Sep 29, 2018

No, it's not the computer but rather one of the best directors of the '70's and in history, Hal Ashby.


Grade: A

Director:  Amy Scott

Runtime: 1h 30m

By: John DeSando

In the golden age of American films of the ‘70’s, Hal Ashby was a director with nine outstanding character-driven, socially-conscious successes including Harold and Maude, The Last Detail, Being There, Coming Home, and Shampoo. (And that all happened after his acclaimed as an editor in the ‘60’s with Oscar for In the Heat of the Night). Because I took my daughter, Thea, to see Harold and Maude, she claims its influence in directing her to writing and editing scripts because of its warmth and anarchic humor.

The latter characterizes the independent and roguish subject of an inspiring doc by accomplished editor Amy Scott. It’s as complete a biography of Ashby as could be hoped for emphasizing his creativity and zeal accompanying his recurring battles with suits who promised full support until they saw his wild conceptions and raw language.

Insight into his outsized work and personality is shared by his long-time cinematographer Haskell Wexler; his frequent editing collaborator, Robert Jones; and devoted stars such as Jeff Bridges, Jane Fonda, Jon Voight, and Warren Beatty. Powerful testimony from Judd Apatow and Alexander Payne, among others, confirms that Hal was film royalty. They all say he inspired them as artists.

His personal life was complicated by his five marriages (he loved women and consistently smoking weed. While the latter calmed down his raging passion for film, the former provided the drama he apparently needed to survive off his dramatic sets.

The documentary Hal itself reflects the surreal inclinations and dark wit of its subject (see Being There for parallels to current politics and Harold and Maude for endearing eccentricity). The doc doesn’t overwhelm the audience with idolatry for Ashby because its apparent purpose is to give an honest accounting about one of the best directors in Hollywood history, about whom the general audience knows little.

Here’s your chance to learn more and get an insight into filmmaking at the same time. Very few documentaries are as complete, respectful, and critical as Hal. 

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at