This product was provided by Criterion for the purpose of this review. All opinions are our own, score is based on the product as a whole, not the film itself.
Hal Ashby’s Shampoo remains one of the more criminally underrated entries in the New-Hollywood movement, a politically and sexually charged work of conflicted human nature that effectively captured the aimless uncertainty of a nation transitioning into the Nixon era. Criterion has been giving cinephiles ample opportunity to rediscover the craftsmanship of Ashby, (always the underrepresented figure within the New American Wave when compared to others like Coppola and Scorsese) with its inclusions of Harold and Maude and Being There into their collection relatively recently. Its restoration of Shampoo marks the first time this provocative work has been available on Blu-ray, and, despite being scant on supplements, the striking technical quality makes this release the definitive version for your collection.
Penned in collaboration between legendary screenwriter Robert Towne and star Warren Beatty, the film follows the sexual trysts of lothario George Roundy (Beatty) – a hairdresser who, over the course of election day 1968, struggles desperately to make sense out his romantic and professional affairs before they consume him completely. Featuring a sublime cast of actors (Julie Christie, Goldie Hawn, Lee Grant and a first appearance by Carrie Fisher), who play the lovers/clients who Roundy arrogantly tries to juggle, the film portrays the freewheeling sexual attitude of the time with both mirthful nostalgia and biting satire.
Riding a fine line between raucous sex comedy and tragic character study, Shampoo is an oddity in the New-Hollywood canon whose frankness with handling the ’60s sexual mores clashes with its subtle ways of invoking the ’60s political atmosphere. Though polarizing upon its release, the unanimous talent of its cast, incisiveness of its writing and characters and its ability to capture the malaise of the unwinding free love era has elevated Shampoo to the status of classic, and only now do we have a proper way to experience it.
This new 4k digital restoration comes with a pristine, monaural soundtrack (as well as an alternate 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio), which really makes the Ashby and cinematographer’s Laszlo Kovacs’ vision of Beverly Hills at the time feel fresh and lively. The newly crisp visuals and audio make scenes pop like they never had before; one really takes notice of the stifling smog in Kovacs vistas of the Hills and the dense cacophony that is the election night party scenes. Ashby was never really lauded as a visual stylist in his relatively short career, but this restoration proves definitively he was a director who knew how to add texture to a film unlike any of his contemporaries.
Sadly, outside of this impeccable version of the film, the package itself has little else to offer in terms of supplements. Criterion assembled critics Mark Harris and Frank Rich for an illuminating conversation on the film and their impressions upon revisiting it so many years after the release, but it’s brief and feels more like a consolation for tragically lacking a commentary track.
More questionable of an inclusion is an excerpt from an interview by producer, co-writer and star Warren Beatty on The South Bank Show, where the conversation is mostly about New Hollywood and Bonnie and Clyde and Shampoo is more of a footnote in their conversation and to which Beatty doesn’t really say anything poignant.
These are perfectly acceptable bonus materials when you consider that no previous release of Shampoo has had any substantial supplements to speak of, but even so, this is a meager overall package. The cover, a trio headshot of Beatty, Hawn and Christie, is also based on a previous DVD release by Columbia TriStar, which curiously included a trailer that this release lacks.
The included essay by Rich echoes a lot of the sentiments he espoused in conversation with Harris but with much more articulation. It is a thoroughly enjoyable read that explicates the production and political themes of the film, but unfortunately it only makes you wish there was more to this release in terms of behind-the-scenes features, commentaries, etc.
Despite these gripes, this is absolutely the version of Shampoo to own based solely on the immaculate restoration Criterion has done for Ashby’s underappreciated masterwork. Though highly specific to a post-Watergate world upon release, the lasting impression left by the sharp humor, fleshed-out characters and moving performances makes this a film dying to be rediscovered for a new, equally tumultuous time. Thanks to Criterion’s preservation, this is no longer a difficult task.