• SHAMPOO is a curious movie, a successful cross between cultural documentary and biting satire. Using the 1968 elections as backdrop, the movie attempts to define the "shallow sixties" in the persons of a superstud Beverly Hills hairdresser (!) and an assortment of his clients. Warren Beatty stars as a superficially likable character with a value system approaching zero, who is having simultaneous affairs with several women who are also his clients. (Their husbands and/or boy friends think he is a homosexual, and therefore "safe.") Julie Christie is his former and still occasional girl friend, and also the mistress of Jack Warden, a wealthy businessman who resembles a jet-set Captain Kangaroo. Lee Grant plays Warden's wife, another client of Beatty's. Goldie Hawn undergoes a change of image as a basically sensible woman, in love with Beatty but gradually losing her illusions about him. The complicated series of relationships gradually unravels in two meticulously staged party scenes: an election eve Republican victory celebration at the Bistro and a free-floating orgy at a Beverly Hills mansion. The antics often border on farce, but the parts are so well played that the audience is allowed to glimpse some depth behind the shallow facades. The movie's wider theme, that of a society operating without moral bearings, is brilliantly underscored by the use of television election coverage at the Bistro party. There is Agnew shouting for law and order, while Nixon makes his fatuous remarks about "bringing us together" in his "open administration." Brisk pacing and an air of restless energy enliven even the film's darker moments, and soften its cutting edge just enough to keep it from being a downer. Rated "R." —Charles F. Barr
• After a wobbly and uncertain beginning, SHEILA LEVINE IS DEAD AND LIVING IN NEW YORK becomes a quietly triumphant statement of personal liberation. Jeanie Berlin gives a well-rounded and nicely understated performance as a young Jewish girl who trades a sheltered small-town life for the hard knocks of New York City. In short order, she finds herself attempting to cope with a roommate who's half actress and half hustler; a love affair with a burned-out doctor who's afraid to make a commitment; and an indifferent city which insists on judging her by how fast she can type. After a series of traumatic reverses, she returns temporarily to her home town. But instead of settling for a safe, routine life there, she gathers enough inner strength to return and take on New York once more. The gradual development of her character and the blossoming of her creative talents are the chief values in the film—ones that are rarely encountered these days. Roy Scheider gives effective support as the doctor who is forced to re-examine his own values after his encounter with Sheila. The movie's slice-of-life style is leavened with enough wry humor (mostly Jewish wry) to make it more than palatable. Rated "PG." —C.F.B.
• Ken Russell's MAHLER is out, an event of some interest in the film world, not only because of the publicity which has preceded it from England, but also because, like every Russell film before it, Mahler throws into high relief the issue of taste versus aesthetic value. Taste, here, is roughly equal to "aesthetic preference," the kind of art one likes, for reasons having to do with one's sense-of-life and thus one's personality. Taste is a subjective quality, a quality of the contemplator. Aesthetic value, on the other hand, is a quality of the work: at root, it is the quality of clarity, of unequivocal symbolization of an idea in the presentational mode.
To the extent I am capable of judging such things, I believe Ken Russell's films are aesthetically valuable: they are well-written and beautifully photographed (consider The Devils) and almost invariably well-acted (Oliver Reed's performance in The Devils is a good case in point, as are the performances of Richard Chamberlain and Glenda Jackson in The Music Lovers). Mahler is certainly all of these things. The photography of the spectacular and unforgettable opening scene alone is worth the price of admission; the screenplay successfully integrates a dozen of the real Mahler's most famous bons mots with an hour or more of wholly invented dialogue; and the performances of Robert Powell (as Mahler) and Georgina Hale (as his wife) should be enough to immediately establish both (especially Ms. Hale) as important dramatic artists. Still, with many other people, I find myself both loving and hating Russell's films, Mahler included; I find myself alternately wishing to leave the theatre and wishing I could stay forever.
The reason, I think, is the relentlessly individual, even idiosyncratic, character of Russell's work. Mahler, for example, is not really about Gustav Mahler, composer (1860-1911), though his name and music are used, along with his physiognomy and certain of the events of his life. Russell's film is really about Ken Russell's feelings about Mahler (and the word "feeling" is the right one: it is used both in the sense of "I feel that libertarianism is the only fully consistent political philosophy," and in the sense of "I feel sad."). And Russell presents his feelings in very nearly the form of a pot trip: scene follows scene with only associational connections; a serious historical or psychological perspective on the composer is followed, without transition, by a broad, even slapstick, parody; colour is brighter and richer; sound is enhanced by a nearly palpable presence; music suggests pictures; pictures suggest music. The music, by the way, could have been better, had Bernstein's recordings of the symphonies been substituted for Haitink's. Altogether, as I said, I loved it and hated it. But I think the love slightly predominated. Rated "PG." —Jeff Riggenbach