Nearly every key film from the so-called "Second Golden Age of Cinema," beginning with Bonnie and Clyde in 1967 and ending with Raging Bull in 1980, contained an implicit and often, for the first time in mainstream Hollywood, explicit threat of violence. The turbulent culture of the Vietnam/Watergate/Carter years was echoed onscreen by mafia dynasties, man-eating sharks, killing sprees, desperate self-destructions, hellish wars, and new surge of political activism calling attention in graphic detail to previously turbid social injustices. One of the many reasons that Shampoo (1975) is one of the very best films of that era is that it features none of these elements, and is yet more socially relevant to more viewers than any of its more sensational counterparts.
Ostensibly a comedy of matters sexual, Shampoo stars Warren Beatty as George, a coveted L.A. hairdresser who spends almost 24 hours-a-day hustling to the needs of a whirlwind of insecure women. When he isn't making them look beautiful with his fabulous hairstyles, he's making them feel beautiful with his prodigious gift for sleeping around. Particularly difficult to balance are the demands of Felicia (Lee Grant), the neglected wife of powerful business man and political financier Lester (Jack Warden); old flame Jackie (Julie Christie), now Lester's mistress; and Jill (Goldie Hawn), George's sweet girlfriend. Hopelessly scattered by these three most demanding and unsatisfiable relationships, George vainly aspires to open his own boutique, despite being incapable of approaching any one thing with an appropriate level of commitment or seriousness.
Although George shuffles frantically between heads and beds all the while looking as if he's just been thwacked upon the head with a giant feather pillow Shampoo never veers solely into comfortable farce. Written with charm and wit by Robert Towne (his follow-up to Chinatown) and Beatty (who was famous for his own philandering) and directed by Hal Ashby (coming off The Last Detail), Shampoo is set during the fall of 1969 smack between the Manson family murders and the presidential election of Richard Nixon depicted here as the beginning of the end of the free love era, and George is its elegiac icon. Unable to support any of his women emotionally, nor the one he truly loves financially, George's free-loving ways are so generous that can't even satisfy them (or himself) sexually before being pulled away to another rendezvous. The one aspect Shampoo does share in common with the other films of its generation is a refusal of the pat Hollywood resolution, preferring instead an honest assessment of the deflating constraints of irresponsibly spent freedom.
Columbia TriStar has released a bare-bones DVD of Shampoo, in a good 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer (with a full-screen option) and Dolby 2.0 Surround audio. The lack of extras is disappointing Warren Beatty doesn't record DVD commentaries (at this time, at least), and director Ashby died in 1988. But anyone who wants some background on the film can obtain Peter Biskind's excellent book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls for all the dirt on Beatty and Towne's tempestuous relationship, as well as Ashby's idiosyncratic work habits. Trailers, keep-case.