social media has been unexpected, casual insight into the everyday lives of others; I’m not sure how or why I ended up following Treat Williams’ twitter feed, but I’m glad I did. Williams was a heavily ballyhooed leading man of the 70’s and 80’s, but his recent personal messaging rarely mentioned that aspect of his life. Instead, he just seemed to be that rarest of things, a contented character, posting defiantly ordinary pictures of himself, his family, his garden, lawnmowers, sunsets and sunrises. His untimely death in a motorcycle accident puts an abrupt end to such blissful ruminations, but at least Williams found some peace with himself, and there’s never anything wrong or funny about a little peace, love and understanding.

Williams originated the role of Danny in the stage musical Grease, and even if he was passed over for Travolta in the popular film version, Williams was already going places cinematically, with his best role, replacing Travolta in Sidney Lumet’s absorbing Prince of the City, just around the corner. But for older generations who remember the Chesapeake Shores actor from his earlier incarnations, his iconic supporting role as George Berger in Milos Forman’s 1979 adaptation of the totally radical musical Hair was probably the first thing that sprang to mind.

Arriving some ten years after the hippie culture it celebrated had died off, Forman’s follow-up to the monumental One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest seemed like it was out of sync with the disco era, but had a few novel tricks up its sleeve. Forman brings a welcome dose of Eastern European surrealism to the property, starting with the dancing police horses in Central Park in the opening scene. The drama features the mis-education of Claude Hooper Bukowski (John Savage), a soldier headed for Vietnam who travels to NYC and falls under the wing of Dionysian wanderer called Mr Berger (Treat Williams) and his tie-dyed clan of hippies. Although lots of numbers and scenes from the stage-show were cut, songs like Aquarius and Good Morning Starshine are all staged with verve, with Beverly D’Angelo doing a great job with the latter song’s singalong haze.

Even if the original writers disapproved, Hair proved a lively example of Forman’s versatility, and a showcase for the charisma of a young, of the moment cast and specifically Williams, whose uproarious performance of I Got Life, accompanied by a plate-smashing revolt at a posh dinner party, captures the rebellious spirit of the sixties with elan. Hair wasn’t a hit on release, but there’s probably a few generations of thoughtful viewers who’ll be turning on, tuning in, and dropping out to the sound of Mr Berger unbridled enthusiasm for livin’ over the next week or so.


Leave a Reply
  1. I really liked this film.. you could say it’s a little wobbly in places, but aren’t we all. I mean it’s not the most polished movie so I can understand why audiences might have given it a miss. But it’s like those great 60s songs, their flaws become their strengths by virtue of their earnestness and heart. The way corporations have successfully hijacked hippie culture to sell iphones, android phones, ipads, etc is perhaps testament to the enduring appeal of those beautiful values.

    • Oh, that is a good point. Yes, whatever a sixties hippie was is different from what that word might mean now. But the songs are great, and Forman gives it all the right counter-culture feel. The age of Aquarius was the best time for this, but I think most people are a little hippie at heart, and this film kinda captures that vibe…

  2. High praises for your critique of this (to me) classic slice of hippie life and your treatment of Treat, a different kind of special! Blast from the past as I had a Hairy part in a school play, saw it on Broadway in its heyday, and wished it got a Rocky Horror treatment when I saw it in the theatre. Note to self, buy new DVD, may have worn out existing copy. Signed, Aquarian Hippie

    • You did Hair as a school play? That must have been a liberal establishment. I’m certainly a fan of the 79 film, even if the original writers were not. And as a child of the sixties, I’m happy if someone uses the label on me…

  3. If you have seen the stage musical, you’ll know that’s exactly what happens to Mr Berger; he gets shipped to Vietnam and killed. Guess he didn’t have the rich elite option of bone spurs…

    The Substitute 2 wasn’t his finest hour, but actors gotta work…

  4. I mainly remember Williams for his role in the “The Substitute 2”. I know I’ve seen him in other stuff too, but that’s the one that stands out to me. I had no idea he had died.

    As for this movie. Well, get that hippie a haircut and ship him pronto to the front lines! Let him dance for the VC and see if they appreciate his message more than I do….

  5. Hippie culture didn’t just die off, it was exterminated, starting in the ’80s. And really we’ve been putting the boots to it ever since. Can’t say I object to this too much either. It didn’t produce much of any value and the hippies were just boomers who sold out as soon as they got a bit older anyway.

    • I’ve seen you Alex, dancing in the park with flowers in your hair. I think this musical was out of date by 73, but I do like Forman’s approach to making a musical, lots of location work but also fourth wall breaks. It’s a fun movie that would have been soaked into the pulse of the times if it had been made ten years earlier.

    • Agree to disagree? Hippie isn’t a cliche, means different strokes to different folks, no? It’s roots arose from Beat soil, contains a multitude of influences, changed attitude of a generation, kicked started a few revolutions. In the UK, hippies revolted against post war austerity. In US, against a bad war, bad politics, inequality… they remain important because they/we were willing to step outside normal society and look at it objectively from Birds Eye vantage point. Counterculture started the ecology movement, brought sex out in open, addressed the race/sex/religion/privilege inequality issue, and questioned everything… absolutely many took it too far or after dropping out got back on the normal bus. I have an original set of hippie beads to pass on to a new hippie Gen when they finally get here…

      • I’ll happily take them! Generally not a fan of any label, but a hippie is usually just someone who has a more counter-culture attitude than the person using the word. To a soldier, pretty much most civilians would be hippies, unless that soldier is say Donald Sutherland in Kelly’s Heroes. But yes, I’m trying to have my cake and eat it, because different names mean different things to all people…

      • Fair enough, and to confess: I’ve always had a thing against boomers in general. Reviewed a book on them a while back:

        I guess my main claim about hippies not producing much of any value had to do with cultural matters. I don’t even like the music. But elsewhere I’m also more inline with the thinking that sees neoliberalism and the hippie movement as basically joined at the hip, the counterculture as consumerist utopia. Plus as Gibney (the author of the book I mentioned) points out, the big movements for political equality and even environmentalism were actually brought about more by the so-called “greatest generation” that survived the Depression and fought the Second World War. The hippies just had a party and then got old and predictably started behaving even more like “the most spoiled generation in the history of civilization” (as a newspaper column a few years back put it).

        Of course not all hippies changed in their tie-dyed shirts into suits and then became grumpy old men (all the former hippies I know vote Green) but if you look at the voting data it’s the members of that generation who voted for Brexit (and are the only ones who still support it), and who Trump drew on for most of his support. So while bashing hippies was big sport as far back as the ’80s (think of Alex Keaton on Family Ties), I wasn’t against it then and I’m OK with it today.

      • Still ruminating on this. As a social movement, hippies belong in the past, taking over from beatniks, but super versed by punks. It’s a counter-cultural thing, but being an old hippie carries a certain contradiction since the roots of being a hippie are surely within youth. I’m keen on ideals, if not idealism, and I guess what we as individuals end up with is a mix of each different movement. What the past was is one thing, it’s what we say and do NEXT that matters, and therefore labels have to be used with care.

        That said, I’d happily put on my gravestone what Woody Guthrie write on his guitar…

7 Pings & Trackbacks

  1. Pingback:

  2. Pingback:

  3. Pingback:

  4. Pingback:

  5. Pingback:

  6. Pingback:

  7. Pingback:

Leave a Reply