I get that Shampoo is used as a source of foretelling of politics today. Frank Rich, who appears in a supplement for this release, says it "…foresaw our politics of four decades later," liking this choice over say, All the President's Men. And whether it's because it's 2018 or because it was a subtlety I didn't catch with, I don't see how one could make that assumption. To be fair it's a good and interesting film, but it's not a decades-resonant one, for me at least.
Written by Robert Towne (Chinatown) and directed by Hal Ashby (Harold and Maude), the film follows George (Warren Beatty, Bonnie and Clyde), a popular California hairdresser, around the eve of the 1968 Presidential election. He's in a relationship with Jill (Goldie Hawn, Overboard), but also has a relationship with Felicia (Lee Grant, In the Heat of the Night). The problem with the latter woman is she's married to Lester (Jack Warden, Bonnie and Clyde), who George is working with to open a hair salon of his own. Because while George is charismatic, he is also talented enough to warrant a place of his own. Making things even more problematic, he becomes enamored with Jackie (Julie Christie, Doctor Zhivago), an ex-girlfriend of George's and current mistress of Lester's. When George is invited to an Election night soiree, well, it's like romances of Christmas past and present up in here!
As a character drama/dark comedy, Shampoo is polished, engaging and funny. George is a character Ashby could certainly identify with, and given the relationship between director and star, the performance is one with obliviousness sans cluelessness that Beatty manages to balance perfectly in the role. He's complemented superbly by the supporting cast; Grant earned a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, and Warden's work earned a nomination, but it also spawned a healthy collaboration with Beatty, working on two more films (and getting another Oscar nomination). Christie plays off Beatty to perfection, making Jackie hilarious and kind of vulnerable. You would be hard pressed to find a bad performance in the film.
All that said, if there's a political satire element of Shampoo folks rave about, then it's something I missed, but I did manage to watch the story of a guy on the uprise, looking to capitalize on the attraction of the women who flock to the parlor for his hair stylings, then back to their place for a little more. But it's a guy who doesn't know how to keep this in moderation for himself until it's too late.
While I disagree with some of the praise and adulation heaped upon Shampoo through the years, I can understand the reason the hubbub. I mean heck, a guy swimming in power and women, not the brightest bulb in the lamp, wants to expand his brand and claim more powe….ohhhhhhh……now I get it.The Blu-ray:
Shampoo gets the AVC encode for the 1.85:1 release from Criterion and the results are impressive. Colors are reproduced naturally, film grain is consistent through the film as you'd expect, image clarity in the foreground and background exceeds expectations. The film's scenes at night have a decent level that is deep and consistent. Flesh tones are accurate and warm, and the image lacks smearing or banding that would deter from the viewing experience. Overall, a solid presentation from Criterion, doing justice to Laszlo Kovacs' work.The Sound:
The film's mono audio is restored for this release, along with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless track, the latter I listed to almost exclusively and had little complaint from. The Beatles songs sound good in the third act and Beatty's motorcycle rumbles across the soundstage at various moments through the feature. The third act party even has a little bit of crowd noise for immersion, go figure! Given the age and nature of the material I was surprised at how this sounded.The Extras:
Beatty appeared on something called the "South Bank Show" (12:41) where he talked about his early film days and occasional moments on set for them, including Shampoo. Rich and Mark Harris team up for a critical appreciation of the film, which runs more than double the Beatty interview (30:12) and is the only other extra in this Criterion release? I mean, the booklet with essay (written by Rich) is here, but jeez.Final Thoughts:
Shampoo may not have been my cup of tea as much as it is for others, but it's a funny film with a lot of good performances, set against the background of an important portion of American history. Technically it delivers the goods, but the lack of any real substance on the extras side of things really makes it feel like an opportunity lost for those involved with, or appreciative of such a film. At the least, it's worth checking out for mid-1970s Warren Beatty backside, some great Jack Warden and one of the more memorably uttered lines you'll see.