Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Inspired by the Golden Globes' tribute to Warren Beatty, I rewatched Shampoo yesterday. I saw the film for the first time in the summer and really enjoyed it. I really enjoy the styles and issues of the 60s and 70s. It was a really tumultuous time politically, and this film is a fine piece of social satire. But, it's also just very funny.

The core of the film is the relationship between George and Jackie. Beatty and Christie were fantastic in McCabe and Mrs. Miller, their charisma there is what makes the film different from Altman's other work. Normally, Altman makes stars recede into the background, in McCabe, their magnetism rises to the fore and carries the film. I love the two of them there, and even though their roles are different here, there's the same energy and tension between the two of them.

It's odd to think of Beatty writing the script for this, casting himself as the ultimate ladies' man, who can have anyone he wants. Now, it was probably a reflection of his own personal experience, how does he seperate the character from himself? He was in a relationship with Julie Christie during the time he was writing the film, is this something of an apology to her, pointing out his flaws and showing that he really loves her, even if she's moved on? The background is interesting, but not essential to understanding the film.

What it's about is showing the way that these peoples' excessive lifestyles makes them blind to what really matters. Everyone in the film is involved in trading sex for money, except for George, who says he doesn't fuck for money, he fucks for fun. Jackie is having an affair with Lester to make herself comfortable and safe, Jill is willing to go with Johnny to advance her career and Felicia has an affair with George as a way of getting back at her husband. The only people who seem to actually be in love are Jackie and George, but he winds up messing that up.

In addition to the personal drama, the film is largely about the lifestyles. The two parties are the film's setpieces. One shows the lies underlying conservative, establishment types. Lester claims to be an upstanding citizen, but he's here balancing his wife and mistress, unable to control either. I love the scene where Jackie tells the old man what she wants is to "suck his cock," her vulgarity completely shocking in this sophisticated setting. They want to keep the bad stuff under the surface, claiming that they're working for the betterment of America, to return it to traditional values. But, they're all corrupt at heart.

The other party is radically different, more sexually open, with psychedlic drugs instead of alcohol, but I feel like the film is saying it's just as hollow. Given the chance to be with Jackie, George turns away the twins and their invite to the hot tub. He is focused on one woman, and in his most mature moment in the film, tells her that when he's fifty, he wants to be with her. Here, he steps up and does the responsible thing. That brings them together again.

But, George's greatest flaw is that he wants everyone to like him. That's why he lies to Felicia at the beginning, telling her he really wants to stay, but this girl's life is in danger. He can't say no to a woman, a position he sums up in his speech to Jill at the end. He likes them all, but can't commit to loving one. So, when Jill finds him and Jackie together, he runs off after her. If he'd just stayed, he probably could have had Jackie, but he didn't want to leave on bad terms with Jill. Running after Jill tells Jackie that he was lying to her before, he hasn't changed, and she leaves. I really like his frantic run across the party, flashing through the crazy strobe light room, one of the best strobe scenes I've seen in any film.

At the end, George finds out that he was too late. When he left the poolhouse, he lost Jackie, and now she's chosen the safe, comfort of life with Lester, over the possible true love with George. The film simultaneously celebrates and condemns George's lifestyle. I think we're meant to admire and envy his magnetism at the beginning of the film, but in the end, we see that all he has is hollow. Ultimately, everyone winds up in a hollow relationship, choosing money and comfort over real love, because none of them were honest enough to expose their feelings.

While I like the film's plot, the real appeal for me is the aesthetic. I love the 60s/70s look everyone has. Julie Christie's silver hair, and shimmering black dress are absolutely gorgeous. The music is great too. Apparently this was before it became prohibitively expensive to license a Beatles' song because we've got 'Sgt. Pepper' and 'Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds' on here. The 'LSD' sequence is a particular highlight.

The film ends with The Beach Boys' 'Wouldn't It Be Nice,' a song that asks "what if?" This fits well with the end of the film, even though its upbeat melody seems at odds with the downbeat finale. All the characters just missed out on real love, and they'll left to think wouldn't it be nice if things had worked out.

I've got Heaven Can Wait on the way, to wrap up the Beatty/Christie trilogy. And I also want to see Dick Tracy, I loved the film as a kid, but haven't seen it in over ten years. I'm curious to see if it holds up.

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