A country boy on his way to Vietnam experiences the 1960s counterculture, and is inadvertently saved by it. [Dir: Milos Forman/ Treat Williams, John Savage, Beverly D’Angelo/ 122 min/ Musical-Dance, Drama/ Anti-Draft, Anti-War]
This film opens with a close-up shot of some New York City hippies burning a draft card. It’s a significant moment because the draft is at the center of this story, as indeed the antidraft movement was at the center of the 1960s counterculture.
These draft-card-burning hippies are typical free-loving, rebellious types. They spend their days bumming around Central Park having a good time. By chance, they run into a young, patriotic innocent from Oklahoma. He’s on his way to the draft board. Partly just for fun, and partly with the hope of diverting him from the draft, they give him a taste of the easygoing hippie life—hanging out, partying, skinny-dipping, drugs, etc. He’s tempted by it, but he ultimately joins the Army anyway and is sent to a training camp in Nevada.
Some months later, the hippies drive out to save him; they succeed, but only at a terrible price to themselves, a price symbolic of the real-life sacrifices such social rebels played in ending the Vietnam War.
Like the ’60s era itself, however, the message here is mixed. On the one hand, the main characters have a healthy irreverence for authority and abhorrence for war and the draft. On the other hand, their frequently irresponsible behavior sometimes violates the personal boundaries and property of others. Most of that behavior is, of course, just part of a broader no-holds-barred attack on the vast, detached, voting middle-class that (at least in the beginning) backed the war. However, a more troubling aspect of the film is its carefree attitude toward hard drugs, which (the question of legalization aside) is dangerously naive, to say the least.
This story is told almost entirely through music and images, with just a few minutes of dialogue between songs. Many of these songs are ’60s classics, including “Aquarius,” “Hair,” “Easy to Be Hard,” some twenty-odd tunes in all. Part flower-child musical, part social commentary, this is an often entertaining film, with good choreography and a sense of humor. It also serves as a useful criticism of war, the draft, and unquestioning obeisance to societal dictates.