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losing it at the movies: shampoo (hal ashby, 1975)

The sixth in a series, "Losing It at the Movies," which is explained here.

In 5001 Nights at the Movies, Kael wrote of Shampoo:

This sex roundelay is set in a period as clearly defined as the jazz age—the time of the Beatles and miniskirts and strobe lights. When George (Warren Beatty), the hairdresser hero, asks his former girlfriend, Jackie (Julie Christie), “Want me to do your hair?”, it’s his love lyric. When George gets his hands in a woman’s hair, it’s practically sex, and sensuous, tender sex—not what his Beverly Hills customers are used to.... The script by Robert Towne, with the collaboration of Beatty (who also produced), isn’t about the bondage of romantic pursuit—it’s about the bondage of the universal itch among a group primed to scratch.... The director, Hal Ashby, has the deftness to keep us conscious of the whirring pleasures of the carnal-farce structure and yet to give it free play. This was the most virtuoso example of sophisticated, kaleidoscopic farce that American moviemakers had yet come up with; frivolous and funny, it carries a sense of heedless activity, of a craze of dissatisfaction.

Once, in a class I taught at Cal, I assigned the novel Dancer from the Dance by Andrew Holleran. I had read it a few years earlier and liked it quite a lot, and thought it would be a good way to diversify the reading lists. When I reread the book as I prepared for the course, I found I still liked it, but ... well, it's not that I had forgotten how much sex was in the book, but I hadn't considered how the graphic descriptions of Fire Island might affect my young students. I worried that those students, who grew up in a post-AIDS world, might have a negative take on the gay sex if they didn't put it in the context of the pre-AIDS 1970s. My "solution" was to also assign Shampoo. The idea was that the film would show that everyone was fucking around in the 1970s, not just gay people. Looking back, I'm glad I assigned both novel and movie, but I'm not sure what I think about the rationale I used.

In any event, yes, there is a lot of fucking in Shampoo, which is, as Kael described it, a "sex roundelay". Jack Warden's rich businessman, Lester, is thrice cuckolded by George: the hairdresser has sex with Lester's wife, Lester's mistress, and Lester's daughter. George has something resembling a code ... when accused of using sex like a gigolo for financial gain, he's hurt ... "I don't fuck anybody for money. I do it for the fun." And in the film's most famous dialogue, George says ... well, this is an odd way to show it, but I came across this video and I can't resist showing it here. Amy Adams, Greta Gerwig, and Michelle Williams doing a faux-tryout for the part of George where they read his famous confession:

Lee Grant won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for this movie. The film is full of Oscar winners: Hal Ashby, Robert Towne, Julie Christie, Goldie Hawn, Tony Bill, and later, Warren Beatty. It was Carrie Fisher's first movie (perhaps appropriately, given how the film goes, her most memorable line is "You wanna fuck?"). László Kovács was the director of photography.

Shampoo got decent enough reviews. It was a success at the box office. Yet I feel like it's mostly forgotten today (I'm happy to be proven wrong). Being set in its own past (made in 1975, takes place in 1968), it looks doubly archaic now. I don't think of Shampoo as a film that resonates with the 60s. It's a bit closer to the mid-70s. It's an odd combination of ambitious and mellow ... it's somehow too laid back to be called pretentious, but the filmmakers don't do enough with the 1968 setting (more specifically, it takes place on Election Eve, 1968). I can come up with some deep-sounding analysis ... the Nixon election marked the end of the free-wheeling 60s, or something. But I never felt certain why it took place when it did. And since all of the characters ignore the election (even though two scenes near the end take place at separate election result parties), the audience is welcome to do the same (although watching Nixon on TVs in the background is scary enough). Yes, yes, the point is that these characters are so self-absorbed they don't care about stuff like elections. But that doesn't come across as a great political statement. Shampoo is a movie about George the hairdresser and his various partners. It's a bedroom farce that isn't always funny.

This may sound as if I don't like Shampoo, which isn't true ... I like it just fine. But I saw it when it came out, I've just watched it again, and if this is a classic, I'm completely out of touch (then and now). It's a good movie that hints at bigger things without reaching them, and the leads actors are gorgeous: Julie Christie, Goldie Hawn, Lee Grant, and prettiest of all, Warren Beatty.

Here is Lee Grant accepting her Oscar. She was nominated in 1951 for her first movie. She was a regular on television for many years (I first discovered her on the nighttime soap opera Peyton Place), but didn't really establish a film career until the late-60s. She refused to testify against her husband during the HUAC hearings, and was blacklisted for more than a decade.

music friday: top ten janet weiss sleater-kinney tracks

"Dig Me Out"

"Not What You Want"

"Get Up"

"Youth Decay" (these are in chronological order, but this would be my #1)

"One Beat"

"The Promised Land" (the Bruce Springsteen song, w/Janet on drums and harmonica)

"The Fox"

"Modern Girl"

"Let's Call It Love/Entertain" (New Year's Eve 2016, the last time I saw them together)

"No Anthems"

Bonus: Wild Flag covering Television and Patti Smith:

And a Spotify playlist:

god bless america for what

Oh lord, is this the land of the free? 
And can someone please explain this word called equality? 
’Tis the time for everyone to come to this country’s aid
And help repair the mess of this land that we’ve all made
You see kids are tired of growing up just to fight another war and singing God bless America
Unless they know, they know what for

losing it at the movies: the gauntlet (clint eastwood, 1977)

The fifth in a series, "Losing It at the Movies," which is explained here.

Pauline Kael was not a fan of Clint Eastwood, but then, he wasn't all that fond of her, either. "Clint asked a psychiatrist to do an analysis of her from her reviews; it concluded that Kael was actually physically attracted to Clint and because she couldn’t have him she hated him." (From Conversations with Clint, quoted by Richard Brody.)

In 5001 Nights at the Movies, Kael wrote of The Gauntlet:

Clint Eastwood, as a slow-witted cop, and Sondra Locke, as the fast-witted hooker he’s bringing back from Las Vegas to testify in a trial in Phoenix, are always in movement. They use a police car, a motorcycle, a train, a bus. A mere whisper of a plot serves as a pretext for shoot-’em-ups with thousands of rounds of ammunition going into whatever buildings or vehicles the cop and the hooker are in or on. At times the whole world seems to be firing at them; buildings and cars are turned to lace. You look at the screen even though there’s nothing to occupy your mind—the way you sometimes sit in front of the TV, numbly, because you can’t rouse yourself for the effort it takes to go to bed.

Honestly, I question why they included an Eastwood movie in the "Losing It" series. Sure, she had an opinion on his movies, but she championed many fine directors ... why waste time with one she didn't like? She famously called Dirty Harry fascist, but there is none of that in The Gauntlet, mostly because while Harry Callahan, fascist or not, is good at his job, Ben Shockley, Eastwood's character here, is kinda dumb. In fact, unbeknownst to him, he is assigned the job of moving the hooker because it's assumed he's too poor a cop to get in the way of the bigger picture he is unaware of. It's fun watching Eastwood play with his character ... he knows there are people in the audience who think he's never acting, and he messes with them here. I'm one who thinks a little of Sondra Locke goes a long way, but she's fairly tolerable here. The only reason The Gauntlet exists is to blow shit up. The trick is that it's largely done with gunfire ... why bomb a building when you can shoot it until it crumples to the ground? You keep thinking something will rise above the pattern of shoot-em-ups, but nothing ever does. If that sounds like a good movie to you, go for it. For me, his best job as a director is Mystic River, his best non-directing movie is The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, and his most enjoyable film is Bronco Billy.