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Hippie Culture in Film Industry

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After the Second World War and during the Cold War people in Western civilizations, including the United States, realized that in the industrial and highly developed modern world the impacts of wars were incredible and often irreversible. The prosperity and material wealth had flown into the country as a contrast to the previous war times; however the threat of nuclear bombs did not add much to the feeling of the after-war security. A social chaos during the war period took firmly its place in American society; moreover, in the attempts to restore the pre-war social order the American society became simply more repressive and, obviously, failed. Women that learned to be working and independent during the war were now being attempted to put back into the role of the mother and wife. After having discovered the independence and the life outside home, they were unwilling to obey and wanted to gain their independence once again. To make it sound simpler, there were groups of people that were trying to find a ‘new way’ and change their lifestyle in order to show that the world could be a better place.1

One of such groups were hippies, a ‘countercultural movement that rejected the mores of mainstream American life.’2 The movement started in early 1960s and included many separate sub-movements such as drug culture, vegetarians, nudists and naturalists, “Jesus freaks,” Krishna followers and environmentalists. The feature that united these various subcultures was the rejection of the ‘mainstream’ culture - materialism, institutionalized religion, manners and unwritten society rules - all that their parents were so proud of. However, hippies were not just one of many alternative cultures, they introduced a new life style, music genre and fashion trends that are lasting until today. The hippie culture inspired many movie directors to transfer the realities of 60s to the screen. Numerous films represented hippies from different perspective; however, in this essay we will discuss only two of them - ‘Hair’ by Milos Forman and ‘Easy Rider’ by Dennis Hopper - in the context of hippie culture.3

1 Scott Miler, Inside Hair: Background and analysis, http://www.newlinetheatre.com/hair.html, accessed December 20, 2014

2 Encyclopaedia Britannica, Hippie, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/266600/hippie, accessed December 15, 2014

3 Scott Miler, Inside Hair: Background and analysis

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First version of ‘Hair’ was introduced to the audience in the form of Broadway musical in 1968. The “rock musical” introduced a new genre in musical theatre and was followed by a movie of the same name in 1979. Both variations of ‘Hair’ have a scenario that in a funny manner criticize the Vietnam War and describe relatively new phenomena in American society such as free love and drugs. The name ‘Hair’ has also a context and a message hidden in it. The reason why the creators chosen it is the long hair that was a typical feature of hippie culture and was their “freak flag” as they called it. Moreover, the long hair had a great symbolic meaning, it was meant to represent new possibilities and oppose inequality between men and women.4 The movie was shot by Milos Forman and had some deviations that differ the plot from the original musical version. A main hero named Claude is shown as an innocent army volunteer who meets a hippie “tribe” and spends his last days before going to Vietnam in New York, when in musical version Claude is already a rebellious member of the “Tribe”. A major plot change in the movie happens in the end; Berger is sent to Vietnam by mistake and later gets killed there. However, the original version is more concentrated on the peace movement and ever- present love that the members of the “Tribe” share with one another. The main idea of the movie was to show that life could be built on trusteeship, understanding, friendship and freedom while the war is nothing but death in the name of nothing.

In 1969 an American film ‘Easy Rider’ by Dennis Hopper was released. The film was enormously successful due to the controversial topics; the main themes in the movie are drugs, sex, hippie culture, racism and freedom. The film has two main heroes - Billy and Wyatt - who are introduced as representatives of hippies. The way Billy and Wyatt are dressed and look leave no doubts that they belong to the controversial culture; all the attributes of their appearance such as jackets, trousers, cowboy hats, sunglasses, biker gloves, neck scarves give evidence of it. The same as in ‘Hair’ movie long hair in ‘Easy Rider’ represent freedom and rebellious spirit. Therefore, the whole movie is based on the idea of two friends travelling down the road to freedom and American dream, while the rest of characters they meet during their journey ignore, despise or hate them for

4 Scott Miler, Inside Hair: Background and analysis

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being different.5

Even though both movies’ motives include freedom and hippie culture it would not

be correct to categorize them as equal and of the same kind. As it was obvious from the previous films description both have the identical motives, but different messages. Nevertheless, the spirit of the 60s can be identified in these works; therefore, we will analyze and compare some features that were present in ‘Hair’ and ‘Easy Rider’ and are directly connected to hippie culture.

The first feature that is worth mentioning is the attributes of clothes. This is the most recognizable sign of hippie culture apart from long hair because the way most hippies dressed up was completely different from the fashion trends of 60s. ‘Easy Rider’ and ‘Hair’ use the clothing in order to represent each personage’s individuality. Hippies of the sixties were famous for using clothes imported from the Third World countries or produced by the native Americans; by doing so they meant to express their awareness of the global community and American imperialism and selfishness. Therefore, as it is shown in both movies, the most popular outfits were simple cotton dresses and various clothes from the natural fabrics. Again, the message hidden in the cloth was the rejection of synthetics and a come back of natural fabrics. 6

Apart from clothing an inseparable part of hippie culture included drugs. The freedom of actions that became popular during the 60s brought the wide spread of drugs and made them easily accessible. It was estimated that around 800,000 Americans had tried marijuana at that time and marijuana was the predominant drug used by

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