Decades Blogathon – Shampoo (1975)

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1975

It’s day two of the Decades Blogathon, hosted by myself and the irrepressible Tom from Digital Shortbread. The blogathon focuses on movies that were released in the fifth year of the decade. Tom and I are running different entries each day; and this one comes from Michael via the brilliant It Rains…You Get Wet. Michael’s site is a belter, full of great features and insight. Check it out!

Shampoo Poster

A heartbroken Warren Beatty looking down on a canyon road as Paul Simon’s acoustic version of Silent Eyes plays in the background. The lingering vestige of Hal Ashby’s Shampoo would use a mournful version of a cut from his Still Crazy After All These Years album out that year as the scene faded to black. Always recall this when looking back at it, and the time. The lone contemporary song of the film’s soundtrack shouldn’t work at all considering the ’60s tunes that littered it, and marked an epoch so distinctly.

Yet, for a film that reached a 40-year milestone that lyrical lament offered a fitting bitter quality, and an eloquent end for the piece and its protagonist.

Banker: “What kind of references do you have, Mr. Roundy?
George: “I do Barbara Rush.”

Shampoo

A pity a number of today’s movie-viewers have never seen Shampoo. Even aficionados have seemingly forgotten it since the film debuted in March of 1975. It’s a deft and layered work director Hal Ashby crafted ever so well, with key input from lauded scribe Robert Towne (Chinatown) and Shirley MacLaine’s better looking sibling, Warren Beatty. Truly, it marked the midpoint of a truly sucky decade like few others. Right as the suck appeared to reach its crest too, or so we thought. The Fall of Saigon lay the next month over.

No, the hits just kept on coming. Mind you, I speak from experience, having survived the period, first-hand. I bear the scars of it, if you want proof. Still, the decade remains my all-time favorite for its influential filmmakers and the cinema they enriched and buoyed us with. I’m in good company for that thought, too, it seems. As mentioned last year over at Keith’s site when he asked my answer at his roundtable to what had been “…the greatest decade for movies”:

“Easily, it’s the ’70s. A particular span of time that proved to be one of the most tumultuous for many in the latter half of the 20th century. A decade filled with economic downturns, disillusionment, and the realisation that things really could get a hell of a lot worst. And did. The timing for film couldn’t have been better, though. For all of its crises and missteps, corruption and loss of idealism, the Me Decade heralded some of the absolute best cinema this country had to offer for the period.”

Naturally, I turned to 1975, in particular when Mark and Tom proposed their ‘Decades’ Blogathon. One that focused, like now, “…on movies that were released in the fifth year of the decade”. Didn’t take me long to latch on once more with Shampoo, and a chance to convince those reading. Described as a dramatic comedy, it offered a satiric look at not only the sociopolitical (presidential and sexual) via a heady few Angelenos, but the cost of love then as it sifted through the bed sheets of their sex lives.

All as the ’60s began its close.

Shampoo

The mid-’70s film surprisingly centered its story around the Election Day of 1968. Nixon-Agnew said it all. The irony set early for the audience of the time as the Watergate Scandal had broken open by ’72, with Nixon’s impeachment a couple of years later quite fresh in peoples’ minds. Shampoo‘s producers even benefitted, unknowingly, with the film’s release mere months before the official end of the Vietnam War, and the final disillusionment that came with it. I tell ‘ya, this decade could do irony.

The film, care of its Robert Towne and Warren Beatty screenplay, posited all the crap happening there and then a result of what took place the decade prior; blinded with all that ‘free love’ behavior and ‘flower power’ mentality the ‘Swinging Sixties’ offered. Manifested strangely enough with a Beverly Hills hairdresser of some repute. Beatty, of course, as George servicing his female “clients”. [*1] Its running joke, going against the conventional thinking of most men in the film and the time, being the stylist was a raging heterosexual.

Who better to bring it to a head than Hal Ashby.

