al Ashby was one of the most prolific and successful filmmakers of the 1970s, producing a string of hits beginning with the cult success Harold and Maude (1971) and lasting through Being There (1979). Despite this, Ashby is little remembered today and, when he is mentioned in critical anthologies, it is usually in condescending or sometimes even disparaging terms. David Thomson, for instance, in A Biographical Dictionary of Film calls Ashby "a sad casualty who depended on strong collaborators." In addition, Ashby did not direct his first film until the age of 40, so the body of his work as a director is relatively small. But the films that he made show a remarkable visual sense of black humor and irony, a consistency of theme and characterization, and an innovative use of music and editing. At their best, Ashby's films are a clarion call for joy and a cry for the triumph of life's experience over innocence; Ashby's characters only succeed when they break out of their cloistered shells and experience life's joys and dangers first hand. Indeed, Hal Ashby produced an extraordinary group of films over a short period of time and his status as a pre-eminent director during the 1970s should be acknowledged and the fine films that he made during this period remembered.
The biographical background on Hal Ashby indicates that his career in films came about due to a combination of fate, luck, and being in the right place at the right time; ironically, these elements of chance often occur to the characters in his films. Ashby was born in 1929 in Ogden, Utah, the youngest of four children.
According to Peter Biskind in his book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, Ashby's
father committed suicide in 1941 after losing his dairy farm and the
young Hal discovered the body. Eventually the rebellious and
discontented Ashby left Utah and set out -- like Woody Guthrie -- to make his
fortune in California. In 1950 he walked into the California Board of
Unemployment and asked for a job in a film studio; he was given a position
mimeographing scripts at Universal. Eventually Ashby worked his way up to
become a top-notch film editor and assistant director to his mentor, director
Ashby edited such films as Jewison's The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming (1965), as well as The Cincinnati Kid (1966), The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), and In the Heat of the Night (1967), for which he won an Academy Award. In 1970 Jewison was preparing to direct the Norman Lear-esque comedy The Landlord (1970) but was unable to carry on with the assignment; Ashby stepped in and thus began his directorial career. Very much like Chance in Being There, Hal Ashby certainly owed much of his career to the shifting winds of fate and the fact that, at the right time, he was in the right place.
In The Landlord, a well-to-do young man named Elgar Enders (Beau Bridges) inherits an inner city apartment building and is forced to become the landlord of a group of eccentric, racially-mixed urban apartment dwellers. The film had a modest budget and, despite good critical reviews, went relatively unnoticed on its release in 1970. But The Landlord signaled that a new directorial talent with a flair for black comedy had arrived on the scene.
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The Landlord is, by no means, a major Hal Ashby film, but it does set forth many of the major themes and motifs that occur in his later films of the 1970s. Sheltered in his wealthy environment, Elgar Enders begins the film innocent to the ways of the "real world"; initially, he is put off by the irreverent and unpredictable behavior of his tenants. But in the course of the film he undergoes a transformation typical of the Ashby protagonist: he begins to not only appreciate this offbeat behavior, but he adopts it for himself. Thus, by the film's end Enders has defied his well-to-do mother (Lee Grant) and, through his contact with the people in the building, become transformed into someone who has experienced life firsthand. This transformation will reoccur -- under differing scenarios -- in all of Hal Ashby's films.
Viewed from today's vantage point, The Landlord appears dated in its handling of racial themes. The film naively suggests that merely by living among the people in the apartment and sharing their experiences Elgar Enders can become one of them. Hal Ashby must have realized that, to make a successful film, he would have to integrate the basic situation of The Landlord into a story that offered broader possibilities for the realization of his comic vision and the utilization of ironic situations. He found this in his next film, Harold and Maude, an original script by film school grad student Colin Higgins. Harold and Maude is rich not only in irony but in a bizarre black humor of the type that would come to dominate Ashby's films.
