***½/**** Image B- Sound B
starring Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, Goldie Hawn, Lee Grant
screenplay by Robert Towne and Warren Beatty
directed by Hal Ashby
by Bill Chambers SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. To put things in perspective, Tootsie is, arguably, a remake of Hal Ashby's carefully-cultivated 1975 classic Shampoo, except that it goes one step farther in feminizing the lead by putting him in drag--and takes a step backward in deciding the fallout of his deceptions. Making fantasy out of Tootsie's ending, Shampoo comes to terms with the reality of a lothario getting his foot caught in his own trap by giving the last word to The Beach Boys: "You know it seems the more we talk about it," they sing of unfeasible marital bliss in the film's closing song ("Wouldn't It Be Nice"), "it only makes it worse to live without it."
This is a movie that tenders the taming of Shampoo's co-writer, producer, and star Warren Beatty and then snatches the dream of a SATURDAY EVENING POST existence from the domesticated beast's grip; Beatty's reputation as a ladies man has overshadowed his startling willingness to deconstruct that image and render himself impotent on screen time and again. The finale of Shampoo feels like a self-imposed comeuppance for his citing of nineteenth-century playwright Douglas Jerrold's view of marriage to the press: "My notion of a wife at forty is that a man should be able to change her, like a bank note, for two twenties." (The quote unfortunately stuck and is, as I write this, ascribed, sans tongue and cheek, to Beatty himself at the IMDb.) After Woody Allen, Beatty is probably the most confessional motion-picture thespian of the '70s. That said, as with Allen, objects in mirror may be more narcissistic than they appear.
What Beatty plays in Shampoo is George, a hairdresser purportedly modelled on Hollywood playboy and stylist to the stars Jay Sebring (knowledge of whose murder at the hands of the Manson family lends the film a palpable sense of gloom, if not dread), though there are also shades of Jon Peters, the California hairdresser who married actress Lesley Ann Warren in 1967 and eventually hitched his caboose to the Barbra Streisand train, riding it straight to fame and fortune as the producer of Babs's 1976 remake of A Star Is Born. (Peters and Warren divorced the following year.) These are the vessels through which Beatty can rationalize George's overstated significance in the lives of his all-female (so far as we can tell) clientele, including an aspiring actress, Jill (Goldie Hawn), and the wife (Lee Grant), mistress (Julie Christie), and nymphet daughter (Carrie Fisher, pre-Star Wars) of the same man, a philanthropist--albeit one with a conservative bent--named Lester (Jack Warden). Unacquainted with the details of Lester's personal life, George has gone to him seeking an investor for a new salon.
Shampoo restores Beatty to the same precarious position he was in in Robert Altman's quasi-western McCabe & Mrs. Miller: he has romanticized a future with Julie Christie, and it's pushing her away. One can merely speculate where the two were in their off-screen affair at the point that George breaks down and tells Christie's Jackie something more robust than "I love you": "You're the only woman I trust." The irony of those words pouring from the mouth of an inveterate, if unmalicious, womanizer moderately inverts the film: Beatty-cum-George--fairly, say I--would like his temptresses to claim some accountability. Set on the cusp of Steinem feminism, circa the 1968 elections (more or less because that's when co-scenarist Robert Towne began writing the screenplay, and wouldn't it be great if more films became incidental period pieces like that?), Shampoo portrays its female players, perhaps controversially, as consensual victims.
Still, the picture's women, Jill aside, might be its only significant failing. Although she won an Oscar for her performance, Grant is a strangely ephemeral presence, while Christie fails to convince that George is not an option despite that she's a kept woman. The problem with Shampoo's emotional ending is that 1968 L.A. is not the territory of McCabe & Mrs. Miller. George, like McCabe, is a half-bright prospector, Jackie, like Mrs. Miller, an upstanding whore, but their social subtext couldn't be more removed from the irrational Old West. The closing scene thus illustrates a duplicity in Beatty once again taking his lumps on camera for behind-the-scenes transgressions: it serves to turn an object of audience antipathy into one of pity, a louse into a well-coiffed puppy dog. And it's from such slick manoeuvres that stars are born.
Columbia TriStar releases Shampoo on DVD in a second-rate presentation. With a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and a superfluous, cropped fullscreen version occupying the same side of a dual-layer disc, the bitrate is pathetic at times, exacerbating the tungsten haze of Laszlo Kovacs's cinematography. A couple of shots at the beginning of chapter 15 are poor for a different reason, as they're off-register, producing a red-blue ghosting effect akin to an uncorrected 3-D image. On the other hand, I've never seen Shampoo look this fresh, having only ever experienced it as a chewed-up rental cassette. The attendant Dolby 2.0 mono soundtrack is thin but clear. Trailers for Mr. Deeds, Bugsy, and Cactus Flower (nope, none for Shampoo itself) fill out the platter. Originally published: January 18, 2003.