Thursday, October 11, 2018

A look at director Hal Ashby

Hal Ashby died in 1988 at the age of 59. Ashby directed both good and great movies and was part of the reason that movies became so exciting during the 1970s. If you loved any of the following movies (Harold and Maude, The Last Detail, Shampoo, Coming Home and Being There), you need to see Hal, a documentary about Ashby's life as a pot-smoking, adventurous perfectionist. (I know. "Adventurous perfectionist" sounds like a contradiction in terms but with a figure such as Ashby, the two words seem to fit. Director Amy Scott includes a touching interview with director Norman Jewison, who helped Ashby gain a foothold in Hollywood. The two became lifelong pals and Ashby won an Oscar for editing Jewison's In the Heat of the Night. Actor Ben Foster reads excerpts from letters Ashby wrote to Jewison. They are love letters between two men who probably never had a better friendship. You'll see clips from Ashby's films, interviews with some of the actors who appeared in them: Beau Bridges, Jeff Bridges, and Louis Gossett Jr., for example. Screenwriter Robert Towne, who wrote screenplays for The Last Detail and Shampoo, makes an appearance along with some appreciative young directors, notably Judd Apatow and Lisa Cholodenko. Hal can't help but remind those of us who lived through it of a particularly fertile period in American film. I won't bore you with nostalgia but I remember where I saw both The Last Detail and Shampoo, two movies that helped shape my taste and taught me something about what movies could be. Ashby's career didn't end a high note, but he was part of a wave that, when it broke, left nothing but movie love in its wake -- not always requited but irrevocable.

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