So the '60s had come to this: a moldy old red carpet rolled out to the curb in front of the theater where two Hollywood spotlights had been placed to herald the arrival of "Hair," the movie. And hundreds of official and unofficial Washingtonians were flocking in to see the show that once had been labeled anti-establishment.
The '60s are like Dracula; they keep springing out of their coffin. And last night, at a premiere to benefit the American Film Institute, the crowd cheered, applauded, and sang the praises of the dancing corpse.
It didn't hurt that AFI Director George Stevens Jr. linked the premiere of "Hair" with the signing of the Mideast peace treaty. "It's a wonderful coincidence that Begin and Sadat and peace have arrived here on the same night as 'Hair,'" Stevens told the audience at the Uptown Theater before the film began.
And Milos Forman, who directed the picture, also said it was appropriate that the film be shown on the eve of the signing. "I'm not sure who needs more luck, the movie or the treaty," Forman said.
But the movie certainly had it made with the crowd who stayed to clap along in unison during the closing credits and all bubbled ecstatically or emotionally when asked for their reactions at a party afterward. The party was held at Elan, which as everyone knows is nale spelled backwards and a fashionable downtown discotheque.
Top White House Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski interrupted his lavish praises of Jimmy Carter long enough to praise the film. "I thought it was a beautifully benign treatment of a malignant period," said Brzezinski, in the accent that brings to mind Danny Aykroyd's impersonation of a swinging Czech. Brzezinski was asked if any of the film made him uncomfortable. After all, at one point a chorus sings, in the heat of Vietnam turmoil, that they are "facing a dying nation of moving paper fantasies."
But no, Brezezinski chuckled, nothing in "Hair" bothered him. "I was just envious of the young men," he said, finishing a Pina Colada.
Guests had been told to wear beads and jeans in the funsy '60s spirit of the affair, but few did. One gaggle of bon vivants went so far as to doll themselves up in makeup, flowers, jewelry and hippie duds and then all rented a limousine to drive them to the movie. Charles Robb and his wife, Lynda Bird, looked exactly as they always do. With some people, the '70s, the '60s -- it's all the same cocktail party.
Sen. Charles Percy (R-Ill.), who had to grapple with a broken seat at the theater, went so far at the discotheque as to actually remove his tie. Percy said of the film, "I really like it. I didn't know how I'd take to it, but it was really great. And coming on the eve of the peace treaties, it's just terrific. I said to Brzezinski, 'Thank God we're signing those treaties tomorrow.'"
Lester Persky, producer of the film, was the man who had invited Brzezinski. "I was surprised he showed up," Persky said. "He didn't even have a ticket, but we found him and his wife seats. He's a terrific person." Persky said he had installed a hotline telephone in the box office for Brzezinski at the very last minute.
Persky said the film had taken three years to complete and that there were many in the industry who didn't think it was box office material. "I didn't realize how many people were against it until I finished it," he said laughing.
Then Persky was asked how much it cost to produce the film. Was it under $10 million? He replied, "It was under $10 million until this party." Nearby, AFI's tireless party-giver Ina Ginsburg stopped dancing just long enough to say how much money the AFI had made from the benefit.
"The AFI made $30,000," she said, without missing a step. "The tickets only cost $35!"
Steve Martindale, without whom few parties seem to be complete, was asked where he was in 1968, the year "Hair" opened on Broadway. "I was organizing protest marchers," Martindale said, and then he became very nostalgic for that decade of bloodshed and hurly-burly. "I "I cried at the end of the film," he said. "I mean, it was my life. But don't write that, it's so BORING."
Other filmgoers remembered the '60s in their own little ways, sometimes through the buttons on their clothes. The buttons said things like "Vietnam Moratorium," and "McCarthy," presumably meaning Eugene and not Joe, or Charlie. And another said "Impeach Nixon" -- that's from the '70s of course, but it's not always easy to be historically accurate and sentimental at the same time.
Roger L. Stevens, chairman of the Kennedy Center, doesn't have to strain his brain to remember the '60s because he's still in his. He emerged from the screening to say of the film, "I thought it was very good. Now where's my ride?"
AFI director Stevens was observing his own dress code by wearing blue jeans, an open-patterned shirt and a quilted vest. "Those are his West Coast jeans," said one AFI staff member. "He never wears jeans on the East Coast." But another guest at the party took a more skeptical view: "Oh, that outfit looks like George just hopped on the Red Eye to L.A. and picked it up."
The audience interrupted the film several times to applaud individual numbers. No one seemed to ascribe any particular irony to the fact that the Washington establishment was sitting there delighted by songs with titles like "Sodomy," and such lyrics as "Marijuana, marijuana, 'juana 'juana, mari mari." And then there was that blast from the past: "Peace! Flowers! Freedom! Happiness!"
But, then, later into the night, when the music from "Hair" was displaced on the disco's jukebox, Brzezinski could be seen, tie doffed and shirt open, dancing with a gorgeous blonde to "Y.M.C.A.," and, a little earlier, Argentine Ambassador Alejandro Orfila did a fussy hustle to "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?" One had to surmise that the '60s had been laid to rest once more.
And yet, lo, they will certainly rise aga&n. You can bet a million bucks on it.