The Journey So Far

A chronological stroll thru the history of Broadway Musicals as they came to be recorded by Hollywood--the summation of a lifelong vocation, and a journey of self discovery. Equal parts cultural history, critique and personal memoir. Coming next: Beauty & the Beast

Saturday, July 4, 2015


March 14, 1979  United Artists  121 minutes
Like Show Boat, which presaged a revolution in musical theater, Hair which arrived at the tail end of Bway’s Golden Age for musicals, was precursor to another age. But where it took another 16 years after Show Boat for Oklahoma! to push the evolution, it only took four after Hair to close the door on a three decade streak of musical comedy (and drama) mastery. When the final three veterans of the Golden Age (Fiddler on the Roof, Hair, Follies) all closed on Bway on July 1, 1972, it was no longer the nation's Main Stem. Bway as a primary source of American culture was over. But Hair was such a phenomenon it burst far beyond the definitions of Bway, or arguably legit theater, as more of a happening, an event. It was the stage equivalent of the Beatles, an international sensation; a clarion call to a generation, one poised to question and/or reject all that came before it. Or, as Tom O'Horgan  described  it,  "a social epoch in full  explosion." 
Hair was born in the autumn following the Summer of Love, by two 30-something downtown actors with uptown credits: Gerome Ragni (who was in Richard Burton's Hamlet, and James Rado in Lion in Winter as one of Robert Preston's sons.)  But their roots were in The Open Theater and  LaMama, which played on the same streets as the nouveau-beatniks filtering into the Village (not to mention SF's Haight-Ashbury). Fueled by an rising anti-war sentiment, Jim & Jerry wrote a good many lyrics before finding composer Galt MacDermot--who despite his appropriately East Village name, was a married-with-children, classically-trained, jazz & rock musician, somewhat older and anything but a hippie. The show came together at the perfect hour to attract interest from producer Joseph Papp for his initial attraction at the new Public Theater on Astor Place. It was a smash hit more by luck than design; and a historic one from any angle. Its impact doomed the fundamentally-sound, professional Bway musical formula; killing a whole season of hapless tuners with a sword of the zeitgeist. (My poor, beloved, Henry, Sweet, Henry suffered the worst in its wake--and for this I carried some grudge, I kid you not.) But Hair, aside from legitimizing rock music (and nudity) on Bway, was unique more than trendsetting. The show's origin and evolution is fully and fascinatingly described in Eric Grode's amply illustrated history, Hair: The Story of the Show that Defined a Generation. (tho he gives the movie short shrift, calling it "an out-of-touch curiosity.") The play's formation and journey from Papp's Public, thru its rushed re-opening--and setback--at the Cheetah (a midtown discotheque) before redemption on Bway, is a show-biz fairy tale--plucked fresh off the streets. Under Tom O'Horgan's re-direction and Michael Butler's navigational supervision the musical (under astrological consultation) hit Bway in April '68, when all hell seemed to be happening in America. Its message was so immediate Butler didn't hesitate to open new companies thruout the country. Within a year there were eleven productions running nationally, most in open-ended sit-downs, not brief stops on a tour. Simply put, no other Bway musical can boast that much immediate impact.

It played for 16 months in San Francisco over '69-'70, but I wasn't drawn to it, as were my high school peers. It was the great unwashed intruder on Bway, and I recoiled from its assault on the R&H tradition. But once Bill played me the album, I had to admit there was something of substance in the score. I knew it well enuf by the time I saw it on Bway, my first summer in NY, but by then much of the original cast had left, as had most of the book (if ever there was one), and the free-for-all performance left far less of an impression on me than the finely calibrated stagings I saw by Robbins, Prince, Champion, Bennett and Ron Field. But aside from its historical import, Hair survives because of its score. The show's progress can be heard thru its recordings. The first, Off-Bway edition, the one that rocked NYTimes scribe Clive Barnes off his critical rocker is instructive as a work-in-progress. The show opened with "Ain't Got No," much more a socio-political statement than "Aquarius"--which was then buried deep in the second half. Most of the key songs were already present but the show concluded with a couple of glaring duds ("Exanaplanetooch" and "The Climax") that were cut before Bway. No less than 13 songs were added--all welcome, but none more so than the rousing chant of catharsis from an ever-dimmer tale: "Let the Sunshine In." Along with better singers and a bigger band (added horns & sax) the OCR is quintessentially 1968. It certainly felt genuine enuf for the youth of America to push it to #1 on Billboard for a quarter of a year, in total charting for 151 weeks--the last of the mass-selling OCRs. The show also spawned dozens of covers. The biggest hit by The Fifth Dimension, a black pop/soul group whose "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In" was nearly inescapable thru 1969. "Good Morning Sunshine" was another gold record--this by a briefly popular North Carolinian pop singer, Oliver. "Easy to Be Hard" was a hit for rock band, Three Dog Night. Another band of brothers, a clean-cut family (and inspiration for TV's Partridge Family), The Cowsills had (bizarrely) a #2 hit with "Hair." 
Recordings are countless, and get as arcane as "Hair Goes Latin" by Edmundo Ros. You should hear his "Flesh Failures."

