In this 'period piece' (Election Day 1968), Warren Beatty plays George Roundy, a Beverly Hills hairstylist who's uncontrolled libido stands between him and his ambitions. He wants the security of a relationship. He wants to be a hairdressing "star" and open his own salon. But the fact that he beds down with the wife (Lee Grant), daughter (Carrie Fisher), and mistress (Julie Christie) of a potential backer (Jack Warden) doesn't help. It also does little for his relationship with Goldie Hawn,who thinks she's his main squeeze. As this tongue-in-cheek look at the sexual revolution rolls on, the babe juggling, stress and lies all wear George down. He wants so much. But a hungry kid loose in a candy store easily gets sick
Warren Beatty ... George Roundy
Julie Christie ... Jackie Shawn
Goldie Hawn ... Jill
Lee Grant ... Felicia Carp
Jack Warden ... Lester Carp
Tony Bill ... Johnny Pope
George Furth ... Mr. Pettis
Jay Robinson ... Norman
Ann Weldon ... Mary
Luana Anders ... Devra
Randy Scheer ... Dennis
Susanna Moore ... Gloria
Carrie Fisher ... Lorna Carp
Mike Olton ... Ricci
Richard E. Kalk ... Detective Younger
Dated? Unfunny? Only to those weaned on formula action comedies of the past fifteen years. I can still remember the gasp in the suburban twin theater when Carrie Fisher made her indelible suggestion to Beatty, and the roar of delight as viewers saw what Julie Christie was up to at that dinner party.
Towne's script, and the acting, makes us care about George, Jackie, Felicia and even Lester, to a degree, and it makes the excellent point that is still true today: money trumps all. Its logical ending, where nothing happens but life goes on, without a wild chase on motorcycle to the airport in pursuit of Jackie and Lester, is perfect. Did anyone really expect George to win the fair hand of the gorgeous Ms. Christie when he cannot even talk to a banker.
As I write more and more highlights come to mind: George giving Lester his lecture on women while Lester's goons wait outside. George fobbing off Felicia in the dark as he hustles to see Jill, the "terminally ill" friend.
When Kubrick died, print and the net was drowned in tributes, but poor Ashby, a great filmmaker practically left the earth in silence. Ashby lost himself once the 70s ended, and films had to have tacked on happy endings again [e.g. The Natural], but then in my mind the same could be said of Kubrick.
Publicists billed "Shampoo" as a comedy, and critics called it a satire; actually, it's a romantic tragedy: a film about decisions we'd rather not have to make. The hero's tragic flaw is that he can't make up his mind, and the heroine's is that she can. Hal Ashby set his film on election day, 1968, when America had to make a decision amidst the epistemological turmoil of the times and chose Richard Nixon (an act that could be read as the beginning of the end of the Sixties, and at the least makes a good metaphor for it).
George is a Beverly Hills hair dresser whom women love for more than his skill with a blow-dryer. Warren Beatty conveys the character perfectly: sleeping with virtually every woman who crosses his path, he never seems lecherous, chauvinist or even condescending. He simply loves women, and he can't bear to disappoint them (or let one get away). His life consists largely of trying to avoid the need ever to say, "No."
Of course, this does produce comic moments. When Jill (Goldie Hawn) stumbles upon George making love to her best friend in the boat house at a party, he looks up and without missing a beat says, "Honey, where have you been? We've been looking all over for you." A bit later, though, in a rambling, revealing speech, he's at a loss to explain himself in the terms Jill expects. What can it mean that he sleeps with so many women? "I see a beautiful girl... and it makes me feel like I'm gonna live forever... Maybe that means I don't love 'em. Maybe it means I don't love you, I don't know. Nobody's gonna tell me I don't like 'em very much."
Eventually, George makes a commitment --- probably his first --- when he asks Jackie (Julie Christie) to marry him. He and Jackie have known each other a long time; they were once lovers. Now he's finally come to the realization that even among the things one loves, some are more important than others. "I don't trust anyone but you," he says. They embrace, and the bond between them is heartbreaking. But Jackie has told Lester (Jack Warden) she will go away with him; he's left his wife and proposed marriage. She runs from George because, if she walked, she might not get far enough before her resolve gave way.
In the closing scene of Shampoo, George stands alone. Silhouetted on a Los Angeles hillside, he stands like an icon of the things we leave behind when life offers us no other choice but to grow up. The background music is a wordless version of the theme Paul Simon later recorded as "Silent Eyes" --- which cuts to The Beach Boys' "Wouldn't It Be Nice" when the credits roll.
SHAMPOO is rather pointedly set in early November of 1968, with the pivotal action taking place on the night of the presidential election that saw the beginning of the Nixon-Agnew administration. Also, rather pointedly, images and references to Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew pop up all over the place, with nary a mention of any sort to the opposing Humphrey-Muskie ticket, let alone third party candidate George Wallace. Clearly the intent wasn't to use the election as mere window dressing nor to focus on politics in general, but to specifically target Nixon and Agnew, whose various scandals and misdeeds came to a head in 1975, the year of SHAMPOO's release. On the one hand, the choice of dates (credited to star, co-writer and producer Warren Beatty) is ingenious, as it places the action at a pivotal point in our social and ethical history. Yet, it is also a bit disingenuous, because SHAMPOO isn't a political farce, it is a sex farce, and it seems to use Nixon as a symbolic scapegoat for the loose morality and declining sexual ethics that grew out of sex-drugs-and-rock'n'roll liberalism. Richard M. Nixon was clearly guilty of many things, but promoting promiscuity and hedonistic excesses is not among them.
