PAUSE IT: What do you see? A montage of four shots introduces a tribe of hippie protagonists in director Milos Forman’s counterculture classic, Hair (1979). Character introductions play a key role in shaping our expectations and foreshadowing the themes, style, and direction of the story to come. In this particular case, how do these four shots work together? With an adept hand, Forman and his team of cinematographers play with the technique of parallel construction. Similar to how a writer might start a series of sentences with a repeated phrase pattern or how a musical composer might utilize a motif, each shot of this montage begins and ends with the same camera movement–a dolly in. With balletic grace, the camera pushes forward, dances with a certain choreographed charm, each image flowing one right into the next. This camera move, in turn, draws us into the world this foursome occupies a countercultural space of free love, recreational drug use, class difference, war protest, and battles for civil and social change. This is a world that has broken with the old traditions and which is now actively searching for ways to re-imagine itself and improve upon the status quo. As such, the parallel camera movements work to simultaneously establish each members’ uniqueness, but also and more importantly their sameness and connection to every other member of the group. The use of the visual rhyme shows their relationship to be harmonious and that of equals.  While perhaps deceptively simple, the ease of the individual shots belies the complexity of their overall organization.

Director: Miloš Forman
Cast: John Savage, Treat Williams, Beverly D’Angelo
Cinematography by: Richard C. Kratina, Miroslav Ondrícek, and Jean Talvin
Available from Olive Films on DVD!

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