Hal Ashby, Jane Fonda, Jon Voight, Jeff Bridges, Rosanna Arquette, Beau Bridges, Lou Gossett Jr., Lee Grant
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It’s heartbreaking, insightful, moving, authentic, hilariously funny, and wonderfully entertaining…just like Hal Ashby’s movies themselves.
The late Hal Ashby was one of the great powerhouse directors of the 1970s, though he’s rarely mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, and Robert Altman. He was a looser, more eccentric figure than those cinematic titans, but his output during that famously freewheeling decade is nothing short of stunning, with his seven key career works – The Landlord, Harold And Maude, The Last Detail, Shampoo, Bound For Glory, Coming Home and Being There – among the best films of the era. Wildly anti-authoritarian, raggedly eloquent, utterly self-possessed, truly independent, and with a deep, deep fondness for medicinal herbs, Hal Ashby was an equally fascinating figure off-screen, and this beautifully realised documentary portrait from director, Amy Scott, is a true revelation. It’s heartbreaking, insightful, moving, authentic, hilariously funny, and wonderfully entertaining…just like Hal Ashby’s movies themselves.
Featuring interviews with Ashby’s colleagues and collaborators (Robert Towne, Robert C. Jones, Cat Stevens), cast members (the likes of Jane Fonda, Jon Voight, Jeff Bridges, Rosanna Arquette, Beau Bridges, Lou Gossett Jr., and Lee Grant – all in candid form – make this a very starry affair), and modern day acolytes (a literal who’s who of hip American cinema: David O. Russell, Judd Apatow, Lisa Cholodenko, Allison Anders, Adam Mackay, Alexander Payne), Hal captures all aspects of Ashby as a filmmaker and figureheads. There are great on-set anecdotes and teriffic stories aplenty, while the presence of Ashby himself is skilfully recreated via archival audio interviews and personal letters passionately read by actor, Ben Foster. Things get far more personal via emotional interviews with Ashby’s estranged daughter (like many men of his generation, he was no candidate for father-of-the-year), his ex-partners, and director and close friend, Norman Jewison, who gave Ashby his start in the industry as an editor.
While Ashby’s negligible 1980s output (Second-Hand Hearts, The Slugger’s Wife, Lookin’ To Get Out and The Rolling Stones lukewarm concert film, Let’s Spend The Night Together) is disappointingly glossed over completely in the space of literally one minute, the ignominies that he endured on his last feature film, 8 Million Ways To Die (on which he experienced constant and undue interference, amongst other indignities), are detailed in all their abject miserableness. With Ashby’s death from cancer soon after, it’s a sad end to what begins as a story filled with hope and raging brio, but as most of Ashby’s films themselves so lucidly demonstrate, happy endings are rare. Bittersweetness is often the best that you can get, and the insightful and affectionate Hal has it in spades.