Blu-ray Review: Shampoo | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Thursday, October 17th, 2019  


Studio: The Criterion Collection

Dec 21, 2018 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

There is a pantheon of films from the 1970s that are not only indicative of their era, but also are consistent thematic experiences that continue to hold significant relevance in the present day. While many many critics and audiences continue to debate these movies’ efficacy and lastability as we progress further into the future, one title is often returned to with a intriguingly consistent regularity. Warren Beatty would craft his passion project Shampoo with Chinatown screenwriter Robert Towne, also enlisting the sublime directorial talents of the indomitable Hal Ashby, into a bitingly cynical satire of the hypocrisies of the sexual revolution, and of the absurdities inherent to the wealthy insular community of Beverly Hills.

Beatty spent nearly a decade honing what would become the narrative of Shampoo, with the original screen story centered around “a compulsive Don Juan.” Beatty originally hired Towne to solely write the screenplay while he was producing and starring in his breakout hit Bonnie & Clyde (1967). The story made minimal progress (as Towne was notorious for his inconsistency), with Beatty often getting frustrated and disillusioned through the process, taking on roles in other films while it appeared that Towne was just twiddling his thumbs. Eventually, both Towne and Beatty turned in opposing screenplays in early 1971, prompting the pair to work together. After Ashby was brought onto the project in 1973, the trio would evoke the previous decade’s major shifts in sociopolitical and cultural priorities, norms, and identities, effectively changing the bulk of the previously agreed narrative. While Towne took heavy influences from Jean Renoir’s La Règle du Jeu (1939), the screenplay would consistently take the most inspiration from several prominent hairdressers in Los Angeles; a few of whom either worked on movies or were personal hairdressers of Hollywood stars.

Shampoo was produced on a budget of $4 million, releasing February 11, 1975 to an astounding box office reception. While grossing over $60 million worldwide, it was the fourth most financially successful film of the year. Critics were not as enthused about the film as audiences, though the generally positive reviews were enough for the film to snag four Academy Award nominations (with Lee Grant winning Best Supporting Actress).

In 1968, on the eve of Richard Nixon’s presidential election, George Roundy (Beatty) is a successful hairdresser in Beverly Hills, often using his occupation to meet and seduce beautiful women. This fact is quite evident to his current girlfriend, the actress Jill Haynes (Goldie Hawn), and is often a source of contemptment and anxiety. As George remains highly disillusioned with his role in the mediocre salon, he attempts to set up his own business, but is sorely lacking in the monetary assets and social niceties required to get it up and running. After his wealthy lover Felicia Karpf (Lee Grant) recommends her unwitting husband Lester (Jack Warden) as a possible bankroll, George runs into Jackie Shawn (Julie Christie), Lester’s current mistress, who is George’s former girlfriend - one for which he still has deep feelings. Depressing antics ensue throughout the course of the night as they all converge during an election night party.

It is a unique experience when lies, deceit and misdirection are such normal orders to a daily routine, that when moments of honesty bleed through in conversation, that’s when everything hurts the most. The depths of the sardonic comedy in Shampoo is something that I have seldom seen outside of Ashby’s stellar filmography, and it never lets the audience off the hook - it compounds the awkwardness, obliviousness, and vapidness of its characters so well, that it’s actually painful to observe. As these characters drift through their sex-fueled, inebriated lives, many continually search for direction and purpose, with few actually achieving anything close to it. There is a profound sadness to every snarky jab the film takes at the insular ideologies of the 60s and 70s, with a hefty focus on the damage people cause to one another with (an almost) snide satisfaction.

The Criterion Collection continues its mission to catalog and release important films with a new Blu-ray release of Shampoo - complete with a 4K restoration of the original print, accompanied by the (optional) original monaural soundtrack. Though the restoration is utterly fantastic, the supplemental features (while thoroughly entertaining) are somewhat lacking. An excerpt from a 1998 interview with Beatty on The South Bank Show, and a videoed conversation between film critics Mark Harris and Frank Rich are the whole of the extra materials present on the disc. While Rich also provides an essay included in the case, a film this significant deserves far more additional material than what we are given; especially given Amy Scott’s fantastic documentary on Ashby, Hal, was released earlier this year with an amazing litany of details and stories from the film’s production.

Though not the strongest work in Beatty, Towne, or Ashby’s oeuvres, Shampoo remains fiercely emblematic of its represented era, and retains the sharpness of its critical bite over forty years after its release.



Submit your comment

Name Required

Email Required, will not be published


Remember my personal information
Notify me of follow-up comments?

Please enter the word you see in the image below:

There are no comments for this entry yet.