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‘HAL:’ Hal Ashby, Human Compassion and Why His Films Are Even More Relevant Today

"Over and above all the moments of love and human compassion in Hal's films, what still strikes me is his unwillingness to compromise his vision and his sense of responsibility to advancing social justice."

With films including The Landlord, Harold and Maude, The Last Detail, Shampoo, Bound for Glory, Being There, and Coming Home, director “Hal Ashby had a way of making his movies about weighty ideals and real-seeming people, neither of which have aged much in the past 40 or so years,” explains Sean Fennessey. “They explored friendship, romance, war, peace, sex, race, gender, celebrity, and parenthood. They scaled politics and international conflict and television. Ashby made message movies with a simple code of empathy and decency. They reflected the man, who carried one of the most unwavering reputations among colleagues in his profession.” To read the full article, click here.

Director and editor Amy Scott’s documentary HAL explores the life and career of Ashby, using rare archival materials, interviews, personal letters, and audio recordings to reveal a passionate, obsessive artist. “I have assembled the most dynamic, innovative, and dedicated team of producers and artists,” she says, “and with the help of the Hal Ashby estate, we have worked tirelessly to bring this film to life.

“Over and above all the moments of love and human compassion in Hal’s films, what still strikes me is his unwillingness to compromise his vision and his sense of responsibility to advancing social justice,” Scott says. 

“He made extremely prescient films that challenged racial stereotypes and gentrification; examined military authority; celebrated love that knows no color, age or race; explored sexual politics during a time of national crisis; championed a socialist folk singer; illuminated the plight of veterans and the cost of war; and revealed the dark underbelly of corporate control of American politics.”

“Ashby is a skeleton key to ’70s American cinema, and in turn, America,” Fennessey continues. “His films could be explosive, but mostly work patiently to portray different stripes of human experience.” 

“His films are invaluable works of art that celebrate the human condition, while leaving a thoughtful space for examining hard issues,” Scott agrees. “If art imitates life, Ashby most certainly mirrored his time. As we see so much of history repeat itself, we should all look to his work as meaningful inspiration in how to make art during shifting times of cultural unrest.”

“He was also honest to a fault, a quality most rare—and actually quite self-destructive—in a business that thrives on duplicity, ass-kissing and always, always the bottom line, demanding the thickest of skins of those who would survive and thrive,” David Noh says. A good deal of this film is taken up with the heartfelt but devastatingly vitriolic missives he would send to those he was most in need of but rather considered a less than necessary, art-obfuscating evil: his producers. 

“However, those wonderful movies did get made, making you wish this particular film was longer, if only to hear even more tantalizing off-camera anecdotes from an impressive assemblage of his co-workers and intimates—fellow director Norman Jewison and longtime Ashby cinematographer Haskell Wexler, who are particularly enlightening; Robert Towne recounting the stand-offs between him and producer-star Warren Beatty during the ineffable Shampoo; Cat Stevens talking about his indelible score for Harold and Maude; Lee Grant, a true Ashby muse by virtue of her dazzlingly varied characterizations in The Landlord and Shampoo; Jeff and Beau Bridges, Lou Gossett, Jr. and Rosanna Arquette; Jane Fonda and Jon Voight, who remind us how seriously groundbreaking Coming Home was in so many ways.” To read the full article, click here.

“Throughout the film, Scott drops in fascinating footage from Ashby’s memorial service, including a hilariously touching remembrance from Bud Cort (‘Hal liked me the best’),” says Jeremy Smith. “She also digs up some nuggets that were brand new to me, like Ashby expressing genuine excitement over the potential of digital editing systems (he thought it would help a ‘slow’ cutter like himself explore more ideas). 

“For a lifelong movie lover who’s well acquainted with Ashby’s extraordinary ’70s output, these tidbits are gold. They shed new light on a master filmmaker who occupies a place in the pantheon alongside Coppola, Scorsese, De Palma and Spielberg.” To read the full article, click here.