When you set aside the political posturing and look past the 70s soft-focus realism, SHAMPOO is really just your standard sex farce. Beatty plays George, a hustling ladies' man who juggles the affections of several women -- among them his girl of the moment, Jill (Goldie Hawn); a former lover, Jackie (Julie Christie); and a demanding, rich client, Felicia (Lee Grant), who uses him as a boytoy sex object. In true farcical fashion, all of George's women, and all of his various lies, converge on one particularly important and hectic evening, and his shaky house-of-cards love life starts to shake. The twist is that George is a Beverly Hills hairdresser, and being a straight man in a gay man's field, the film gets both a type of disguise and a form of mistaken identity which are also traditional elements of classic farce.
What makes SHAMPOO atypical of farce is that it really isn't all that funny. Humorous, yes; but in a dark melancholy way. In a creepy sort of way, the film tries to be tragic farce, rather than comic farce; and it almost succeeds. As the story unfolds, George emerges as a truly hapless character; self-doubting, sexually addicted and somewhat self-destructive. You can sense the contemptuous affection he has for women and that he resents the power they have over him because he can't resist either their sexual charms or their neediness. The most interesting part of the film is trying to figure out where famed playboy Warren ends and the guilelessly libidinous George begins. To hear George/Warren bemoaning what a burden it is to be lusted after and how taxing it is to be constantly satisfying beautiful women is at once deliciously ironic and strangely unsettling. The actor, the character and the film all seem to share a numbing self-pity that is genuinely sincere and not intended to be laughed at. And that sincerity is actually cruelly funny.
Though a ladies' man he may have been, Beatty has never projected a particularly macho persona, either on screen or off. Though his soft-spoken, diffident and vaguely befuddled demeanor on screen might, indeed, hide a swaggering, conceited personality off screen, Beatty nonetheless honestly comes off as a nice guy, even when his characters are lying, manipulative jerks. In SHAMPOO, whether or not he is playing himself -- or some version of himself, clearly this movie plays off his Romeo reputation and pretty boy image with more calculated intent than any other film he has made. Watching it, you can't help wonder if what George goes through to finance a dream of his own beauty shop is really much different from what Warren had to do to get this film made. And maybe Warren's sex life wasn't much different either.
But however personal the film may be, it is set on election night 1968, and the political weight it carries, whether meaningful or cavalier, can't be overlooked. I don't think the film carries any sort of pro-liberal message, or for that matter any real anti-conservative message. Indeed, it is the Republicans in the film who are the most socially conscientious, and seem to have a real hope for the future, all wrapped up in their support of Nixon. In fact, the most open-minded and optimistic person is Jack Warden's Lester, the man who unknowingly shares his wife and his mistress with his potential business partner, George. While everyone else is obsessed with sex and vanity and greed, Lester -- the film's nominal villain -- seems sincerely concerned with keeping everyone satisfied, whether it's his family, his party guests or his country. So, if the film has any political stance, it is anti-apathy. Nixon got elected, the film seems to suggest, not because Republicans are bad, but because not enough people cared, or at least they weren't paying attention. The film has two parties -- and not Democrat and Republican -- but, rather, while the GOP was celebrating victory at a fancy dinner party; sex, drugs and rock'n'roll were on the agenda at the orgy across town.
SHAMPOO was already a period piece in 1975 and was considered a commentary on the Nixon years. But the story takes place in 1968, and its stinging insight is directed at the trendy superficiality of the era, political and otherwise. While 60s liberalism inspired great passion in some, to others, then as well as now, political involvement is no more enduring or meaningful than the latest hairstyle.
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LA Cool with political connections, 24 February 2001
Author: David Lloyd from London
For a young medical student in the UK, Shampoo was a major influence.The super bright images of LA parties juxtaposed with a corrupt politician's rise to power and the heart-stopping beauty of Julie Christie as a bonus were enough for this film to become a favourite. Whenever it appears in the schedules, everything stops!
* Robert Towne wrote (and continually rewrote) the screenplay for this film eight years before it was finally produced,
* The lead character was based on actual hairdresser Jay Sebring.
* Warren Beatty claims the idea to set the story during the 1968 election night at a Republican Party party was his own.
* Carrie Fisher said she was cast in the role mainly through family connections. She said when Warren Beatty ran lines with her, he did it while eating. She said the whole thing for her was a lark. She also admitted years later in an article she wrote for Rolling Stone magazine that star Beatty unsuccessfully propositioned her.
* Warren Beatty rides a 500cc Triumph Tiger 100 motorcycle, registration 356455. The paint job is not standard despite the incorporation of the Triumph logo and it is uncertain whether it was Beatty's personal bike.
* Carrie Fisher's screen debut.
* Julie Christie, a feminist, reportedly disliked the role of Jackie but did it for Warren Beatty, who at the time was her lover.
* Loosely based on "The Country Wife," a Restoration comedy written in 1675 by William Wycherley, whose protagonist Horner feigns impotence in order to be allowed into the company of married women, who he then seduces. George in "Shampoo" would be considered non-threatening due to the stereotype that hair-dressers are gay, such as the scene in Jackie's bathroom when Lester walks in and the bistro sequence when George is fluffing Lester's hair. "Shampoo" only retains a distant reflection of the Horner character, but reportedly, the screenplay was inspired by the 1969 Chichester Festival production, according to a 2003 edition of the play edited by James Ogden.
* When Warren Beatty conceived idea for this film in 1967, it was called ‘Hair’ (later changed to avoid confusion with the rock musical).
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