I was fortunate enough to be invited to write liner notes for the DVD release of Black Shampoo when VCI released it in 2005. Since then, I’ve gotten several emails from folks whose DVDs were missing those notes. Here’s a reprint of what I wrote:
I grew up on movies like Star Wars, Blade Runner, and The Blues Brothers ; I had heard "Theme from Shaft" but hadn’t seen the movie or even Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasss Song. My education in so-called "blaxploitation" films had yet to begin.
We always remember our first. Black Shampoo was my initial exposure to Black Action films. It opened a whole new world to me. My high school cronies and I were hooked from the outsetfrom those first two notes of Gerald Lee’s phenomenally funky score. In the weeks and months following our initial viewing on a snowy December 26, 1989, we must have watched Black Shampoo a few hundred times. It was our The Rocky Horror Picture Show : we latched onto characters, we memorized dialogue, and we picked apart every nuance the film had to offer.
When does an obsession becomes fanaticism? Somewhere just north of five years of annual get-togethers. While watching yet another John Daniels film, Getting Over, I began work on a movie fanzine, Cashiers du Cinemart, which would help me celebrate Black Shampoo with a wider audience. Eventually, I would score my dream interviewstalking to Artie (Skip E. Lowe), Brenda St. John (Tanya Boyd), Mr. Jonathan (John Daniels), and the film’s director, Greydon Clark.
"In 1975 I wanted to make another picture looking at the black experience, but did not want to make one where the hero was a pimp, pusher, cop, etc. I got the idea to make the hero a successful black businessman," says Clark.
Capitalizing on the rampant publicity of Hal Ashby’s Shampoo, Clark set his tale in a hair salon. Named after its proprietor, Jonathan Knight (John Daniels), Mr. Jonathan’s is the hottest beauty spot on the Sunset Strip. The popularity of the salon stems not from the busy scissors of Artie (Skip E. Lowe) or Richard (Gary Allen), but from special attention Mr. Jonathan pays to his clientele’s more intimate needs.
For the first half of the film, we witness Mr. Jonathan as a Los Angeles Lothario, albeit a reluctant one. "I just came to do your hair," he bemoans, as he’s used like a slab of meat by Mrs. Simpson (Diana St. Clair). Luckily, true love sits behind his receptionist desk.
After just three days at the salon, Jonathan finally takes notice of his latest employee, Brenda St. John (Tanya Boyd). Unfortunately, Brenda is haunted by a troubled past. She’s on the run from the mob and when her former flame, the short-tempered Mr. Wilson (Joe Ortiz), learns her whereabouts, he fights to get her back. But Mr. Jonathan, the "loving machine," exchanges his blow dryer for a chainsaw to become a "killing machine" in order to keep true love by his side.
Unlike the aforementioned films of my youth, VCI presents an uncut and beautifully restored version of Black Shampoo for all to enjoy. Rest assured that somewhere this December 26th, a handful of wayward cinephiles from Michigan will be enjoying this. We hope you do too.
The irony here is that I was careful to mention Star Wars, Blade Runner, and The Blues Brothers, as all three films had been mangled in their DVD releases. I didn’t know that Black Shampoo would not be free of tampering. While VCI utilized a terrific-looking print courtesy of director Greydon Clark, the DVD had a rather strange scene midway through the movie. After Mr. Jonathan confronts Brenda by the pool he goesnot back to the salonbut over to visit Mrs. Phillips (Anne Gaybis) in an attempt to reinstate his manhood. What’s truly odd is that this scene is without its original audio track. The dialogue was lost over the years, as was the script. In an attempt to salvage this scene, VCI utilized other bits of music and dialogue from the movie. The results are less than satisfying and mar an otherwise flawless presentation of my favorite film.
This "poodle kick" scene (named after the way Mr. Jonathan treats Mrs. Phillips’s dog) should have been relegated to the section of the disc with the other scenes that were without audio (more scenes of the Western-style BBQ, including a pie fight), instead of being crow-barred into the film. I couldn’t watch this now-flawed gem and have since created my own fan edit of the film, sans poodle kick.