AFED #91: Shampoo (US, 1975); Dir. Hal Ashby

Is Shampoo a paean to Warren Beatty's naricissism or a parody? Most likely it's both but the star was assuredly in on the joke.

The inspiration for his character, dim-witted bed-hopping hairdresser George Roundy, has been attributed to a number of real life personalities on the sixties L.A. scene; most notably Jay Sebring, who was murdered along with Sharon Tate at the hands of the Manson family. According to writer Robert Towne George was based on another Berverly Hills hairdresser, Gene Shacove, but anyone with a passing knowledge of Beatty's antics during his prime can draw the obvious conclusions.

Despite the involvement of Towne and maverick director Hal Ashby it's incontestably Beatty who was its guiding creative force. Beatty's relatively slim output over the years makes it difficult to appreciate just how big a player he was during the late sixties and seventies. Bonnie and Clyde proclaimed the arrival of the new Hollywood and perhaps best encapsulates the dichotomy of his Beatty's work; it's hard to determine whether style or substance is held in greater esteem.

This problem undermines the political subtext found in a number of Beatty's films that reflects his own liberal sensibilities. The year before this he'd starred and co-produced in assassination conspiracy thriller The Parallax View; a picture that while skillfully executed fails to offer anything constructive in its cynicism.

Likewise Shampoo is intended as a satire about the sexual excesses of the sixties but seems to spend more time ogling the star as he motorcycles around from one romantic liaison to another. Set on the eve of Nixon's election to the White House in 1968 the irony at the time of its release, shortly after Watergate, is that far from representing a return to wholesome values the new President would be ultimately exposed as the biggest crook of all.

But while George gets to rub shoulders with some Republican brass one never gets the sense that's the point. Rather it's the story of a 'himbo' who can't keep his trousers on for longer than five minutes. For the women in his life, particularly Jill (Goldie Hawn) and Jackie (Julie Christie) he's an endless cause of hurt and frustration. Ultimately he ends up alone and miserable. Are we supposed to care? I didn't.


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