“Let’s face it. I f***ed them all. That’s what I do. That’s why I went to beauty school.”

Shampoo

If there was a ’70s filmmaker more authoritative, let alone consistent, during this span, they’re in rare company. The Utah native-turned-California hippy learned his art cutting and pasting pieces of film together during the ’60s and enjoyed his greatest output in the disco era. His underrated debut, The Landlord, prepped the cult hit Harold And Maude, The Last Detail, and then this. Bound For Glory came next before he capped the spell with Coming Home and Being There – an Oscar tally totally seven wins and 24 nominations. ‘Nuff said.

Even among that impressive set, I think Shampoo was in the upper tier of his cinematic work. Certainly, the film traversed a broad range of crisis and comedy, and invigorating carnality, in the most entertaining way imaginable. Avidly focusing on an interconnected coterie of the “beautiful people” then, who’d be internet media whores today. You may not like them, but can’t take your eyes off – located in an area that’s always gathered too much attention for its self-absorbed few amid the Los Angeles dwarfing them.

Shampoo“Doing it” with a bang up ensemble cast, too, headed by a Warren Beatty at his peak. The latter half of Bonnie And Clyde consummating his conquest of Hollywood, like his friend Ashby, this very decade; ironically, including his girlfriends Julie Christie (then current) and Goldie Hawn (ex-) to parallel the tale with their roles. Carrie Fisher’s feature debut as a 15-year-old seducing George with an immortal three little words [*2], a full two years before “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”

ShampooThe great (the most repeated key word of the script) Jack Warden and a number of recognisable character actors (Jay Robinson, George Furth, Jack Bernardi, Howard Hesseman, Brad Dexter, and a young Tony Bill) lent the production considerable note. Yet, surprisingly the men played second fiddle to the women of the cast. Especially when another former date, Lee Grant as Felicia, was on screen – earning her supporting Oscar on her feet as well as her back, as only she could.

“Oh god, Lester you are a miserable human being. You’re not helping anybody! You’re just twisting arms here for a lot of silly sons of bitches who are all out for themselves. You’re kidding yourself if you think your new business partner is going to keep his hands off your girl. Or if she’s going to keep her hands off of him!”

Indeed, it’d be the legendary B-movie director William Castle who’d provide a scorned Jackie essential ammunition care of the question all rich old men ask young beautiful women – and she’d answer in the most uproarious fashion, drawing the best reaction ever from her sugar daddy lover and his wife.

Shampoo

That’s saying something considering Beatty’s hairdresser George pulled in the most female once-overs this side of his namesake Clooney in the film; a good bit of it geared toward the worship of a certain male member, his handheld hairdryer symbolising you-know-what throughout. Notably, how much mileage it got in a 36-hour period. Likewise, the grief it caused… principally for its owner. Clint Eastwood’s Play Misty For Me may have suffered nastier consequences following the ‘free love’ era, but he’d get his, too.

Moreover, Towne uniquely signified the place he made a living writing for, Los Angeles, through scenes and dialogue as only he could. Scripting characters against some real-life L.A. history along the way, keenly having an ear for the common and outlandish parlance of the day. Those we give our hearts to, as well. Few regard this as highly as his Chinatown screenplay, which came out the year before. Drama mostly beating out comedy. But, “dying is easy; comedy is hard.” This razor-edged script is better than you think.

Shampoo

Additionally, few needle-dropped soundtracks of that or any other decade, were as memorable. Its songs impacted the tale so conspicuously. The Beach Boys’ Wouldn’t It Be Nice exemplifying George and Felicia’s lovemaking during the opening credits set the tone for the duration; all the way through to The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band numbers doing much the same by the third act’s affluent hippy party [*3]. Sadly, neither the movie’s musical accompaniment or Paul Simons’ score were ever released.

Existing only for those lucky enough to screen this Hal Ashby classic.