Galt MacDermot has been sadly underused as a theater composer, but what there is shows proof of an exceptional melodic & rhytmic intelligence. A fast writer, he said in writing Hair, that if a song didn't come within one morning, it wasn't any good. His take on Ragni & Rado's hippie cantata was to set it to various funk & African beats. On top of the free-verse lyrics, Galt found a beat to match the poetry which at times stole from Allen Ginsberg ("3-5-0-0") and Shakespeare ("What a Piece of Work is Man"), or simply consisted of little more than lists; of nasty words, racial epithets, drugs, types of hair, initials, etc. Many so short they barely got started before they were over. MacDermot's looseness and tuneful facility brought the songs to life. It's impossible to think of anyone who could have done it better, or more precisely, as well. His sophmore effort, which began also with Joseph Papp, was Two Gentlemen of Verona, which is now unfairly known more for being the "wrong" show to win the Tony over Follies.   It  is a  joyful score,  that,  even  more  than  Hair, 
seems a prisoner of its aural period--despite being set in the 16th century. Two Gents overflows with music, so much that the OCR took two discs, something they didn't even grant Sondheim's Follies the first time in a studio. As a prospective Bway fixture, MacDermot looked to dominate 1972, with two gigantic musicals opening within weeks of each other. Dude (with Geroge Ragni again) rebuilt the interior of the Broadway Theater for an enviromental road trip set to a country beat.
Via Galactica was a Sci-Fi space opera at the Uris (now the Gershwin --Bway's largest auditorium.) Both sounded fascinating; both were spectacular flops--which kept Galt away from theater for a dozen years--lured back by the Public again, this time to set Saroyan to song. Buttressed with raves, The Human Comedy was rushed to Bway--where it was nervously and unfairly shuttered after only two weeks. A shame, for MacDermot's score is amazing. An opera  staged  like an  oratorio,  the  piece  evokes a  1940s 
sound while simultaneously feeling modern (or rather, timeless). It certainly proved MacDermot had range beyond the rock idiom. Brimming with music--Human Comedy has over 75 songs--Galt's sound is uniquely his and hard to mistake for anyone elses. For this reason, it was a good idea to have him adapt Hair for the movie score--a rare occurence in Hlwd; not even Rodgers would score his own films. The sound feels fresh and updated without diminishing its late '60s roots. From the first long, long lead-in to "Aquarius" we are lured into a seductive groove, that bursts into those iconic, declarative notes, "When the moon..." setting us at ease that the music is in good hands. For one thing, it's sung better than before, with top Bway talent featured on many choral passages sung outside the leads, such as Betty Buckley pouring from the lips of a Vietnamese girl mouthing "Walking in Space." Unfortunately the film doesn't find narrative place for a few good songs such as "Frank Mills" and "Abie Baby" (the Gettysburg rap given new melody by Galt--which I find particularly catchy); tho they're included on the soundtrack. Elsewhere, Melba Moore, Nell Carter, Ellen Foley and Laurie Beechman pop up to lend vocal support. "Frank Mills" was, of course, the signature song of Shelley Piimpton (who played Crissy--a role dropped in the film), a young waif, who worked as a waitress before auditioning for Hair at the Public. Tho she later married the original Woof, Steve Curry (whose psychadelic image was the show's Bway poster), it was another cast romance, with a 20 year-old Keith Carradine that resulted in the next generation of the acting family dynasty: Martha Plimpton.

