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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Shampoo
Shampoo
Columbia/Tri-Star // R // January 21, 2003
List Price: $19.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by DVD Savant | posted January 30, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Shampoo is the Hal Ashby movie that he got almost completely right. Robert Towne's sly script dissects a couple of days in the life of a narcissistic Hollywood hairstylist, living an endless round of sexual conquests amid the beautiful people of 1968 Los Angeles. Although it takes on Republicans, gays, Peter-Pan playboys and Hollywood's inimitable brand of smiling insincerity, this is not a farce or a satire. That's its strength - no matter how outrageous things get, we believe the people we see, and measure our own desires and insecurities against theirs. Shampoo is an unsung example of those superior '70s movies that are all the rage right now - original and unapologetic.

Synopsis:

George Roundy (Warren Beatty) barely has time to put in a few working hours at a Beverly Hills salon; he's too busy servicing the women in his life. Jill (Goldie Hawn) is neurotic semi-steady girlfriend, and Felicia (Lee Grant) is the slightly older and much more desperate wife of preening businessman Lester (Jack Warden). When Lester shows up with an old flame of George's, Jackie Shawn (Julie Christie), the confusion and jealousies become too much for even the inexhaustable George to handle. It's election eve, and everyone converges on a party to watch the returns come in - and George finds himself at a dinner table with three women who thought he was their exclusive bed partner.

"Great!" Says George Roundy, repeatedly, as a stock answer to almost every question or statement he hears. This is the trendy West Side of Los Angeles where people don't have problems, everyone's beautiful and is connected in some way to show business. "I do Barbara Rush's hair!" George offers when asked for a reference by George Furth's banker. Values go no further than staying pleasantly unattached, pursuing the perfect hairstyle, and finding a way to deny that age will ever overtake us. No wonder George is confused. He spends all night telling phone callers to 'drop by work and talk', and all day at work telling his visitors he's too busy to see them.

The glorious good life is easy to see around us in LA - people cruising by in their Ferraris, long lines of limosines at the more chi-chi watering holes. They're naturally fascinating to watch and daydream about. George Roundy rides a motorbike but doesn't have to worry that his home pad isn't the trendiest available, as he's too busy playing musical beds to think about home. He's the dream guy, the one so attractive, the women flock around. The fellow whose immaturity only make him more desirable. When we meet guys like this, the ones who, as the saying goes, 'get all the girls', we can't help but envy them.

Shampoo concentrates on the minute-by-minute social nuances - the way women like Jackie and Jill manage their unattached or kept status; the careful way Lester tries to assert his masculinity while worrying about his comb-over hairstyle; the chemistry involved when the mistress and the wife both drink too much and square off against one another.

The main showdown takes place at pair of parties, one a restaurant full of square Nixon boosters, the other a perpetually swinging party at a Hollywood hills home, complete with skinny dippers, dope, and body-painted females - the Maserati Hippie set. In the setting of completely unrestrained hedonism, no wonder the daughter (Carrie Fisher, in an early role) seduces her mother's lover, or the frustrated mistress shocks everyone with a sex act in the middle of a dining room  1. Pleasure is the only currency, and to be a beautiful person moving in this dream of luxury is to be able to ignore the rules.

The average moviegoer finds in Shampoo the ability to indulge their fantasies about Warren Beatty, who at the time was tinseltown's most notorious, You're So Vain ladykiller. He always looked like he was having such a great time flitting from flower to flower. But the film is really about dissatisfaction, fear of aging, and the lack of fulfillment that even the pampered rich experience. George's women are each living in their own kind of desperate isolation. Even Julie Christie's desirable Jackie sees her limits, her need to find something she can hang onto, and George isn't a safe bet. He was too busy to even think of her the day before, and his despair at losing her now is sincere. It's just that he's never tested himself with even the simplest commitment, so even he doesn't know if his feelings are real or not. How did a straight guy become a hairdresser ... ? To be around the girls, of course.

Shampoo has some odd and affecting touches. Carrie Fisher's bitter Beverly Hills princess is a monster-in-the-making, ready to attack her own mother. Everyone has fun at expense of the gay hairdresser stereotype, especially George's boss Norman, played with impressive restraint by the usually unrestrained Jay Robinson (Demetrius and the Gladiators). Then a minor tragedy makes him the only person in the story with a real reason to despair. We experience his loss mostly through George, who is struck by Norman's bad news - but like everything else in George's life, there's no personal consequence, it isn't real, it doesn't really matter. It's off to another afternoon romp with Jill or Jackie.


Columbia TriStar's DVD of Shampoo contains a standard flat transfer and a nigh-flawless 16:9 widescreen beauty, that brings out the shady details at the nighttime garden party, and the sparkle in Julie Christie's hair. The attractive red packaging has a nice trio portrait of the stars on the cover, and an announcement of Lee Grant's supporting Oscar win, even though she isn't pictured. The back has a long list of unspecial 'special features' like Interactive menus! and Scene Selections! Columbia's generous selection of foreign subtitles is impressive, however, and there's no denying that the transfer and audio track (with all those top 1968 hits) are first rate.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Shampoo rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Trailer
Packaging: Amaray case
Reviewed: January 29, 2003


Footnotes:

1. Julie's most famous obscene quote is delivered to a grinning, cigar-smoking gent to her left at the dinner table - none other than schlockmeister William Castle, of The Tingler and 13 Ghosts fame. Gving a deadly dinner speech is the weird, wooden Brad Dexter, of The Magnificent Seven.
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