ShampooShampoo may have chronicled Peyton Place… er… Beverly Hills byway of a crackerjack and sexy satire, even if it’s filled with petty messes and moral decay, but did so with ’70s style. And at a key point in time. The bed-hopping, dashed dreams, and selfish betrayals among the self-important in the midst of prepping for a fateful Election Day still influential [*4]. Hal Ashby’s good friend Norman Jewison, who got him into directing, would use George’s womanising excuse – “makes me feel like I’m going to live forever” – as a subplot to his 1987 film Moonstruck.

Stood in well for the bad faith and falseness (socially and politically) of the Nixon-Agnew ticket, which would blossom come the ‘Me Decade’.

Seems strange, unfair even, that more haven’t seen, or at least promoted the movie to others. In the four decades since its release, the Hal Ashby/Robert Stone/Warren Beatty film has been written off, apparently; lost somewhere in film history. Displaced by other notable ’70s fare that epitomised the era’s bleakness and disappointment more forcefully. Overlooked the 1975 production’s wry cleverness, perhaps dismissing it as a silly snapshot of the ’60s sexual laxity and psychedelia through a bell-bottomed mindset.

Deciding somehow it doesn’t apply to us in the new millennium… but, oh it does.

Shampoo

Jackie: “It’s too late.”
George: “What do you mean it’s too late. We’re not dead yet. That’s when it’s only too late.”

Not convinced?

Look again at my definition why the period remains a favorite. The ’70s film penchants of love and death, nevertheless, apply here. An antihero, George (or at least his cock), with death stalking unexpectedly. Really, you ask? Sure, it’s hinted throughout. We initially meet Jill fearing her death hearing a gunshot in a celebrity-strewn canyon; George stating he was to take Jill to the “El Cholo” restaurant another knowing allusion. By the end, she’ll dump the philandering George for an upcoming young film director.

You see, they’re not just some actress and her hairstylist boyfriend. No. What most missed was Shampoo gave audiences an unexpected, fictionalized backstory to the real-life events of Sharon Tate and her ex-boyfriend Jay Sebring [*5], byway of a risqué dramedy. The sadly fated pair of L.A.’s infamous Tate murders, here disguised by farce; pictured before their grisly demise, along with a handful of the affluent, less than a year later in Benedict Canyon by Charles Manson’s twisted hippy followers [*6]. Even the aging financier Lester warned our protagonist of what was to come late in the film:

“I don’t know anything anymore. You never know, you know. Ah, one minute you’re here, the next…pfft. I just wish I knew what the hell I was living for. You can lose it all, y’know. Lose it all no matter who you are. What’s the sense of having it all. The market was down 10 points last week, goddamn Lyndon Johnson. Yeah, well. Maybe Nixon will be better. What’s the difference. They’re all a bunch of jerks.”

Satisfied now?

Shampoo

[*1]: Warren Beatty’s dating history the stuff of legend.
[*2]: “You wanna f***?”
[*3]: Compare this to the cheesy instrumental of Paul McCartney’s “Yesterday” ringing in the moneyed contributors ears at the Nixon-Agnew election night party, the hanging portrait of then Governor Reagan driving the point.
[*4]: Take note of George’s reaction at failing his loan application outside of the Beverly Hills bank. Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney would emulate it in 1998’s Out Of Sight, right before Jack Foley heads to a bank and rob it.
[*5]: Jay Sebring, who along with Jon Peters, happened to be “the hair stylist to the stars” Towne and Beatty modeled George’s character on.
[*6]: Both Tate and Sebring, her friend and former lover, were buried on the same day, just hours apart, which happened to be my on birthday.

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Review – American Sniper

The dehumanising effects of combat come to the fore in Clint Eastwood’s visually powerful, but ultimately conventional examination of one man’s war.

Eastwood has fashioned an efficient and, at times, muscular war movie, but in spite of its cracking central turn American Sniper just misses its target

Eastwood has fashioned an efficient and, at times, muscular war movie, but in spite of its cracking central turn American Sniper just misses its target

Eastwood made his name playing masculine, violent men and since turning his hand to directing has largely stuck to his guns, to varying degrees of success.

