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ON DVD & BLU-RAY

Shampoo (1975) Blu Ray (The Criterion Collection)

A hairdresser and his three girlfriends

Hal Ashby’s comedy-drama is set during the run-up to the 1968 American Presidential elections. Warren Beatty plays George Roundy, a Beverly Hills hairdresser who sleeps with his wealthy, beautiful clients. These include Felicia (Lee Grant) and Jackie (Julie Christie) - who are, respectively, the estranged wife and current mistress of Lester Karpf (Jack Warden), a local businessman with whom George is negotiating to get funding for his own hairdressing salon.

The proceedings become increasingly farcical as he juggles these two connected women with another, long-standing girlfriend named Jill (Goldie Hawn), who is reaching the end of her tether. He also attempts to keep his affairs hidden from Lester, who is mistakenly convinced that he is gay (according to hairdresser stereotype). To make matters more complicated, our otherwise non-committal protagonist finds himself increasingly falling for Jackie.

Watch a trailer:

This film doesn’t quite work despite great performances

Shampoo garnered a mixed reception from contemporary critics but went on to become one of the year’s biggest box office hits and received four Academy Award nominations (including a win for Lee Grant, who took home a Best Actress in a Supporting Role statuette).

The performances here are uniformly excellent. Warren Beatty (who also produced and co-wrote) is perfectly cast as George, a charming central lothario figure who goes on a de facto journey of discovery through the course of the film. While, for most of the way, he is the epitome of being narcissistic and self-serving, he ultimately discovers that he has more in the way of feelings than his cocky front portrays. He does so to his cost, and it is to Beatty’s credit that his transition from charismatic scumbag to a climactic moment of regret keeps the viewer invested. He generates a good deal of chemistry with the three actresses who play the main women in his life. Julie Christie is cool and surprisingly funny (during an embarrassing drunk sequence), Goldie Hawn is cute and neurotic, while Lee Grant is crabby and vindictive.

Warren Beatty rides a bike in Shampoo

They are ably supported by Jack Warden, here portraying a perpetually suit-wearing conservative type (right down to his support for the Republican party) who remains laughably naive towards the late-1960s free love fest going on around him despite the fact that he himself is having an affair. Carrie Fisher also made her movie debut here; she pops up in a couple of scenes as Lester and Felicia’s teenage daughter Lorna who puts the moves on George. While she is only on screen for a few minutes, she makes a truly memorable impression and, undoubtedly, one which went along way towards landing her iconic role as Princess Leia in Star Wars two years later.

Aside from its performances, however, Shampoo isn’t quite the delight that it should have been. Director Hal Ashby opts for lengthy, elaborate scenes which are laden with improvisational dialogue and character interactions. It’s the kind of film that slowly develops via the viewer simply sitting back and observing. However, this kind of loose, rambling style doesn’t sit well with the more farcical elements. As a result, while there are a few laughs here (such as the Carrie Fisher seduction scene, complete with slyly erotic use of carrot sticks), they are not effectively sustained throughout. While there’s also a dramatic aspect related to the dynamics of cuckoldry and polyamorous relationships, it doesn’t really offer enough of substance to warrant a 110-minute runtime. The film’s use of a political milieu (a Republican party soiree) has resulted in some critics attributing it with an undercurrent of satire. If that is the case, however, I failed to notice it scoring any particularly sharp points. Maybe I just needed to be there.

Still, if nothing else, Shampoo is worth watching simply because it comes from an era when offbeat films such as this were festooned with major studio budgets and A-list stars. Richard Sylbert’s delightfully kitschy production design is particularly notable; check out the celestial white hairdressing salon interior or the Delftware-style colour coordination in Lorna’s huge bedroom.

Runtime: 110 mins

Dir: Hal Ashby

Script: Robert Towne, Warren Beatty

Starring: Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, Goldie Hawn, Lee Grant, Jack Warden, Tony Bill, Carrie Fisher

Blu Ray Audio-Visual

While this 4K restoration features plenty of rich detail within the frame, the colour grading has a very brown-yellow cigarette-stained look about it which may not be for all tastes. It’s worth noting however, that this was not an atypical appearance for an American film released in the 1970s. Moreover, this version used an earlier restoration supervised by the film’s cinematographer, László Kovács, as a reference point.

Extras

Enclosed leaflet

This foldout leaflet includes an essay entitled First as Farce by Frank Rich. He takes a look at the film’s satirical view of America’s bourgeoisie, its contemporary context (it was considered something of a send-up of Warren Beatty’s real-life image as a womaniser; both Julie Christie and Goldie Hawn were ex-lovers of his) and Beatty’s own considerable creative input into the project.

On the disc itself are the following:

The South Bank Show: Warren Beatty

An excerpt from a 1998 episode of the British TV arts programme The South Bank Show featuring host Melvyn Bragg interviewing Beatty about his early producing career. He discusses both Bonnie & Clyde and Shampoo, taking a look at the former’s impact on American cinema and the latter’s jabs at what he terms “political promiscuity”. He also talks about the mixed contemporary reviews that both films garnered.

Mark Harris and Frank Rich

Film critic Mark Harris and political/cultural journalist Frank Rich discuss Shampoo. They touch upon its themes, its political context, its view of Los Angeles, Hal Ashby’s directorial approach and its uncanny anticipation of the Ronald Reagan era (we even see a portrait of him in the background at one point). Well worth a watch for those who want to learn more about the film’s contemporary background.

Overall:

I was left somewhat underwhelmed by Shampoo despite its great cast, interesting production design and occasional laughs. It doesn’t really hit the mark on any level. If you are a fan then the 4K restoration here will be something of a draw, albeit the extras are a bit thin on the ground by Criterion standards.

Movie: ☆☆☆

Video: ☆☆☆☆

Audio: ☆☆☆☆

Extras: ☆☆☆

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