A Bway revival only five years after closing showed how far the zeitgeist had moved past Hair, its flashpoint relevance already so dated by 1977. So what to do for a film at this late date? Michael Butler was determined to bring it to the screen, and in partnership with Lester Persky produced the pic for United Artists. Their surprise choice for director was Czech exile, Milos Forman--coming off his Oscar win for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, who saw in Hair much  of  his  own  rebel  youth  on the  streets  of  Prague
Forman treats the material as romantic American folklore, similar to what Oscar Hammerstein saw in Oklahoma!; with Twyla Tharp stepping in for Agnes DeMille, creating her own interpretive dances. It's an unexpected take, which put some off--including the authors--but I think it's a daring gambit, and a more timeless one than any attempt at docudrama or pointed re-creation. Ragni & Rado wanted their historic-political cake and relevance too; but short a backstage bio (like the one made of Cradle Will Rock--which might be pretty groovy at that) I think the choices made by Forman, Tharp & Weller were very smart.

The casting isn't just smart, it's brilliant. Treat Williams exudes so much charisma thru his curly locks and impish grin that you can almost forgive Berger's self-indulgence. He moves & sings well; nowhere better than in  "I Got Life"--a real show-stopper. As Hud, Dorsey Wright bears strong resemblance in looks and demeanor to my old NY friend, Al Austin--both men of natural refinement. Don Dacus (a rock singer moon-lighting as actor) is an amiable, very blonde Woof--but his role is stripped of any sexual ambiguity (on Bway he crushed on Berger) and he registers less. Annie Golden plays a sweet, almost imbecilic Jeannie--pregnant and passively uncertain of the father. She suggests the effects of marijuana on the teenage brain. With her chipmunk grin and country club sheen, Beverly D'Angelo makes a  shining
foil of Sheila. A band singer who transitioned to films, her acting career took off from here. The following year she was fantastic as Patsy Cline to Sissy Spacek's Coal Miner's Daughter, and in '84 a terrific Stella in a TV Streetcar Named Desire, to Treat Williams' Stanley and Ann-Margret's Blanche. Sadly she's best known now as Chevy Chase's wife in the franchise Vacation movies. As Sheila's put-upon younger brother, Miles Chapin nails the young Republican douche. Hud's baby mama, Cheryl Barnes, is no cliched ghetto ho, but a credible working gal or college student; the purity of her singing a reminder of how far we've devolved into the dreadful miasma of today's female vocalists. But above all these, there is no better find than John Savage for  Claude. 
Even watching the movie now (for the 10th time--and not in two decades) I am shocked at how visceral an impression he still makes. Certain actors in certain roles take on significance beyond the screen and seep into our bloostream. De Niro did it for me in New York, New York, and John Savage was the next one to come down the pike. His every frame fascinates me to no end. With his deep set eyes & impossibly high cheek bones, he oozes the brooding good/bad boy vibe of James Dean--tho much cuter to my taste. But dreamy looks alone
do not hook my fixation, it's more the profound honesty of character he exudes. In the film's opening moments, parting with his father, he conveys such an artful inarticulateness that speaks volumes. And when he talks, his voice rolls out in a shy Oklahoma drawl; with a laugh that makes you want to hug him. As an alien in NY he's naturally wary, but the way in which he opens up to the Tribe, to Sheila, and to all things happening around him is expressed with meticulous construction. I should love to have seen how his Claude would further evolve, as presumbably Sheila's mate, as a man, as a father.  He  hadn't made  that  kind  of  impression  on  me
when I'd seen him on Bway during previews for David Mamet's American Buffalo--It didn't help that I hated the play. But it proved his ticket to movie casting agents, and Hair elevated his presence from a vivid supporting role in The Deer Hunter--where he proved equal to the stature of his co-stars: De Niro, Streep, Walken and John Cazale. He graduated to headlining with The Onion Field and Inside Moves (as yet another Vietnam vet) the next year, but oddly, he didn't become the Star he seemed destined for; tho he's worked steadily in supporting roles (Salvador, Do the Right Thing, Godfather III, Terence Malick's Thin Red Line and New World) for nearly 40 years. But nowhere is he more endearing than in Hair.
Michael Weller's screenplay expands beyond what was secular on stage; where we had only the Tribe without any outsiders. Weller brings in the rest of us, showing various reactions to the hippie surgence; fear, repulsion, curiosity, attraction. Not least from Claude--now an Oklahoma country boy (another nod to Hammerstein?) not of the Tribe; but almost foolishly taken in by them on his way into the army. Sheila, too, is a "civilian": an upper-class Jersey debutante; her brother a high school dork. The Tribe is reduced to a quartet, just Berger, Hud, Woof and Jeannie, who is pregnant by one of them. Hud is later revealed as an absent father; his fiance (who gets the torchy "Easy to Be Hard" but isn't given a name--the credits list her merely as Hud's fiance) & son another pair of outsiders who join in the journey.  The show's original anti-war emphasis (carried over from Ragni's days in Viet Rock, an experimental rock musical at LaMama) was passe by the late '70s, so Weller's script focussed more on the spiritual and hedonistic qualities of the hippie life; a choice that some--starting with the authors--considered tantamount to pillage. As one not so attached to the original show, I find the movie far more involving. Weller's characters and their interactions connect more deeply with me, conveying a level of intensity that feels authentic for that time & place. But in the long run the show, above all, is its music; and Forman & Tharp present the score in stunning fashion.

