Hair: Let the Sun Shine In

Hair. Let the Sun Shine In

Clocking in at just under an hour, Hair: Let the Sun Shine In is a retrospective documentary on the play Hair, including interviews with many of the actors, writers, composers, producers, etc. involved in its original staging and touring in the ’60s and ’70s.

The film highlights the relationship of the play to its times, the way it articulated the attitudes, the spirit, the philosophy of the countercultural elements most closely associated with that time, including antiwar protest, struggles against racism and sexism, experimentation with narcotics, and a general openness and hopefulness and even utopianism that human relationships and social and political institutions could be radically remade for the better. It also makes at least some effort to draw parallels between that time and the present, for instance in identifying Iraq as today’s Vietnam.

Mostly I had trouble getting into this, though it sounds like the kind of subject matter that would interest me. Only toward the end did it win me over, and even then only to a limited degree. Most of the way I was more bored than not.

Maybe that’s because while the subject of the ’60s is undoubtedly an important and interesting one to me, this mostly struck me as a superficial overview of things I already knew. There’s just not a lot of ground that can be covered in less than an hour, especially when they’re having to relate things as much as possible to that specific play, plus using a certain amount of time on parallels to the present.

And the way they cover what they cover—and I suspect some viewers will disagree with me here—just doesn’t have a lot of bite to it. The film Sir! No Sir! about that same era, for instance, hit me a lot harder emotionally.

Also, the film doesn’t give a very clear idea of what Hair itself was about. You could certainly pick up from seeing this that it involved a lot of “’60s stuff” and that there was plenty of singing and dancing, but I don’t think you’d get much of a sense of the plot or most of the main characters. (That’s addressed briefly in one of the interviews. An interviewee says a common criticism is that the play doesn’t make a lot of sense and is a series of vignettes that only loosely relate to each other impressionistically. He disagrees, and gives a very cursory sentence or two summary of what he takes the plot to be.)

I suspect this film will be more easily appreciated by those already familiar with Hair and wanting to reminisce than with those who are new to the play.

I never saw Hair. The closest I came is I saw the movie version by Milos Forman over a decade ago, but my understanding is that that’s really not very close to the play. And I only vaguely remember it anyway.

I do like some of the music I’m aware of from Hair, and it was enjoyable hearing bits and pieces of some of the songs in this documentary.

As I say, I did start feeling more toward the end of this film. I sensed myself sympathizing with the interviewees’ attempts to articulate what had been special about those times, about how everything seemed up for grabs and people were really going to radically change the world and take it in a more humane direction.

Even when they self-deprecatingly admit they’d been naïve and immature about certain things, you sense they’re longing to return to that state more than admitting a mistake they’re glad is behind them.

As they recount, the people involved in the play itself to some extent tried to live by the ethos it celebrates, and that was just too utopian to last very long. So soon enough there was bickering and jealousy and misunderstandings and various problems. Plus it’s striking how many people associated with the play died young (a lot from AIDS—theater people, disproportionately gay, etc.). (Moving use of “Easy to Be Hard” as they talk about how hope gave way to grief, by the way.)

But I understood more by the end of Hair: Let the Sun Shine In why so many of the interviewees are still attached to that time, still don’t want to totally relinquish the idea that we could do a hell of a lot better than this with our world.

Even to the extent people aimed too high back then, had an unrealistic confidence in what was possible, overrated the capacities of themselves and others to achieve utopia, aren’t some failures more glorious than the niggardly successes of those who never stray from the conventional, who accept that certain things are “just the way things are” and work within those parameters?

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