Complexity and Contradiction in Los Angeles

One of my favorite films is Shampoo with Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, and Goldie Hawn. You might think I like it because there are groovy hairstyles and Carrie Fisher plays a spoiled and promiscuous Beverly Hills teenager. Also, Julie Christie drives a beautiful Pagoda Roof Mercedes, but that’s not why I like the film. There is something so specifically Los Angeles in the 1970s about it. On the surface, it couldn’t be shallower. There are beautiful models and fabulous parties at houses in the Hollywood Hills. The women are obsessed with their hair, clothes, and the main character played by Warren Beatty.

But like the reality of everyone’s life here, there is a sense of desperation and isolation that permeates everyone’s actions. What begins as a seemingly light sex farce soon transforms into actual feelings and complexity that intrude on the carefully constructed lives of the characters. None of the characters seem to have any control over their individual fates. They make plans that are thwarted, are unable to effect any forward momentum, and seemingly let life carry them along.

The film opens dialogue spoken in a dark bedroom by Lee Grant. The audience is led to understand that this is a funny, yet naughty film.

The headboard. The headboard, honey.
You know it makes me nervous. Could you put your hand up there... ...and hold it?
That's right, because... That's... That's... Jesus! Oh!
That's right. Jesus Christ!

It ends with a conversation with Warren Beatty and Julie Christie, a dramatically different tone than the start of the film.

Jackie: Lester's at the house.
George: Don't go, honey. Please don't.
Jackie: I have to go. I can't just leave him standing there. I have to go. The puppies are in the car.

The final scene is set on an empty lot at the top of a hill in Beverly Hills. The hill is shrouded in that ever-present fog (not smog) that we call June gloom. This and Paul Simon’s score are unforgettable. It is a film about artifice, hedonism, contradictions and of course groovy hair. I like that.


Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Chair of the undergraduate and graduate Graphic Design Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for LinkedIn Learning/ He is the only two term AIGA national president in AIGA’s 100 year history. In 2014, Adams was awarded the AIGA Medal, the highest honor in the profession. He is an AIGA Fellow, and Aspen Design Fellow. He has been recognized by every major competition and publication including; How, Print, Step, Communication Arts, Graphis, AIGA, The Type Directors Club, The British Art Director’s Club, and the Art Director’s Club. Adams has been exhibited often, including a solo exhibition at The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Adams is an author of multiple magazine columns, and several best-selling books. He has been cited as one of the forty most important people shaping design internationally, and one of the top ten influential designers in the United States. Previously, Adams was a founding partner at AdamsMorioka, whose clients included The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Disney, Mohawk Fine Papers, The Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, Richard Meier & Partners, Sundance, and the University of Southern California.

The Big Story

Lately, you may have noticed a longer time between postings here. Yes, of course, I’ve been busy. A new term at Art Center just began; I’m working on a new book, several time intensive projects, and heading to the Dice conference tomorrow to speak. Nevertheless, I’ve been busy for years. The saying, “If you want something done, ask a busy person,” applies to me. The issue is graphic design. I spend all day with it. I teach, write, and yammer on about it. Lately, when I think about posting something I look at possible design pieces and think, “I am so over this.” Don’t worry. It’s a passing phase, and I’m bound to find some design I’m inspired by soon.

To escape typography, I watched Doctor Zhivago, Lawrence of Arabia, and Ryan’s Daughter again recently. They are all remarkable. If you haven’t seen these, they aren’t what you think. Yes, Doctor Zhivago and Ryan’s Daughter are love stories. But they are played out on such a vast scale against epic times. And, they are extraordinarily and exquisitely designed.  David Lean’s vision is clear and refined. Julie Christie (who looks remarkably like Paula Scher) is the most beautiful woman who ever lived. The Panavision cinemascope and color is unbelievable. These are big, big, big movies. This is what a movie is supposed to look like.

I admit, there are some aspects that didn’t age well. Everyone’s makeup in Doctor Zhivago is a little heavy and runs toward a groovy 1965 dark eyes, light lips look. As T. E. Lawrence, Peter O’Toole captures a complex and troubled character, but he should have said “no,” to the third application of mascara.

Finally, there is a scene in Ryan’s Daughter that is my favorite in any film. It’s only a moment, when Sarah Miles lies on the forest ground and looks up. The camera points up to the tree's canopy. There is no music, only the sound of the rustling leaves and creaking of the branches as they barely move in the wind.