POSTED July 6 2015

Wash. Rinse. Repeat. “Shampoo” and Politics of the 1970s

UnknownFor a movie series I’m hosting this month at the National Museum of American Jewish History (click link here) I’ve been watching a lot of political films from the 1970s. (The series complements the exhibition of 1970s political portraits by Richard Avedon.)

It was a jolt to re-watch Shampoo (1975), and to remember that this look back at the night Richard Nixon was elected president was written (by Warren Beatty and Robert Towne) and directed (by Hal Ashby) from the perspective of the Watergate hearings that ended Nixon’s career.

The film’s hook was suggested by The Country Wife, a Restoration Comedy written in 1672 by William Wycherley, in which a man tells all his friends that he’s impotent so that they trust him with their wives. In the movie, Warren Beatty is a hairdresser that everyone assumes is gay, which gives him cover to enjoy himself with their wives and daughters — and pretty much every other female in the vicinity of his blow dryer.

Besides the fact that it takes place on election night, what makes Shampoo  a political film?

It, too, is a Restoration Comedy — a farce about the restoration of the Republicans to the White House. The central character played by Beatty is deeply apolitical,  the male equivalent of a dumb blonde, who doesn’t understand the cultural shift taking place. The free-loving 1960s are over and everyone else, no matter how hypocritical — like Jack Warden’s character of the triply-cuckolded businessman who votes for Nixon’s moral majority though he is himself amoral — makes plans to settle down.

Please join me for Shampoo on Wednesday, July 8 (and, in the coming weeks, Being There, The Candidate and Funny Face — the last inspired by Avedon’s career as a fashion photog). And share your thoughts about Shampoo in the comments section.


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