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Everybody Gets Laid in "Shampoo"
By the mid 1970s, the New Hollywood takeover was in full effect. Violence, course language, and sexuality was grabbing audiences’ attention. The sexual revolution came in full swing and in 1975’s “Shampoo,” Warren Beatty was seducing women on and off screen. Directed by Hal Ashby, “Shampoo” is a look into the rare world of a straight hairdresser with the attraction of women that rivals any rock star.
Set around the 1968 presidential election and at the height of the sexual revolution, “Shampoo” is a satirical look into the sexual prowess of a hairdresser and his bevy of female clients. Cutting their hair by day and sleeping with them by night. Warren Beatty, who at this point established himself as a leading man after “Bonnie and Clyde” and “McCabe and Mrs. Miller,” plays the much sought-after hairdresser George Roundy in Beverly Hills. His reputation proceeds him as one of the best stylists in town as well as one of the greatest lovers.
Despite his skills and his sexual conquests, he is unfulfilled professionally. He longs to open up his own salon, but without financial investments he is reduced to working for a mediocre salon owner. He tries to attract the attention of businessman Lester Karpf (Jack Warden) to fund his new salon. However, Lester’s mistress happens to be George’s former girlfriend Jackie Shawn (Julie Christie). His current girlfriend Jill (Goldie Hawn) remains loyal but unbeknownst to his extracurricular activities.
Lester invites George (who he believes to be gay) to a Republican Party election night dinner with Jackie as his date. Jill is invited with film director Johnny Pope (Tony Bill) as her date. George soon finds himself in the presence of many of his former lovers, including Lester’s wife Felicia (Lee Grant). After a fake bomb scare, the party dissolves and the group shifts to a posh counter-culture party. Over the course of this night, Jackie tries to rekindle the romance with George. What follows is George’s sexual advances coming in full circle and realizing that despite all the women he’s been with, Jackie remains his true love. However, Jill catches George and Jackie in the act and ultimately ends the relationship. Unfortunately, Jackie doesn’t want to extend the courtship and George is left alone, despite coming to a moral conclusion.
While set around the presidential election of Richard Nixon, “Shampoo” was released in 1975 at a time where there Watergate scandal unfolded and Americans’ trust in government was at an all-time low. In addition, the “sexual revolution” and the hippie culture had come to pass in the midst of the “Me Decade.” Audiences looked back at the 1968 election as naiveness in addition to the sexual revolution in the wake of sexual diseases.
Written by Robert Towne with co-writing credit for Beatty, “Shampoo” was another hit for emerging director Hal Ashby. However, production on the film remained rocky. In the book “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls” by Peter Biskind, Beatty and Ashby were at odds:
“Shampoo” went into production in January 1974. If “Shampoo” had an auteur, it was probably Beatty. From the start, Ashby was at a disadvantage. Beatty had filled the key production slots with his own people, and Hal had no allies, except for editor Bob Jones. “Hal hated authority, and on that picture, Warren represented authority,” says [Charles] Mulvehill. “It was his film. Hal was a control freak without any control.”
“Shampoo” was a box office and critical success, including several Academy Award nominations and a win for Best Supporting Actress (Lee Grant). While it remains a footnote in the New Hollywood era of the 1970s, “Shampoo” was an influential entry in the number of films that featured a blunt look at sexuality. Films like “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice,” “Carnal Knowledge,” and “The Graduate” paved the way for films to provide a frank discussion on sexuality on the big screen. While “Shampoo” takes a look into the life of a contemporary lothario, it fails at creating a compelling story with likable characters.