Retro Review: SHAMPOO: A Tangled Tale Worth Revisiting in Newly Remastered 35mm at Cinefest

Posted on: Jul 18th, 2011 By:

By Dean Treadway
Contributing Blogger

SHAMPOO (1975); Dir: Hal Ashby; Screenplay by Robert Towne and Warren Beatty; Starring Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, Lee Grant, Jack Warden, Goldie Hawn, Carrie Fisher; Thurs. July 21; Newly restored 35 mm print; 7:30 p.m.; Cinefest at Georgia State University. Trailer here.

Released in 1975, Hal Ashby’s SHAMPOO very well may rank as the great director’s most cynical film. Ashby had previously given us THE LANDLORD, HAROLD AND MAUDE and THE LAST DETAIL, and would go on to deliver BOUND FOR GLORY, COMING HOME and BEING THERE before beginning a cocaine-fueled downward 1980s slump that would end in his untimely death in 1988 at age 59. It’s been years since I’ve revisited SHAMPOO because it strikes me as a truthful, mildly funny but ugly movie. It’s hard to watch, but extremely worthwhile. I know I’ll be at Cinefest on Thursday, July 21 at 7:30 pm to check out what is probably the first 35mm screening of Ashby’s film since the old days of the Rhodes and the Silver Screen, two long-gone Atlanta repertory theaters that closed their doors in the mid-1980s. We’re lucky to have a venue like Cinefest, which seems to be cultivating a desire to expand Atlanta’s repertory movie options these days.

Star Warren Beatty also acted as producer and co-writer, along with CHINATOWN and LAST DETAIL scribe Robert Towne. As such, he labored for almost a decade to get the film made. When it finally reached screens, it arrived like a bombshell designed to blow apart the sexually revolutionary Me Decade and everything connected to it. Set in 1968, on the eve of Richard Nixon’s election to the White House (which held particular resonance to 1975 viewers, who were still reeling from the Watergate debacle that drummed Nixon out of office), SHAMPOO tells the story of a philandering self-obsessed hairdresser named George Roundy (Beatty). The beautifier and sexual partner of choice for many of his clients, George is sick of life as a mere employee at a Beverly Hills salon. And so he finally steps up to realize his ambition of opening his own hairdressing business. But he’s broke and the banks won’t lend to such a flighty guy. So he sets his sights on a private investor, an equally self-absorbed, aging millionaire named Lester Karpf (played by Jack Warden, who tellingly has the worst hairstyle in the whole film).

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