His undisputed masterpiece, 1992’s Unforgiven, was a slow ride to hell as it laid bare the sickening emotional consequences killing someone might actually have on its assorted gunslingers, while his celebrated Gran Torino (2008) found its Dirty Harry protagonist forced to face both his own mortality and the changing face of his country.

The 'most lethal' Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) in American Sniper

The ‘most lethal’ Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) in American Sniper

In his latest, Eastwood’s stoical leading man is Chris Kyle, a “legend” among his brothers in arms for having chalked up 160 confirmed kills in Iraq and on whose self-explanatory book American Sniper: The Autobiography Of The Most Lethal Sniper In US Military History the film is based.

We are introduced to Kyle (Bradley Cooper) on just another day in Iraq, with a woman and child in his sights. They may be carrying an explosive device or they may not; it’s up to Kyle to make the judgement in order to keep his fellow marines safe.

Chris Kyle's (Bradley Cooper) nemesis in American Sniper

Chris Kyle’s (Bradley Cooper) nemesis in American Sniper

The film flashes back to varying, defining points in his life, from a childhood hunting trip with his father in which he is taught to be a sheep dog to protect the sheep from the wolves, through to his decision to enlist as a US Navy Seal following the 1998 US embassy bombings. The red, white and blue-blooded all-American gets his chance to put his training into practice in the aftermath of 9/11 and the allied invasion of Iraq.

As Kyle racks up kill after kill – men, women and children – over the course of four tours, the cracks begin to show, both on his psyche and his marriage to Taya (Sienna Miller), while his notoriety leads to a bounty being placed on his head by the enemy.

A rare moment of happiness for Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) and wife Taya (Sienna Miller) in American Sniper

A rare moment of happiness for Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) and wife Taya (Sienna Miller) in American Sniper

Whilst visually arresting and bolstered by a central performance of considerable nuance and intensity by Cooper, American Sniper isn’t anything we haven’t seen before.

Kyle’s back story feels rushed, as if Eastwood is conscious of cutting to the action, while the Iraqis are either faceless enemies, cardboard cutout villains or fodder for Kyle’s sniper rifle.

The most promising character we see from the ‘enemy’ side is a Syrian sniper who incurs Kyle’s wrathful vengeance after shooting one of his friends. Steven Spielberg, who was on board to direct before walking away from the project, wanted to beef up the character and escalate the psychological warfare between the two shooters. It’s a premise that Eastwood, for good or ill, has chosen not to focus on.

The consequences of being a soldier in Iraq takes its toll for Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) in American Sniper

The consequences of being a soldier in Iraq takes its toll for Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) in American Sniper

Aside from a couple of unnecessary slow motion set pieces and a special effects shot of a bullet flying through the air that belongs in a cheaper movie, the various scenes of sharpshooting are disturbing in the matter-of-fact way they are portrayed. The rifle’s sights add an air of detachment from the death we are witnessing, with the exception of a horribly uncomfortable moment when a distressed Kyle has in his sights a young boy undecided whether to fire at an American convoy.

A particularly evocative sequence comes late on when Kyle and his buddies are engaged in a firefight during a sandstorm. It’s a potent image, loaded with hellish intent.

Miller is excellent, but is hamstrung by unoriginal dialogue (“Even when you’re here, you’re not here!”) and little screen time which undermines the scenes she and Cooper share back home. The director tries to emphasise Kyle’s worsening psychological scarring through these moments, but doesn’t give them the time to breathe.

Eastwood has fashioned an efficient and, at times, muscular war movie, but in spite of its cracking central turn American Sniper just misses its target.

