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.
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
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,
Packaging: Amaray case
Reviewed: January 29, 2003
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.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2003 Glenn Erickson
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