Harold and Maude is the story of Harold Chasen (Bud Cort, fresh from his role in Robert Altman's M.A.S.H.), a depressed and death-obsessed young man who occupies himself by staging mock suicides for his mother (Vivian Pickles) and attending funerals, where he meets 79-year-old Maude (Ruth Gordon). A friendship grows between Harold and Maude despite Harold's mother's attempts to set him up with three different blind dates or have him enlist in the military, as desired by his uncle Victor (Charles Tyner). Finally, the friendship blooms into a love affair. On the night of Maude's 80th birthday, she reveals to Harold that she has taken sleeping pills. Harold rushes Maude to the hospital but it is too late and, in the final scene, the audience fears Harold will, in fact, commit suicide by driving his car over a cliff. But the last shot of the film reveals Harold walking away from the wreckage strumming a banjo, with the hope that he will follows Maude's advice to "go out and love some more!"
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Ashby's first two films give us a compelling picture of his quintessential protagonist: an innocent man-child, who is influenced by free-spirited individuals to overcome the tyranny of a domineering parent figure and break away to gain from life's experience. Harold's repeated mock suicides are an attempt to not only get his mother's attention but also to reject the stilted, social order to which she would subject her son. Perhaps the most memorable of these bits of "amateur theatrics" is the scene in which Mrs. Chasen enters her bathroom to find Harold slashed to death in the tub; the scene recalls Hitchcock's famous shower murder in Psycho and suggests that Harold is under the same mother domination as his forerunner, Norman Bates, in the earlier film. Similarly, when Harold "drowns" himself in the swimming pool, there is an underwater point-of-view shot that recalls another classic film in which a younger man comes under the dominance of an older woman -- Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard.
Harold and Maude utilizes compelling black comedy, a wonderful musical score by Cat Stevens, and a bravura performance by veteran Ruth Gordon as the free spirited-Maude to draw the audience into Harold's journey as he grows from an obsessive neurotic to someone who has a chance at a normal life. One of the great ironies of the film is that Harold is attending a funeral when meets a woman who shows him how to live life. The film suggests that if Harold can learn from Maude the lessons she offers he has an opportunity to save himself. Harold must not only defy his mother; he must generally reject the stiff-backed authority of society as represented by three memorable characters: the elderly priest, his psychiatrist, and his uncle Victor. Uncle Victor represents, in Ashby's films, the ultimate military mindset. He was General MacArthur's "right hand man," but he has lost his right arm and must salute by pulling on a string that raises his empty sleeve. Again and again throughout Ashby's films, his characters are confronted by authority figures and pressured to conform to societal norms, but they only gain a measure of humanity when they assert themselves and endeavor to experience life and to live it on their own terms.
Although a commercial failure on its initial release, Harold and Maude gradually found its audience through the years by repeated showings in film revival houses, often on a double bill with another Ruth Gordon film, Where's Poppa? Over time and repeated showings, the film's black humor became appreciated by audiences and it became one of the most successful cult films ever. The conflict between an innocent man-child and the military is more pronounced in Ashby's next film, The Last Detail, an adaptation of Darryl Ponsican's novel, that features Randy Quaid as Meadows, a seaman convicted of theft, who is accompanied to prison by Billy Budduskey (Jack Nicholson) and Mulhall (Otis Young). Despite its many comic moments, the final tone of the film is despairing, as the "Bad Ass" and "Mule" realize that, after letting Meadows experience some of the joys of life on the trip to prison, that they must deliver their prisoner to his dark fate or risk arrest themselves. Still, the movie suggests that by experiencing life Meadows may yet survive his stint in the naval prison. (The film departs considerably from the novel, in which the two sailors do in fact go on a long AWOL after delivering Meadows). The Last Detail was a modest success on its release in 1973, but Ashby's next film would become his first major critical and commercial success.
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Released in 1975, Shampoo stars Warren Beatty as George Roundy, a promiscuous Beverly Hills hairdresser who longs to have his own shop. George is dating Jill (Goldie Hawn), an insecure model, but sleeping with one of his clients, Felicia (Lee Grant). Felicia's husband is strong-armed businessman Lester Carp (Jack Warden), who is conducting an affair of his own with Jackie Shawn (Julie Christie), George's former love.