It's almost startling that the film starts without music, at dawn outside a house in Oklahoma. A father drives his young son to a rural bus stop. With a minimum of dialogue we know everything we need to about Claude, and like him already. As the bus pulls away, the downbeat begins and the vamp to "Aquarius" stretches for the whole length of the journey to New York. We meet the Tribe burning their draft cards, and Central Park awash in hippiedom, with Tharp's  dancers  twitching  in  stoned  abandon;  cops  on 
dancing horses and the camera twirling around Renn Woods singing the defining opening song. A few incidents connect Claude to Sheila and the Tribe and a series of short songs lead into the stoned night--culminating in an explosive "Ain't Got No." And here we must note how well the music is edited. One of the hardest, and least well-done elements in movie musicals are the transitions from song to scene. For once, there's a brilliant intelligence at work on that nuance. The final cymbal crash of "Ain't Got No" has Claude bolt upright the next morning; a breathtaking razor sharp cut--that jars us as much as him. For a welcome change of scene (from Central Park) Weller takes us into Philip Roth territory next: Sheila's Jersey debutante ball, which Berger, not only crashes, but arrogantly flaunts his self-styled liberation, wreaking havoc on a formal banquet table.  Of course "I Got Life"  is meant to  amaze us--and it 
does, tho Berger's underlining "fuck you" is really unearned--it's actually appallingly selfish. Still, it's as joyous as it is improbable--and one of the film's stand-alone highlights. (But why only tits & ass in the list of body parts he's happy to have?--Couldn't the boys in all their no-holds-barred liberation bring themselves to mentioning cock?) A stint in jail affords placement of the song, "Hair," followed by a short playlet with Berger and his parents that sums up the whole national discourse between generations at that  time.  As  his  loud-mouthed,  soft-hearted  mother, 
Antonia Ray is priceless--especially in her insistence on washing his pants. Out of jail the tribe joins a park Be-In, with Claude taking his first acid trip. "Electric Blues" and "Hare Krishna" are perfect aural expressions, but the fantasy scenes dreamed up as Claude's hallucinations are so unlike LSD, they could only come from the minds of psychedelic virgins. Twyla gets to play with flash mobs for "Where Do I Go," filling and clearing NY streets while Claude questions his existence. If the movie lacks the show's anti-war activism, it sure spends a lot of the second half with the army. It begins at the induction center, where draftees strip for inspection. The first, a very young Michael Jeter, is exposed with painted red toenails--the film's allusion to homosexuality as grounds for rejection But then what are we to make of what follows?: the funky "Black Boys/White Boys" combo, which Forman takes to camp extremes; cutting between the familiar black & white female trios, and the male army board,  equally  drooling --in falsetto-- over the  specimens 
before them. It's pretty cheeky and hilarious--but what is it saying? To gild the lily, here's the nudity provided--two hunks and Claude stripped to their bare hands for coverage. That and some skinny dipping the night before constitute the quota for bare asses. Of course Hair was at one time famous most for its nudity--the collective dropped-trou at the end of the first act, done under the proviso of standing still (the tableux vivant was the legal loophole) was a last minute filigree to "Where Do I Go?" by director Tom O'Horgan. It certainly gave the show another summit of notoriety. But the uncovered penis has made many appearances on Bway since '68, and now serves the show more as a cast-bonding experience than a statement of shock value.