Debuts Blogathon: Clint Eastwood – Play Misty For Me (1971)

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Day 4 of the ‘Debuts’ Blogathon, hosted by myself and Chris at Terry Malloy’s Pigeon Coop, and today we welcome the contribution of Cindy from Cindy Bruchman. As Cindy’s site states, she talks about places, movies and books (she’s a published author for goodness sake!). Her film posts spotlight interesting topics and she publishes some really interesting articles. Head on over there and see what I’m talking about.
 

Clint Eastwood

Play Misty For Me (1971)

 
Clint Eastwood starred and directed Play Misty for Me in 1971.  It was a psychological thriller about a stalker who fell hard for Eastwood’s character, Dave Garver, a disk jockey at a California radio station. Jessica Walter played the pretty fan who calls in when Garver is on the air and requests to hear the jazz song Misty.
 
Play Misty For Me PosterThe film popularized the Johnny Mathis version and was Eastwood’s choice for the film and it functioned as an effective contrast. The cozy melody was associated with a sexy, female voice and became the ice breaker in an ‘accidental’ meeting in a bar and the one-night-stand. From there, Evelyn’s harmless personality transformed into a descent into psychotic fury punctuated with the butcher knife that should scare any man from succumbing to the one-night-stand; the plot was revisited in the 1980s version, Fatal Attraction. The confident, soft female who is casual and percolates passion. She lures the man to ecstasy but returns with an emasculating vengeance.
 
Play Misty For MePlay Misty for Me was a compelling, low-budget film that made Eastwood millions. As director, the film allowed him a new playground with which to play, and over the years his films employed trademark techniques that have made him one of the most commercially successful directors to date.     
 
As a director, Eastwood’s status has grown to heights rarely seen in the history of movie making. His reputation as a man’s man and his sex appeal – he was 50 when he starred in Play Misty for Me and his filming of the sex scene with Donna Mills at the waterfall showed tasteful eroticism with a romantic sensibility – has wooed women for decades.
 
Play Misty For MeHis stature grew as a director after winning the Best Director Oscar for Unforgiven (1992). Eastwood owned the 2000s, with Best Director Oscar nominations for Mystic River (2003), Million Dollar Baby (2004), Letters from Iwo Jima (2006) and Gran Torino (2008).
 
When you watch an Eastwood film, there are similarities in his directing technique. His camera follows the story through the perceptions of one protagonist.  Through sensory variation, his films are beautiful because you see, hear, smell, and touch the setting through the camera lens. This first person telling allows the viewer to share, and therefore, enter the film.
 
Play Misty For MeEastwood loves contrast. He loves to highlight a body part while the rest is in the dark. You will hear the character talking but only see a hand or a shoulder. He likes to use his setting to the max. For example, he will plant signs around the set that enhance the theme of the film. Remember in Million Dollar Baby all the signs in the boxing gym that reiterate key lines such as “Tough Ain’t Enough”, referring to Maggie, who had more heart than anyone on the planet? He likes to simulate the feelings of a character’s emotions with the movement of the camera. If the agonized character expels fury, the camera shoots up the fury to the sky like in Mystic River.
 
Play Misty For MeEastwood films feature misunderstood, strong characters who are alone in their world and rise from adversity. He loves the underdog. He often stars in his films and portrays the grumpy old-man who is trying to survive in a world that has changed too fast. If he isn’t the poster-boy for the angst of baby-boomers, I don’t know who is, for the man is the epitome of a generation when ‘real men don’t cry’ and his surly countenance hides a soft, romantic heart.
 
This desperado is a universal character and Hollywood’s long-enduring icon. At 83, he’s the manifestation of all his characters. I wish he were my neighbour; we’d listen to jazz music, drink and watch the sunset. I bet his stories are amazing just like his career.
 
Over at Terry Malloy’s Pigeon Coop, Armando from Film Police has the unenviable task of dissecting David Lynch’s mind-warping debut Eraserhead. Check it out!
 
Meanwhile, check back here tomorrow for Day 5, when Naomi at She Speaks Movies takes at look at Bong Joon-ho’s 2000 debut Barking Dogs Never Bite.