Friday Editor’s Pick: “Shampoo” (1975)

by on May 6, 2011Posted in: Editor's Pick

2:00, 4:30, 6:50, 9:15 at BAMcinématek [Program & Tix]
Alt Screen contributor Dan Callahan has a career overview of Ashby so wonderful I’m not even going to block-quote from it. Just go and read the whole thing.
Thanks to David Hudson, I see that Good’s Jennifer Wachtell has a Great round-up of directors enthusing over their favorite Ashby films: Alexander Payne on The Landlord, Jason Schwartzman on Harold and Maude, Wes Anderson on The Last Detail, David O. Russell on Shampoo, and Judd Apatow on Being There.
From Wachtell’s intro:

In the 1970s, Hal Ashby made a series of films so brilliant and yet so utterly different from one another that if you didn’t know who the director was, you might not think they were made by the same person…At his best, Ashby was able to make the personal political and the political personal, with humor and without boring the audience.
It is not surprising that Ashby’s films feel relevant at the moment, since our fragmented political climate isn’t that different from the post-Vietnam-and-Watergate years in which they were made. But unlike their latter-day counterparts, Ashby’s movies take on complicated subject matter without being reductive, telling stories through human relationships with no clean resolution. There is more said about American politics in Being There or about the women’s movement in Shampoo than in so many of the films that take on those subject matters directly.

And here’s David O Russell on Shampoo:

The film opens in the dark, as soft strains of the Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” which will also end the film, trickle in with the sounds of Lee Grant and Warren Beatty getting it on. But we can’t see them; we can only hear them. The first sound in the film is Beatty’s sex grunt. The first time we see his face is when he answers the ringing phone in the dark and the keypad throws a soft orb of light from chin to brow. What a great opening, what a great shot, what great sounds, and music. What a great feeling. Even the title is fun and sexy-Shampoo!
I was 17 when I saw it (six times, no exaggeration, in the theater with my friends), and I can still feel the beginning of that world in the film-a warm, mischievous, life-is-young-and-the-world-is-fun feeling, like when I was having sex with my high school girlfriend in her bedroom every weekend. Heaven. The film is the quintessence of what the world felt like to me in 1975 (though the film is set in 1968): loose, a little lost, a bit sweet, naïve, sincere. It’s America, brimming with candy and possibilities, though we might still fuck it up and not figure out how to be happy (Vietnam, Watergate, Iraq?).


Sean Nelson for The Stranger:

Hal Ashby’s status in film-critic circles as an underrated genius has become, by now, somewhat overstated. If he was overlooked as film historians began the process of lionizing the great auteurs of the 1970s, books like Peter Biskind’s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls and Mark Harris’s Pictures at a Revolution have gone a long way toward affirming him as one of the essential, unique, and tragic filmmakers of that essential, unique, and tragic decade. Still, it’s about time.
It’s easy enough to see why Ashby got lost in the sea of Scorseses, Kubricks, Coppolas, De Palmas, Friedkins, and even Altmans: Where the ’70s darlings developed ostentatious visual and structural styles, his work has no obvious hook. If there is a visual signature, it’s the preference of wide and long shots over close-ups—not exactly the cinema of the jugular. The movement of the camera doesn’t call attention to itself or the director. The films are not about reinventing the cinema or establishing the thumbprint of the auteur—they’re resolutely pre-postmodern. They’re also beautiful, morally complex, emotionally involving, and straight-up entertaining. Some of them were big hits. But Ashby, who directed his first film when he was 40 and died before he was 60, seems to have had no impulse to interpose himself between the stories and the audience. In a period that wasn’t called the “me decade” for nothing, he preferred to stay out of the way (aside from the odd Hitchcock cameo), allowing a tone, not a style, to emerge as the grand unifying element of his body of work.

Simon Abrams for The L Magazine:

And so Ashby’s comedies, which are all showcased in BAMcinématek’s comprehensive retro of his filmography as both director and editor, linger on moment-to-moment revelations. His skill as an editor—he won an Oscar for cutting In the Heat of the Night— allowed him to translate his stories’ quasi-Buddhist theories of intransience into uniquely cinematic narratives.
Experiences are all that matter; reflection only comes after-the-fact and even then it’s not nearly as important as the primary impulse to respond in the first place. Chance’s embodiment of Voight’s ideal makes Being There, which also happens to be a parable about a complacent culture that finally gets the messiah it deserves, Ashby’s most complex and satisfying film.

  • I’m reading Robert Altman, an oral biography right now. And the McCabe and Mrs. Miller part talks alot about how people thought Beatty kept trying to bring his director hat every day on the shoot, and that’s what it was like on every film he acted in during that time. Makes me wonder — him being the co-screenwriter/producer/star of Shampoo–how much of an Ashby film this actually ended up being.

    Regardless, what an odd and wonderful film. I had never viewed it before, but always wanted to. So happy to see it for the first time on the big screen. Especially that opening scene in the ALMOST total darkness. I love when cinematographers push the bounds almost too much in terms of what is exposed. Interesting that I had just seen Citizen Kane at MoMA an hour earlier. Funny how Toland pushed the bounds too– lots of totally dark faces talking–and maybe pushed them NOT ENOUGH in the darkened projection room scene following the newsreel: Joseph Cotton is one of the men in the room there while the boss is talking! Is this common knowledge? Never noticed the many times I have seen it on video.

    Films like these just HAVE to been seen on the big screen on film. I am so anxious to see that first scene in Shampoo on blu ray. that would really be a great test for me. I imagine it would just show up dark on any TV, but there is delightfully subtle forms of bodies you can see. It was so risky, so cinematic! Imagine someone trying to pull that off today in the video game, bastard amber Hollywood of today?

    And Carrie Fisher. Wow. Saw her name in the credits so I was waiting for her. But when her scene came on, I was wondering who this Alison Pill-like nymph was. It didn’t hit me till the scene was almost over. wow.

    Infinite thanks!

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