Sunday, October 28, 2007

No. 5 - Shampoo

Shampoo begins with Beverly Hills hairdresser George (Warren Beatty) literally in the dark. We hear him having sex with someone, and then the phone rings. It's his regular girlfriend, Jill (Goldie Hawn), on the other end of the line. She wants him to come over. So George bids goodbye to the woman in his bed, Felicia (Lee Grant), and rides his motorcycle over to Jill's place.

Thus begins Hal Ashby's 1975 classic Shampoo, with a plot as complicated at George's love life. George wants to open his own salon. He seeks money from wealthy financier Lester (Jack Warden). What Lester doesn't realize is that George is sleeping with his wife Felicia, his daughter (Carrie Fisher) and his mistress, Jackie (Julie Christie) -- all in the course of 48 hours, during Election Day, 1968.

How does George manage to keep juggling all of these contradictory desires? He doesn't. The resulting farcical entanglements, evasions and revelations are brilliantly plotted by co-writers Beatty and Robert Towne. The plot hinges upon a series of interrupted sexual couplings. Even George's profession reinforces the narrative -- the plot strands will get entangled, combed out and then washed clean.

While Shampoo succeeds as a sex farce about a stud who can't turn off his magnetic allure to any woman, it also explores its characters and milieu with more depth than most dramatic films. In addition, Shampoo is a great time capsule of Beverly Hills in 1968, a city that has been overwhelmed by the sexual revolution but barely grazed by the Vietnam War. Near the end of the film, a Marine comes in to the posh salon to deliver the bad news that the salon owner's son has died in an accident. This is as close as the Vietnam War gets to the insulated lives of these pampered characters. The only other time Vietnam makes an appearance, it is in the form of a radio broadcast in Lester's Rolls Royce. Lester quickly turns the channel for news about the stock market. It is interesting to compare Shampoo to Ashby's later film, Coming Home, also set in 1968, but worlds away from the protected environs of Rodeo Drive.

The ensemble is superb. Goldie Hawn has never been better, Julie Christie is brilliant as a kept woman, Jack Warden captures the befuddlement of the cuckold with relish, Lee Grant won an Oscar for her performance as a long-suffering and long-ignored rich wife, and Tony Bill brings just the right tone of sardonic observation to his portrayal of a louche ad executive.

But the film belongs to Beatty. He not only co-wrote Shampoo but also produced it. And his performance showcases Beatty's considerable charisma and comedic talent. George is a well-intended bungler, a guy who is too good-natured to say no to anyone, and everyone wants something from him. Beatty captures George's disillusionment when his life finally collapses at the end. Jackie leaves him for a wealthier man, Lester, and George is left alone, on top of a hill overlooking the posh houses of Benedict Canyon. He is in the harsh morning light, all illusions stripped away.

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