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.

Felicia:
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 Acting Chair of the Graphic Design Graduate Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for lynda.com/Linked In. 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.

Empire of the Sun

I once was asked to think of an idea for a monument for the city of Los Angeles. The last thing I thought LA needed was a big metal something that would fall down in an earthquake. I suggested a television station that would run every episode of Chips continuously. It would be the Chips Channel. The idea was oddly rejected.

I don't know why, but I record Chips on my Tivo and watch it daily. I also watch The Donna Reed Show but that's just a weird Pleasantville thing. Yes, Chips has remarkably thin plots and everything is solved in the last 3 minutes, but there are car chases that end with explosions and cars on their side in every episode. That doesn't happen every day in real life here. To get a car on its side and blow up requires a ramp and explosives. There is something kind of great about it.

I love how horrible Los Angeles looks on Chips. If you don't live here, you probably are saying, "Doesn't it still?" But in the 1970s on Chips the smog was far worse, there were endless streets of odd stores and car washes, and really crappy cars blowing up. It looks so bleak and desolate filled with empty freeways and the blazing white sun.

The other surprising elements are the pants and hair. Everyone has pants that are way too tight. I remember having pants like that myself in high school. I was also desperate for groovy hair that parted in the middle, but mine was wavy, thick, parted on the side, and grew out like Sideshow Bob.

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. Julie Christie drives a beautiful Pagoda Roof Mercedes, but that’s not why I like the film. There is something so specifically Los Angeles 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. Actual feelings and complexity intrude on the carefully constructed lives of the characters. 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 contradictions and artifice. I like that.