Director Hal Ashby’s 1975 film “Shampoo” was the director’s first giant commercial success. Ashby cut his teeth in Hollywood first working as an editor for Norman Jewison—winning an Oscar nomination for his work with the director on 1966’s “The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming” and an award proper for best editing for 1967’s “In The Heat of The Night.” Jewison mentored Ashby and urged him towards directing. One of Ashby’s first notable efforts is 1971’s “Harold and Maude” which has become a cult classic.
I’ve seen only a few of Ashby’s films, but I’ve always liked what I’ve seen. His films are very much his and very much a product of that “new Hollywood” of the early ‘70s. I watched “Shampoo” for the first time on the fantastic new blu-ray from The Criterion Collection. Watching “Shampoo” today is an interesting experience, though a film of the mid-‘70s, “Shampoo” is a satire of the “free love” generation of the late ‘60s and takes place on the eve of the 1968 Election. In what must have played like gangbusters to audiences that just went through Watergate, the projections of Nixon being “the choice for America” is played up just enough in the back of the film.
The project was conceived by its star, Warren Beatty, who produced the film and co-wrote the script along with Robert Towne. Towne had just come off writing the massive hit “Chinatown,” and had written Ashby’s previous movie, the profane laden “The Last Detail.” Beatty plays George, a hairdresser in a posh Beverly Hills salon who wants to open a salon of his own. George is also sidetracked and caught up in a myriad of various lovers (Goldie Hawn, Julie Christie, and the great Lee Grant who won an Oscar for the film).
I liked “Shampoo” but I think a lot of the marketing I’ve seen for and heard about the film is a bit misleading. It’s a comedy, but its satire is more subtle, it’s not really a laugh out loud film, it reminds me of “The Graduate” in that regard. I wonder if the film might play a bit better now since it’s a period piece made so close to the time from which it’s set. The film is well written and has a really wonderful cast that includes the great Jack Warden as George’s potential business partner—whose wife sees George, on top of that, George is also having an affair with her husband’s mistress.
The Criterion Collection brings “Shampoo” to blu-ray for the first time in a new 4K digital restoration made from the 35mm original camera negative. Two soundtrack options are provided, one is the original mono soundtrack restored from the 35mm magnetic master, which was also used as the basis for a 5.1 surround sound remix. The movie looks and sounds great, I doubt anyone picking up this blu-ray will be displeased. Extras are a little sparse on this set, there’s a half hour conversation on the film between critics Mark Harris and Frank Rich, plus an essay by Rich, as well as a 1998 appearance by Beatty on “The South Bank Show.”
I enjoyed “Shampoo” but I think it’ll need another watch or two to fully take it in. It didn’t grab me quite the way I had hoped it would, but it’s a grade A effort. I’m always intrigued by Ashby’s work and each time I see a film of his that is new to me it’s like filling in the pieces of a puzzle of a very well respected and one of a kind voice in film. Check this one out, see you next week.