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  • Writer's pictureEllen Cheshire

Hair - 40th anniversary revisit

Updated: Jun 1, 2023

The cinemas are alive with the sound of music, as the BFI celebrates the film musical. Alongside the 1,000s of film screenings across the country, they are also bring out a selection of classic musicals on Blu-Ray/DVD with extras, and for the first pressing a booklet with new essays.

I was honoured to be asked to write the lead essay on Hair (1979, Milos Forman). Buy it here.

As part of my research I tracked down the screenwriter, Michael Weller, who had the difficult task of re-working Ragni and Rado's near-plotless stage musical for the big screen. An edited version of our conversation appears in the booklet.

But here is a choice anecdote which didn't make it in as was about his next collaboration with Milos Forman, Ragtime (1981, Milos Forman). Let's hope the BFI bring this out too, so we can have a close look at a paticular scene...

Michael Weller: Is Mike Leigh still on the Board at BFI?

Ellen Cheshire: I think he’s still involved.

Michael Weller: He was actually an extra in Ragtime.

Ellen Cheshire: Really?

Michael Weller: He came for a visit and the two of us, they were short of policemen so…

Ellen Cheshire: Oh my goodness, I’m going to have to look at that frame by frame now.

Michael Weller: You won’t see him now, he’s out of focus way way at the back but he did it for real, he performed the scene for real. He was with extras in the back and when he was a policeman he was holding these ladders back and when the take was over they all went “hey man what are you doing like you have to push”, he said “I’m a fucking policeman of course I have to push, this is just a movie” (laughs) and Mike was incensed, he said “they don’t believe what they’re doing this is why I can’t work in America”.

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