As a prototypical Ashby protagonist, George naively believes that he can get his own hairdressing shop simply because, as he tells the officious banker to whom he applies for a loan, he "has the heads." This is not enough for the banker. Undaunted, George sees Lester with the hope he might finance the business. Lester, unaware of George's past relationship with Jackie, asks that he bring her to an election night party Lester is hosting for some business associates. The evening is a disaster. Jackie gets drunk, causes a scene at dinner, and George escorts her from the party. They end up at a wild party in the Hollywood hills that is clearly a symbol for everything that was decadent and outrageous in America during the late 1960s. While they rekindle their romance, making love on the floor of a tennis cottage, Lester and Jill stumble upon the cottage. Jill hurls a chair through the glass door and goes off with her date, Johnny (Tony Bill). The next morning, George realizes that Jackie is his true love and he begs her to marry him, but now it is too late: Lester is divorcing Felicia and taking Jackie to the Bahamas. George can only watch them drive off from a distance.
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George Roundy is the focus of the script by screenwriters Robert Towne and Warren Beatty, and his character represents a twist on the "innocent" protagonist that Ashby had developed in his previous films. While George is not innocent to life's experiences in the way that Harold Chasen was, his naive business sense sets him apart from the rest of the characters in the film. George's situation is epitomized in the scene that follows the discovery of his sexual encounter with Jackie. During this sequence, George runs through the house three times in an attempt to catch up with both Jackie and Jill. (Note the irony of the fairy tale names given to George's two main romantic interests in the film.) Ashby uses a strobe light to lend a ridiculous, slapstick element to George's futile, Chaplin-esque pursuit of the two woman. Framed against this backdrop of outrageous partying, George is a pathetic figure, a man running through an out-of-control world, chasing the dream that his sexual conquests will, as he tells Jill later, allow him to "live forever." Thus George's last name (Roundy) begins to take on significance; he is going around and around in a dream world but never getting anywhere.
Ashby was a master of using props and other comic devices (such as the elevator sequence in Being There) as running gags in his films, and one of the best examples occurs in Shampoo. When George and Jackie first come into the tennis cottage and begin to get romantic, they help themselves to some Cokes in a refrigerator, whose door stubbornly refuses to stay closed. Eventually, Lester, Jill and Johnny stumble upon the tennis cottage and see two figures in the dark making love on the floor; with voyeuristic delight, Lester grunts "Now that's what I call fuckin'!" At this point the refrigerator door swings open and its light reveals that the figures are George and Jackie. With what at first appears to be a simple, innocuous, running prop gag, Ashby undercuts the efforts of the characters in Shampoo to lie, cheat, and deny the truth: in the harsh light of the refrigerator's bulb, there is no place for George and Jackie to hide. Thus is set into motion the wild events that conclude the film.
As is often the case in Ashby's films, the musical soundtrack provides an ironic counterpart that comments on the action. The film opens in the darkness of George's bedroom as we hear the sounds of George making love to Felicia, while in the background plays the Beach Boy's "Wouldn't It Be Nice?" Although this song at first seems appropriate to the carefree lifestyle of swinging California in the late '60s, we eventually realize that the innocent tone of this song is, in fact, contradicted by what is happening in the bedroom; that George is having a tawdry affair with a middle-aged women who is desperately unhappy. Later in the film, as Lester drives to visit Jackie at the home he has set her up in, he sings "born free" to himself. Even this brief musical insertion into the film counterparts the action ironically; Lester is clearly not "born free." Tied to his shady business associates, Lester is generally portrayed throughout the film in situations in which he is comfortable: his office, his car, his mistress's house, and the dinner party. Lester is the domineering parental figure who appears in many of Ashby's films, self pre-occupied and tied to an established world of dated social values.
A strategy of Shampoo is to place the outlandish behavior and confused romantic lives of its principal characters against a background of larger political events, namely the 1968 Presidential election. Early in Shampoo there is little mention of the election, but as the film progresses, the shadow of the political events begins to dominate the background. Finally, when George returns to his home the morning after the party and is confronted by Lester, Richard Nixon's speech accepting his narrow victory is playing on the television. Nixon states that the goal of his administration will be to "bring this country together"; the irony of this statement was undoubtedly not lost on the film's audience in post-Watergate-era America.