"Walking in Space" was meant to represent an acid trip on stage, but on screen becomes a surrealist montage of boot camp. "3-5-0-0" juxtaposes troop manuevers with anti-war protestors in DC. "Good Morning Sunshine" has our principals (Berger, Woof, Hud, Hud's fiancee & child, Jeannie and Sheila) cruising thru the desert in Sheila's parents' Lincoln--a happy driving song! It's too infectous to 
be corny. But from this point forward there are untypically long stretches without music. The process of getting Berger to infiltrate the base and switch places with Claude requires a bit of narrative. But Berger's actions if not stupidly naive, seem just outright clueless. Perhaps Weller's intention is to demonstrate the consequence of such flippance, which has Berger shipped off to Viet Nam in Claude's stead. Momentum is quickly regained once the music returns; another long, long vamp, this the one leading into "The Flesh Failures," the great bolero build up to the catharsis of "Let the Sunshine In" (which wouldn't work half as well without "Flesh Failures" to  build up to its explosion.) Forman matches the intensity with propulsive visuals: Claude's desperate, too late return to base, Berger's unwitting conscription into the corps; the frightening, mechanical movement of troops. Singing his final lines, Berger marches into the belly of a transport plane, as if being swallowed up by war. With no transition we're next at his grave, along with Claude, & Sheila, Hud with his fiancee (now sporting an Afro and peasant blouse) and child, Jeannie with Woof and (obviously their, not Hud's) new baby--a sadder-but-wiser nuclear family: protesting the war: "Let the Sunshine In."

The film opened at the Ziegfeld Theater in NY on March 14, 1979, and tho dismissed by some was largely praised for its creativity, its new perspective, its pitch-perfect casting and its freshness in direction and choroegraphy. But the viral popularity of the original show did not catch fire at the box office--too late to be relevant, too soon for nostalgia. As well as too sincere, unlike the previous year's Grease--with its codified period cliches, and monster grosses. Ironically, Hair was an art house hit which didn't broaden nationwide; earning just $6,800,00 in film rentals--not much better than The Wiz or Mame. Those were star vehicles, granted, but awful. Hair was, ironically, too special for mass appeal.

They were the counterculture youth and they scared the bejesus out of Nixon's America. They scared me too, somewhat. For tho I was certainly more Rat Pack than back pack my puberty was dawning in the age of Aquarius. And what disturbed me more than anything was how unhygenic it all looked. Raised on the inherent OCD of my Russian parents, I had developed the need for a hot shower and clean socks every day. As one weaned on Mad Men-era glamour, the rise of hippie culture was an affront to standards, to taste. And yet as the '60s morphed into the '70s, I found myself embracing their attitudes about politics, drugs, nudity, philosophy--tho I never related to the whole back-to-earth movement, being a dedicated city boy. As the decades passed, I would see how shockingly different the generations following would develop; not having the experience of the '60s in their brain stem--something so informing of who I am, who I became,  along 
with those around me. Over time, with the help of the movie, I'd grown quite fond of Bway's Hair, and even made a long-weekend jaunt to NY to see the concert put on by Encores in May 2001. As a musical performance it was alive and vibrant, but fully staged in Diane Paulus's 2009 revival the show had an (inescapable?) aura of play-acting about it; feelings, attitudes, venacular both physical & verbal that felt "researched" rather than felt. But if the cast spiritually bonded, as Jay Armstrong Johnson tells it, they bonded more in the cult of show-folk than as shapers of the zeitgeist.

