Lather, Rinse, Repeat
R&B fans have long lamented the habit of certain white performers of the '50s (think Pat Boone) of "covering" -- i.e., sanitizing -- the songs of black artists (think Fats Domino and plenty of others). But two decades later, blaxploitation helped reverse the trend in another genre by reworking successful mainstream movies as low-budget black actioners. Case in point: the rarely seen Black Shampoo (1976), ne Shampoo. (Of course, like most such films, this one ultimately can't escape the Curse of the Honky Hands -- it was made by a white-owned company, the supersleazy Dimension.)
Black Shampoo, written and directed by Greydon Clark, refashions Warren Beatty's libido-drenched hairdresser into John Daniels' "Mr. Jonathan," a good-natured "sex machine" in safari shirts and jumpsuits who's equally adept at wash-and-sets and writhing naked with his female customers on tacky satin sheets. The plot of this hilariously bad but endlessly entertaining piece of schlock centers on Mr. Jonathan's attempts to rescue his secretary from some dastardly criminals. The film is a veritable catalog of trashy design motifs from the period -- the leopard-lined salon wouldn't be out of place in a John Waters movie, and the couture runs to elephant bells, gold lame, and Kmart striped wallpaper. Black Shampoo blissfully rejects verisimilitude -- the Beverly Hills matrons Mr. Jonathan's screwing look suspiciously like grindhouse whores -- and the stereotyping is rampant. (Check out the literally screaming queens employed by the broad-minded Mr. J.) But who can resist a movie that has a hero with a blow dryer in one hand and a chain saw in the other?
-- Gary Morris
Black Shampoo screens (with the short Flip About Flip) Friday, Jan. 22, at 8 p.m. in the screening room at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission (at Third Street), S.F. Admission is $3-6; call 978-2787.
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