After Shampoo, Ashby directed Bound for Glory (1976), starring David Carradine as folksinger Woody Guthrie, who travels from the dust bowl of Oklahoma to the fields of California and the beginnings of fame as his music is discovered by a Los Angeles radio host. Guthrie became a hero to many of the 1960s rebels for his stand on the side of the working man during the depression era. With his rebellious, anti-authoritarian, carefree personality, the Guthrie of Bound for Glory falls neatly into the line of Ashby's protagonists, particularly since in the film's conclusion he turns down the opportunity offered him for his own radio show and heads back out to live life on the road, travelling the rails.
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Ashby's next film, Coming Home, was his biggest critical success. It won him an Academy Award nomination for Best Director. Set at the height of the Vietnam War, it features, for the first time in an Ashby film, a female character, Sally Hyde (Jane Fonda), as its protagonist. When Sally's husband, Bob (Bruce Dern), is sent to Vietnam, Sally begins to work in an army hospital, caring for the wounded veterans. During the course of the film, we see her transformed from a conventional officer's wife, innocent and oblivious to the suffering of the soldiers, to an experienced anti-war activist through her relationship with wheelchair-bound war veteran Luke Martin (Jon Voight). Eventually, Sally and Luke have an affair, which is discovered by Bob when he returns from Vietnam. Disillusioned by his wartime experiences and distraught at the knowledge of his wife's affair, Bob commits suicide at the film's end, and Luke and Sally are left to pick up the pieces of their lives.
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Among other things, Coming Home is notable for the way that Ashby brilliantly uses music to counterpoint and comment upon the action in the film. When the film opens, Bob is jogging around the military base to the Rolling Stones song "Out of Time." In the course of the film, it will become clear that Bob is, in fact, a character who is "out of time," believing that America's use of force in Vietnam is justified and becoming disillusioned and frustrated at the military failures. But the film focuses on the development of Sally, who is first glimpsed as a conventional officer's wife, having a drink with friends, her hair perfectly styled. When she first meets Luke, he is angry at the war that has caused him to become disabled. He careens around the army hospital in a rage. As their relationship deepens, Sally's eyes are opened to the plight of the wounded veterans and she begins to share Luke's anger at the war in Vietnam. When their friendhip finally culminates in a sexual encounter (Jane Fonda reportedly had a body double for this scene), the soundtrack music (The Chamber Brothers' "Time Has Come Today") emphasizes the physical and emotional importance of this encounter for Sally and the completeness of her opening up to Luke.
Shampoo and Coming Home show Ashby's pre-occupation with the period of the late 1960s in American history. Unquestionably, this period of raging tumult and innocence lost seems to stand as a perfect metaphor for the themes that preoccupied Hal Ashby's films. But Ashby's most fully-realized "innocent" protagonist emerges in his next film, an adaption of Jerzy Kozinski's scorching black comic novel Being There. Released in 1979, Being There features a brilliant performance (in his last completed film) by Peter Sellers as Chance, the ultimate man-child who has lived his entire life within the walls of the Washington, D.C. home of the "old man," his surrogate father, and whose only knowledge of the outside world comes from watching television. When the "old man" dies at the film's beginning, Chance is forced by the estate's lawyers to leave the home and venture into the outside world. Chance is slightly injured by the limousine of Eve Rand (Shirley MacLaine) and is taken to the estate of her husband, Benjamin (Melvyn Douglas), the head of the powerful Rand Corporation, for treatment by the family doctor, Robert Allenby (Richard Dysart). Through a series of misunderstandings, Chance becomes known as Chauncey Gardner, an important political and economic advisor, and after Rand dies, the film's conclusion suggests Rand's associates will turn to Chance as their next Presidential candidate.
Ashby departs from the tone of the novel Being There, in which Chance appears mostly bewildered when he is forced to venture out into a world that he has only witnessed through the medium of television. As played by Sellers, the character in the film is softer, almost amused by the world that he comes open. When Chance emerges from his home into the world, Ashby suggests his child-like nature by using Richard Strauss' Thus Sprake Zarathustra as ironic background music, linking his hero with Kubrick's star baby in his masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey. Chance's nature is so child-like and reactive that he functions as a virtual mirror to the world that he sees, like the video camera that he stands in front of at the TV store. Chance reflects back on almost every individual he encounters in Being There, becoming for each of them the personality that they would like him to be. Only Doctor Allenby is perceptive enough to be able to separate Chance from the Chauncey Gardner that he becomes -- and thus know the truth.