Bway, in the spring of '79 had a burst of activity--tho much of it was the final frail stand of Golden Age giants. Strouse & Adams crashed A Broadway Musical (could there be a more generic title?) a meta-musical about their experience writing a black musical (Golden Boy), as inspired by A Chorus Line. Jerry Herman saw an undeserved quick flop with The Grand Tour. Alan Jay Lerner coerced Burton Lane back for Carmelina (which had virtually the identical story to the much later  Mamma Mia)  and another fast fold.  (Unlike 
Paris or London, Italy is a very unlucky Bway musical locale.) Man of La Mancha's Mitch Leigh and The Rainmaker's N. Richard Nash adapted Jorge Amado's charming Brazilian ghost story Dona Flor & Her Two Husbands into Sarava (starring the recent stage Yentl, Tovah Feldshuh--go figure.) It ran 6 months of previews before closing without ever facing the critics. But nothing signalled finality like the last new Bway Musical from Richard Rodgers  unveiled at the end of May.  A  John Van Druten 
play R&H had first produced back in the '40s, I Remember Mama was a sentimental family saga of Norwegians in San Francisco, and an obvious candidate for R&H musicalization--which surely helped lyricist Martin Charnin (emboldened by his success with Annie) to coerce Rodgers into collaboration. The show, starring a tuneless Liv Ullmann, lasted three months thru summer. And so Richard Rodgers was done. But not out, as a sparkling fresh   revival   of  Oklahoma!    proved   that   December--
bringing some comfort to his final days. He died on December 30th--bowing out hours ahead of the '80s. The year's hits were by the '70's golden boys: Marvin Hamlisch & Neil Simon's They're Playing Our Song, Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, and Rice & Lloyd Webber's Evita. More on them in due time.

Once I'd attended shows on Bway, road tours felt inevitably second-rate; even as they rolled out direct from NY. Evita was on its way to Bway--but felt still unformed. Also in tryout I saw The Grand Tour, and that Oklahoma! (with my beloved Mary Wickes as Aunt Eller, and my first exposure to Christine Ebersole--as Ado Annie.) My fourth visit to On the 20th Century (now on tour with a sub-par Rock Hudson--and Judy Kaye) tarnished my love for the show; and a sad CLO revival of Bells are Ringing with Florence Henderson had me postulating in my journal that I was once and for all outgrowing my adolescent musical comedy fixation. (Not quite--I was merely in the throes of the zeitgeist.) But if Bway was a sad reminder of lost glory days, Hlwd was capping out a transformative decade with an stunning parade of creative features. 1939 is often cited as Hlwd's "greatest year." Perhaps, but in all my years of movie-going, 1979 was the greatest. It started with Terence Malick's tone poem, Days of Heaven, followed quickly by Norma Rae and The China Syndrome--which preceded by mere days the 3-Mile Island nuclear accident--the kind of publicity no amount of money could buy. I saw all three again before I saw Hair on March 31st. With low expectations going in, the sucker punch it gave me had me returning five more times within a few weeks; even meriting the acid test. I hadn't been this obsessed with a movie since New York, New York.
I'd moved from Chinatown to Nob Hill at the end of January--into a two room jewelbox apartment on the top (4th) floor of a building at the corner of California & Leavenworth. My bay window, where I set my desk to write, gave me views both west and south. One block up was Grace Cathedral and the nob of Nob Hill. Several blocks down was Polk St, and Van Ness, with a number of the city's prime movie houses--all too tempting for impulse film-going. Something I gave into often. Hair was that rare experience which fuels an insatiable hunger. It's rare enuf that it occurs every so often but scarcely a month would pass before it happened again, only two-fold. Never before, or since, was I so besotted by a movie as I was by Manhattan.  I saw it five times that first week, and ten by year's end. On many levels it was the perfect storm for my obession, on the one hand for its dramatic structure (short, tight scenes in one) on the other for its use of music (NY set to Gershwin--photographed in B&W by master cameraman Gordon Willis). On top of this was Diane Keaton--ironically one of Hair's first cast members to move on--whose character, Mary, was in style & personality a dead ringer for the Girl I Left Behind when I bailed from NY. (And undoubtedly the start of my jounrey to reconciliation--and other disastrous ramifications.) Manhattan defined my life that year, but the hits kept coming. July brought a surprise charmer, Breaking Away--which had my old Cherry Lane cohort Danny Stern as one of the four leads. The Seduction of Joe Tynan capped Barbara Harris's '70s film career opposite a young Meryl Streep; the original French La Cage aux Folles; Diane Kurys's Peppermint Soda, and Max Havelaar--a hypnotic Danish film, about the Dutch in  16th Century Java (which, alas, I've never been able to locate again) were all rather special. Then came Apocalypse Now--another peak experience (especially on acid--the 3rd film that merited it that year), continuing thru Bette Midler's sensational debut in The Rose, and a trio of Xmas gifts: Kramer Vs. Kramer, Being There, and All That Jazz. The bounty was such that neither Manhattan nor Hair made the Oscar Best Picture or Director cut: and tho Woody Allen got a writing nod, Hair wasn't even recognized for scoring. Along with this cornucopia of contemporary cinema, a comprehensive silent comedy film fesitval unveiled in August as companion  to   Walter  Kerr's  great  valentine  volume  on 
Keaton, Chaplin, Lloyd & Langdon:, The Silent Clowns. For three weeks, nearly every night (or day) I trekked to the tiny Surf theater, off the wind-blown, desolate west coast of SF; shivering in the fog waiting for the last streetcar back into town. It was a long ride home to Nob Hill, but my newfound love for Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton (but not Chaplin) overrode the inconvenience--in those ancient days before video put cinema into our own hands.

