Thursday, January 12, 2012

Friday Film Picks: Hal Ashby- Shampoo (1975)

The late Hal Ashby's cinematic legend has recently experienced a healthy resurgence due in most part to some high profile name dropping by the likes of Cameron Crowe, Wes Anderson, and Jason Reitman. While this has prompted renewed interest in his cult films like The Landlord (1970) and Harold & Maude (1972) his most critically and financially successful film Shampoo (1975) has, ironically, remained somewhat obscure.

Written by Robert Towne and Warren Beatty, the film's star, Shampoo is the story of a L.A. hairdresser and his sexual misadventures over the course of Election Night in 1968. The supporting cast consisted of a young Goldie Hawn, the British bombshell Julie Christie, Lee Grant (who had stolen many a scene in Ashby's Landlord), a pre-Princess Leia Carrie Fisher, and the criminally underrated Jack Warden (who would go on to play the President in Ashby's Being There). Shampoo is a hilarious but subtle portrait of wealthy, liberal excess in Southern California and it's head on collision with the impending Nixon era. Beatty's flamboyant portrayal of the hipster hairdresser who is constantly questioned about his sexuality is only made funnier by his borderline compulsive bedding of every woman in the film. Jack Warden is the perfect foil by playing a shrewd businessman and potential investor in Beatty's salon, who is also throwing a fundraiser for the California Republican Committee. It's a clash of classes that ends with plenty of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll.

Ashby had an incredible knack for taking characters that could have been very unsympathetic and making them fully formed, multidimensional people. Take for instance a scene in Shampoo where the beautiful Goldie Hawn confronts her beau Beatty about his endless philandering. She could have come off as a flighty cuckold and he could have looked like a total asshole, but due to Ashby's pitch perfect direction and sincere attempt to empathize with these outlandish characters the scene instead becomes heartbreaking and sad. An admission of wrong-doing by both lovers and also a small moment of redemption for the somewhat directionless hairdresser at the center of it all.

In addition to fantastic performances, flawless direction, and a snappy script, the film has a soundtrack to rival the likes of Royal Tenenbaums or Almost Famous. Shampoo contains hits by Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, and an original score by Paul Simon. Not too shabby, Ashby. Not too shabby at all.

Check out this 1975 gem and I guarantee you won't be disappointed. Even if you don't love the story, you'll love the look. There's some amazing hair-dos!

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