Coinciding with the successful Broadway revival of Hair comes the DVD release of the 2007 documentary Hair: Let the Sun Shine In. The film was created by Wolfgang Held and Pola Rapaport, and it represents an attempt to examine the cultural phenomenon that was Hair in the 1960s as well as the social context that surrounded and gave rise to the show.
Such a powerful and important musical really deserves a better testament than Held and Rapaport provide. The 55-minute film spends about 45 minutes heaping blind and unrestrained praise on the show's creators and producers. Included in the film are interviews with librettist/lyricist James Rado, composer Galt MacDermot, and director Tom O'Horgan, who passed away earlier this year. Rado's writing partner Gerome Ragni died in 1991, before the making of the film. Also on hand are various cast members, including Ben Vereen, Keith Carradine, and Melba Moore.
The film includes a lot of vague hippie speak about creating a new kind of theater and reflecting the zeitgeist and whatnot, but there really isn't any compelling social or critical analysis. To be sure, there's some interesting footage here of the original Broadway cast of Hair, as well as various international productions. And there's some illustrative stock footage of the Vietnam War and the Kent State massacre, which does help bring put the social setting in relief. But Held and Rapaport seem to have mistaken juxtaposition for synthesis. There's really no effort here to provide a coherent thesis.
The most annoying footage involves the cast of some New York production of Hair involving Rado and O'Horgan, but it's really not clear which production this is. The footage features a lot of self-satisfied young performers showing off for the camera, very pleased with themselves to be involved in such a worthy and important show, but not reflecting for a second that they understood anything about the show.
In the last ten minutes, Held and Rapaport throw in some interesting but undeveloped references to drug use during the Broadway run, tensions between Rado and Ragni, and a sad but irrelevant mention of cast members that later died of AIDS. The one truly compelling sequence involved an actor who played Woof on the show's national tour. The show had been receiving bomb threats from various conservative groups. One night, the stage manager came up to the actor during a performance and said that they had to leave. The hotel where their respective families were staying had been fire bombed. Ultimately both men lost their wives, and the actor lost two young daughters, to the blaze. According to the film, the perpetrators were never caught.
The DVD is available at Amazon, but you can also catch it on the Sundance Channel starting in July. It's worth a watch, but it's certainly not of lasting quality. Fortunately, the shows that inspired the film is.