The second double feature on Jason Reitman’s program was comprised of Hal Ashby’s “Shampoo” and Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Boogie Nights.” At first glance this seems like an odd pairing, but he told the packed audience that these were movies about young lovers who are much like athletes. Each has a distinct talent that defines who they are, but we are catching up with them as their triumphs run thin to where they are all but burned out. When they reach the downside of things, they have no idea what to do for the rest of their lives.
“Shampoo” was one of several great movies directed by Hal Ashby in the 1970’s, and it starred Warren Beatty, who also produced and co-wrote the movie with Robert Towne, as George Roundy. George is a very successful hairdresser in Los Angeles who is as great at hair as he is with juggling the various women in his life. We later find out that George became a hairdresser as it allowed him to meet a plethora of beautiful women whom he could shower his undying charisma over. While he has a steady girlfriend in Jill (Goldie Hawn at her most adorable), this doesn’t come even close to stopping his endless sexual conquests. Heck, he even gets seduced by the daughter of one of his mistresses (Carrie Fisher in her film debut).
Interestingly enough, the movie takes place in 1968 on the night before Richard M. Nixon was elected as President of the United States. So we are seeing George and all the characters in what could be construed as their last innocent moment before everything went downhill.
Reitman proclaimed that “Shampoo” was a huge influence on his career as well as on his Oscar nominated movie “Up in The Air” and that he stole the ending of Ashby’s movie for it. Once he said that, this all but prepared us for the heartbreak the main character was going to suffer through. Once the lights went up at the New Beverly after the movie was finished, Reitman said it perfectly, “’Shampoo’ crushes me!”
Both characters played by Beatty in “Shampoo” and George Clooney in “Up in the Air” do reach epiphanies in their life and discover what they truly want, but they both come to these realizations way too late. This is more needless proof of how unfair life can be.
Unlike with “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” or “Election,” Reitman actually had no special guest to introduce “Shampoo” or do a Q&A with. Instead, he took the time to tell us how much the movie means to him:
”Throughout the last couple of years, I’ve had a lot of aspiring filmmakers come up to me asking for advice,” Reitman said “I keep telling them what I am telling you here tonight; ‘Shampoo’ is the kind of movie you should aspire to make. It’s a movie about people who know what they want and you and I can definitely see that in their eyes. The problem is they can’t say it out loud. They don’t know how to verbalize their needs.”
“What’s so great about ‘Shampoo’ is that you never see anyone acting or feel like they are overdoing it,” Reitman continued. “You also never see the writing, and there are no overly technical shots that take you out of it.”
How many times this past year do you remember just being completed absorbed by a movie to where you experience it more than you analyze it? I can only think of a few movies off the top of my head right now like “The Hurt Locker” and “Up” to name a few. They do feel like a rarity these days with all the remakes and those movies that are “based on a true story.” Reitman did us a huge favor by introducing this movie to us and to the work of Hall Ashby, a filmmaker that many people today probably don’t know about. Ashby was responsible for movies like “The Last Detail” with Jack Nicholson and “Being There” with Peter Sellers, and let’s not even try to forget “Harold & Maude.” These are all movies we should all take the time to watch if we haven’t already.