Film Review – Shampoo (1975)

If you’re ever feeling a little 70’s-nostalgia, Shampoo is the perfect, easy to watch flick. Embedded in disco-era’s culture- from the wardrobe to hair to the décor filling each house, is the story of a Beverly Hills hairdresser. George Roundy’s (Warren Beatty) career begins to clash with his social life, causing a chain of overlapping incidents. Carrie Fischer, Julie Christie and Goldie Hawn star alongside this well-made rom-com (if a little unambitious at times).

Shampoo may not be the most eventful narrative to start with. It draws entertainment more from small mishaps and character developments over big action-packed sequences and plot twists. That said, if you look closely the film is cleverly detailed. Things such as putting on a pair of sunglasses or repeating the phrase ‘You’re great, baby’ reflect character and build on established themes. It’s quietly funny, too. Visually and audibly. Though I do think it had the potential to be more comedic if it had a little more confidence. I believe a few on-screen mistakes (i.e dropping a phone) were left in that gives it that more organic, believable feel, and you can tell just by the first shot how thoughtfully the story is technically portrayed.

We open to a pitch-black screen, only the sound of two characters telling us what’s going. This interestingly lasts a fair few minutes. The only light comes from the incessantly ringing phone which glows upon Roundy’s face every time he answers. Through this simple act, the plot focus on Georges constant interruptions in life is established- and we’re only four minuets into the movie.

Left: Julie Christie, Right: Warren Beatty

Hal Ashby directed this film in 1975, equating a culture not quite rid of the 60’s just yet. This is evident with the (marvelous) mix of 60’s music and hippie attitudes that linger on. I could imagine Shampoo being slightly less interesting to audiences of its initial release. The grainy film quality and Hendrix tunes would have just been the norm, whereas watching it in 2018 adds a nostalgic twist as we boogie to Jefferson Airplane and not Justin Bieber, thank goodness. If you like anything like Hannah and Her Sisters (dir. Woody Allen, 1986) you’ll probably enjoy Shampoo.

A quality I find recurring in many films of this era is the business of the screen. The frames aren’t empty save for our protagonist and that one extra. The dialogue isn’t heavily structured. It’s crowded, with the TV playing in the background whilst characters argue over each other. Again, I like how much more realistic this is. Shampoo envelopes you more in the story as you could easily be in the room with them.

Shampoo presents what I initially thought to be very stereotypical characters; the ditsy blonde and the uptight businessman. But these expectations were (mostly) subverted by the end, with no real hero or villain. I came to actually like the businessman in fact, with the protagonist becoming lightly annoying with his player attitude to people. This meaning, they weren’t all just flat characters used time and time again in these rom-com genres. They were real people.

It must be noted that along with the 70’s culture of terrible food (‘chopped liver’ and celery sticks for lunch anyone?) and bouffant hairdos comes the homophobic comments and casual racism. (The maid just happened to be a black woman). Though not ideal, it does demonstrate how far society has come since that ‘simpler’ time of the 70’s. This isn’t to say our society doesn’t have these prejudicial attitudes- far from it. But at least it’s a start. Bypassing that, and the ever-so-slightly boring few scenes in the first half, it’s a decent watch.

Nowadays rom-coms have a habit of falling short on imagination, creativity or technical ability. Oftentimes lazy, predictable and following a strict editing format, Shampoo goes against this. It’s witty charm and obvious effort Ashby has gone to use cinematic techniques as storytelling tools renders an easy but memorable watch. The cinematic themes of ‘national mediocrity’ and ‘self-discovery’ are a little lost- so much so, I had to Google it. But that doesn’t make Shampoo any less enjoyable to watch, and I can see what that film was trying to get at deep down.

– New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
– Alternate 5.1 surround soundtrack, presented in DTS-HD Master Audio on the Blu-ray
– New conversation between critics Mark Harris and Frank Rich
– Excerpt from a 1998 appearance by producer, cowriter, and actor Warren Beatty on The South Bank Show
– PLUS: An essay by Rich
– New cover based on an original poster