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In the world of Being There, as in all of Hal Ashby's films, external appearances constantly undercut and belie the reality of the situation. Chance is a dim-witted gardener, but because he falls in with important and powerful people, he is taken to be important and powerful himself. The medium of television seems to act for Chance as a mirror of reality, as he often mimics what happens on the screen, and he acts with child-like wonder when he sees his own image in the video camera in a TV store window. Significantly, he is so preoccupied with his image that he stumbles out into the street, and this is when the accident occurs that leads him to the Rand home. Television, then, is a reflective medium but also a catalyst, an agent that starts random events in motion that move the narrative forward. It is Chance's appearance on the talk show that allows him to be recognized by people who knew him as a simple gardener, but ironically, the revelation of who he really is does not undo Chance's charade; instead, the TV appearance brings him the fame and notoriety that confirms his new status as a powerful man. So while TV is a mirror, in the black comic world of Hal Ashby, the mirror can also distort.
Being There ends with Benjamin Rand's funeral, the death of Chance's new, adopted father figure that also promises to be a beginning for him as a he takes over for Rand as Eve's lover and, potentially, head of Rand's empire. As the President delivers the eulogy, we see Chance -- his short attention span taxed to its limit -- wander away from the crowd and onto a small pond, where he seemingly walks across the water. At one point, Chance looks down at what he is doing and appears as bewildered as the viewer probably is at this point. We then hear the President's final words: "Life is a state of mind." While this ending is fantastic, it is not atypical for Ashby's films. Most of them end ambiguously, with one or more of the characters wandering off into an uncertain future, and the endings often have associations with water and suicide. In Harold and Maude, Harold drives his car off an ocean-side cliff, only to be seen wandering off strumming a banjo. In Coming Home, Bob Hyde commits suicide by wandering out into the ocean surf and disappearing. And in the endings of all the other films he made in the '70s, Ashby's characters simply wander off at the end, many times disillusioned by their experiences and, presumably, contemplating the same fate as the doomed Bob Hyde. The ending of Being There, however, while similar to the earlier films, is more on the level of fantasy and fairy tale: is Chance the second coming of Christ? Or, as the film seems to suggest, just extremely fortunate? Ashby leaves us these questions to ponder.
Throughout the 1970s, Hal Ashby's career was one of repeated and increasing sucesses, but after Being There, Ashby's career began an inexplicable downward turn from which it never recovered. Second Hand Hearts starred Robert Blake and Barbara Harris but made hardly a ripple on its release in 1981. Lookin' to Get out, released in the late summer of 1982, reunited Ashby with the actor with whom he had had his greatest commercial success, Jon Voight. Voight and Burt Young played two New York gamblers on the run who meet up with Ann-Margaret in Las Vegas. The film's convoluted story and off-beat humor confused audiences, and the film disappeared after an extremely brief theatrical run. Also late in 1982, Let's Spend the Night Together, a rockumentary of the Rolling Stones 1981 tour, was released. The film confirmed Ashby's love of the Rolling Stones music (several Stones songs appeared prominently on the soundtrack of Coming Home) but the film paled in comparison with earlier Stones' films such as Gimme Shelter. Let's Spend the Night Together did nothing to revive Ashby's critical and commercial fortunes.
In 1985 Hal Ashby appeared poised for a comeback. His new film, The Slugger's Wife, was based on a story by the ever reliable Neil Simon and featured Rebecca DeMourney, one of the hottest new actresses to appear on the scene, in the title role. The film is the almost old-fashioned story of Darryl Palmer (Michael O'Keefe), rightfielder for the Atlanta Braves, and his wife, Debby (DeMourney), who is trying to launch her career as a singer. When Debby is present at the ballpark or in Darryl's life, he can do no wrong, and he begins to approach the record for most home runs in a season. But Debby is offered a chance for a record contract if she will go out on tour, so she leaves Darryl, whom she feels is suffocating her. Finally, Debby returns for the last game in which Darryl breaks the home run record. But the ending of the film is ambiguous, for the Braves lose the pennant and Debby must return to the road. She and Darryl decide to "keep the door open" with regard to their possible future together.
