Warren Beatty plays the lead in Shampoo, a 1975 blend of comedy and drama directed by Hal Ashby. Set on the day of the 1968 presidential election, the film uses Beatty’s character as a lens to examine the sexual politics of the time. Supporting roles are filled by Julie Christie, Goldie Hawn, Jack Ward and Lee Grant, who won an Academy Award for her supporting role.
The Production: 3.5/5
Though Hal Ashby is the director of record for Shampoo, this 1975 film is clearly the passion project of its star, co-writer and producer, Warren Beatty. It was Beatty who came up with the original idea and spent years developing it, and Beatty who ultimately brought writer Robert Towne (Chinatown) and director Hal Ashby (Harold and Maude) onto the picture. Their particular skill sets, Towne with plotting and especially dialogue, and Ashby with actors, matched well with Beatty’s ideas, and Shampoo was a surprise hit on its original release and has remained popular ever since.
Beatty plays George, a skilled hairdresser who is stuck as second fiddle in someone else’s salon. Years of floating through life have left him with a loyal clientele but not much practice for how to be an adult. George would like to open his own salon, but his lack of money, financial expertise and even the skill set to know how to conduct himself during a bank interview, have left him chasing a dream with no obvious path. But George, thanks to his good looks, charm and skill with a set of scissors, has bedded just about every woman in Beverly Hills, and his personal life is a mess of mistresses and failed relationships. But thanks to an offer from a client who’s also a mistress (Lee Grant, in an Oscar-winning role) with an unsuspecting wealthy husband (Jack Warden), George might just have a chance at finding someone to bankroll his dream.
Shampoo is set on Election Day in 1968, and while the film itself doesn’t endorse a particular candidate or spend a lot of time on the specifics of politics, it uses that specific moment in time as a backdrop for the film’s action. The film does anticipate the audience’s knowledge of future events; it’s hard not to chuckle when a character remarks that the turbulence of the 1960s will soon fade away as a result of Richard Nixon’s election victory. But for the most part, the film is interested in exploring another kind of politics: sexual.
What’s interesting about Beatty’s George is that despite the number of paramours he has, he rarely seems in the driver’s seat with any of them. Beatty isn’t so much a conquistador as he is a man who doesn’t know how to say “no”; he’s the dinner guest who eats long past the point of being full because he’s too polite to tell his hosts that he’s gotten enough to eat. None of the women that George sees are with him exclusively, and are aware of his affairs as well, but despite this, they each feel a certain sense of possessiveness and jealousy for him. George is the kind of character who makes no choices for himself and seems to go wherever the wind blows, and doesn’t realize the mess he’s gotten himself into until it’s far too late.
Beatty’s performance (supposedly inspired, in part, by former hairdresser-turned-producer Jon Peters) is buoyed by an excellent supporting cast beyond Grant and Warden. Julie Christie plays an ex of George who is now shacking up with Warden, while Goldie Hawn plays George’s current girlfriend. Rounding out the cast is Carrie Fisher, in her first screen role, playing the daughter of Grant and Warden in a memorable performance.
3D Rating: NA
Shampoo is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, in a transfer derived from a new 4K scan of the original negative by Sony. The transfer retains a beautiful film-like look, with a pleasing sheen of grain that appears natural and accurate for a film of this period. Color is similarly wonderful, with the film’s more natural palette well-represented on the disc. The film’s many scenes set in dark bedrooms and other nighttime settings are also well rendered.
The disc presents two different audio options: the film’s original mono audio in an uncompressed 1.0 PCM track, and a newer 5.1 remix in the lossless DTS-HD MA format. Both tracks provide clean audio which is clear and free of any age-related artifacts and are generally pleasing. Of the two, the 1.0 track has a slightly fuller, more robust sound to it. In comparison, the 5.1 track sounded a little thinner, with only mild separation. While both tracks are fine, the original mono audio is the more satisfying of the two options.
Special Features: 3/5
The South Bank Show Excerpt (12:41, upscaled from SD) – An excerpt from a 1998 interview with Beatty by Melvyn Bragg. They discuss Beatty’s early acting and producing career, with a particular emphasis on both Bonnie and Clyde and Shampoo.
Mark Harris and Frank Rich Conversation (30:12, HD) – The two critics discuss the film and its place in pop culture.
Booklet – Frank Rich contributes an insightful essay which further examines the film’s production and themes.
Warren Beatty wanders through Shampoo, getting in over his head and above his station, because of a skill he possesses that everyone needs; whether that skill is his bedroom prowess or haircutting scissors is up for debate. Though the film’s specific choice of setting and story make it more of a film of its time rather than a film for all time, many of its themes are still topics of discussion today. Criterion’s Blu-ray release includes a top-notch presentation of the film and a small but noteworthy array of special features.