The lives of a Beverly Hills hairdresser, an aspiring actress, acall girl, a businessman and his wife, collide unexpectedly onthe eve of the ’68 presidential election.
What struck me about this particular comedy was how well it hasheld up over the years and with repeated viewings. Loneliness,despair, unease and uncertainty were certainly common in themindset of people in the 70s, and they are certainly themes manyof us young or old can relate to today. Much like the WoodyAllen films of that period, which fall under the category ofcomedy of manners, Shampoo can just as easily be placed under thesame umbrella.
Hal Ashby, had only directed a handful of films prior to Shampooand they all shared a common theme, which was that of rebellionagainst the establishment. However, in Ashby’s films, rebellionwasn’t found in the teenaged high school kids common in 50sflicks starring the likes of James Dean or Elvis, but ratheryoung adults, even middle-aged people, who have strayed off thebeaten path and unable to get back on course.
In the case of Shampoo, the embodiment of rebellion is found notonly in the form of a strikingly handsome 38-year-old WarrenBeatty but in its supporting cast as well. Beatty, who foundfame and fortune in such films as Splendor in the Grass (1961)and Bonnie and Clyde (1967) is perfectly cast in the film as alost soul. His character, George Roundy, complete with hiphugging jeans, rock star hair and duds, cruises the streets ofBeverly Hills on his Triumph motorcycle constantly trying tosatisfy his sexual urges with whatever woman comes his way. Hisappetite for women is never quite satisfied, until a chanceencounter with a former lover, Julie Christie. It is only thenthat he is prompted to reflect on his life so far and determinewhere he thinks he wants it to go.
The 70s were a time of healing from the struggles of the 60s,ranging from political assassinations, the civil rights movement,to the bitter war against communism in Vietnam. Young Americans,doubtful of their political leaders, came back from the warwanting desperately to forget. Most found it difficult to easeback into a society that was not quite willing to take them back.Beatty certainly finds it difficult in the film to feel acceptedin society as illustrated in a scene where a condescending loanofficer at a bank refuses to lend him money to start his own hairsalon based on his looks.
Other performances that make the film work are that of Lee Grant,who plays one of Beatty’s female conquests, and Jack Warden,husband to Grant and potential investor to Beatty’s salon. Theyadd another dimension to the story in that they represent anolder generation desperate to cling on to their youth howeverthey can. Aside from the great performances from the cast, what makes thisfilm stand the test of time are its classic rock soundtrack, itssubtle Paul Simon score, and finally its beautiful cinematographyby the late Laszlo Kovacs who previously lensed Easy Rider (1969)and Five Easy Pieces (1970).
Shampoo is definitely a film that should not be overlooked. Ifyou haven’t seen it already, go out and pick it up, and if youalready own it, see it again. To me, it always seems to getbetter with age like a fine wine.