At the start of the '70s I was a high school nerd and show music addict. By decade's end I was already in retreat from NY and listening to almost everything but Bway. I caught up with the pop/rock I'd ignored thru my youth, but it was the so-called New Wave that finally felt like my pop music prime. Springsteen, Blondie, Talking Heads, The Specials, The English Beat, Madness, The Cars, and Elvis Costello (whose lyrics served as dialogue in a bromance I had that fall with a Berkeley hippie who worked only briefly at the book-store; sweet James O'Keefe). I first heard the long, driving intro to "Planet Claire" by the B'52s while riding a bus--and saw the whole of the '80s flash before my eyes. Never mind there were parallel worlds of disco & punk and whatnot, this was the flashpoint where I intersected with the zeitgest. All this was reflected in the screenplay I was writing that year about twenty-somethings groping thru relationships in San Francisco on the cusp of the '80s--when Manhattan came along to show me the framework, expand my ideas, structure my scenes. I called it High Fidelity (years before Nick Hornby wrote his tale of a music obsessed romantic--mine was a DJ). Instead of Gershwin, I envisioned a soundtrack of New Wave groups to define his (my) taste and evolution as an early outlier of the music video. (MTV was yet to arrive.) Like myself, my characters were full of hope and excitement for the coming decade. The '70s were in many ways incomprehensible, and to my taste an insult to the eye. All of that was due for a change--and I was ready to be among those defining the '80s. In reading--for the first time--my journals from this period, I'm somewhat surprised at how much emotional drama and psychic turmoil I was going thru; at how many people cycled in & out of my life--men I sought for emotional intensity; women I tried to strike sexual sparks with; creative minds I sought in vain as collaborators.  (Where oh where was the Rodgers to my H(e)art. Is it sad--or perfect?--that the one who still holds a place in my heart from then is my first cat, Louis (named for the hero of Kind Hearts & Coronets), who comforted me thru many a heartache. My eye was in constant search of coupling, but my mind was consumed with anxiety over my determination to write. I couldn't waste my bookstore cushion, without putting in some hard work at the Smith Corona. Yet I still managed to entertain visiting friends, and engage in a good deal of after-midnight socializing--much of it at a tavern in North Beach called the Savoy Tivoli, which in those days seemed the very center of cafe society. Apparently I had plenty of time to hang out with too many co-workers; frequent first-run movies; patronize comedy clubs (another burgeoning interest--and another detour down the line) and listen to all my new music--growing with weekly visits to Tower Records--all fueled with the concomitant Tales of the City-era consumption of grass, between the occasional acid trip. What I've forgotten about 1979 could fill a book. And did as my journal attests. But how much of it was ever worth remembering? Mention that year and what's always there first and foremost is the impact I felt from films like The China Syndrome, Apocalypse Now, Manhattan and Hair. They were more than movies, but part of the fabric of my life. That's something I'm not likely to forget.

Next Up: '70s Also Rans

Report Card:   Hair
Overall Film:  A
Bway Fidelity:  C-
Songs from Bway:  21
Songs Cut from Bway:  10
Worst Omission: "Frank Mills"
New Songs: 1 "Somebody to Love"
               (used in b.g. only)
Standout Numbers:  "I Got Life" "Walking in
               Space" "Black Boys/White Boys"
Casting: Exceptional
Standout Cast: John Savage, Antonia Ray
Cast from Bway:  Melba Moore & Ronnie
               Dyson (cameos only)
Direction:  Sharp, thoughtful, imaginative
Choreography: Tie-dye Twyla Tharp
Scenic Design:  All locations
Costumes:  Vintage East Village
Titles: Crisp font over opening scenes
Oscar noms: None
Camp Hall of Fame: "Black Boys/White Boys" 

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