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.