Despite a big promotional buildup, the film failed to ignite at the box office. It's possible to suggest that the naive Darryl and the independent, free-spirited Debby Palmer are prototypical Ashby characters, and that the film is an attempt to evoke the light-hearted comedies of an earlier era. When Darryl is attempting to woe Debby, for instance, he stages a mock scene from Singing in the Rain, including rain showers provided via water hoses. But Darryl can never accept Debby's career or undergo any signifigant character transformation during the course of the film; he mostly acts petulant and selfish, as in the scene in which he punches out her guitar player and destroys a coffee shop when she will not return with him. One has the sense that Ashby had no feeling for these characters and their mostly shallow, self-centered lives, and the film seems to reflect his disinterest.
Despite all the flaws, there are echoes of Ashby's earlier films. Randy Quaid, from The Last Detail, returns as Darryl's teammate Moose Granger. The domineering parent figure exists in the more benign presence of team manager Burley DeVito (played by film director Martin Ritt). Still, DeVito can't help but meddle. When Darryl gets beaned and sent to the hospital, DeVito conspires to have another blonde singer go to Darryl's room, impersonate Debby and tell him she will return when the season is over, which pulls Darryl out of his hitting slump. DeVito also gets the film's best line, when he tells Moose to take Darryl out and get him laid. Moose asks if he can get a girl for himself, to which DeVito explodes: "When was the last time you hit a home run? What do you think I am, a pimp?" And the film's conclusion at least does not resort to the typical Hollywood happy ending, as there is the suggestion that Darryl and Debby may yet reconcile their problems and grow into a mature relationship.
Hal Ashby's final film, 8 Million Ways to Die, was released in 1986 and had its primary life on home video. The film is a venture into a new genre for the director, an action crime drama, and stars Jeff Bridges as Scudder, an L.A. vice squad detective who accidentally kills a suspect during a drug bust. Overwhelmed by guilt, Scudder takes to the bottle and his marriage and career fall apart. Through a small-time pimp, the ironically named Chance (Randy Brooks), he meets Sunny (Alexandra Paul), a prostitute who asks him for protection from the evil drug dealer Angel Maldonado (Andy Garcia), but Sunny is killed by Maldonado before she can leave town. Scudder enlists the aid of Sarah (Rosanne Arquette) in his attempts to bring down Maldonado, whom he eventually kills, and the film's conclusion suggests that a clean and sober Scudder may have a chance to put his life back together.
While 8 Million Ways to Die is by no means a major film, it
does have its admirers. Ashby's earlier films, such as Harold and Maude and Being There, seem to suggest that his characters can only lose when they stay in a shell and fail to experience life; 8 Million Ways to Die suggests that it is possible for a character such as Scudder (and Sunny and Sarah for that matter) to experience too much life, that (as the title suggests) there are too many risks out there and the world is a very dangerous place indeed. Many of Ashby's '70s films seem extremely benign in comparison with this one. This may suggest a shift in Hal Ashby's world view as he aged. Still, the film's ending, with Scudder proclaiming his sobriety at an AA meeting and a walk by the ocean with Sarah (another ending near water) indicates that, if one can survive life's dangers, there is a possibility of starting over. Along with The Slugger's Wife, 8 Million Ways to Die suggests the impossibility -- or at least the impracticality -- of relationships, but it also leaves open the hope that these characters can overcome their self-centered problems and eventually grow up.
On December 27, 1988 Hal Ashby passed away at the age of 59. Why did his career, once so full of promise and success, take such a sudden downward turn? It's hard to say. It has been alleged that increasing drug use affected Ashby's work. It is also possible that the changing political climate in the country from the liberal '70s to the conservative '80s -- when the country was undergoing a military buildup and sense of renewed patriotism -- caused Ashby's irreverent films to suddenly seem out dated. Perhaps he just stopped getting good scripts. Irregardless of the reason or reasons, the fact remains that Hal Ashby was one of the most successful directors in a decade that saw substantial innovation and change in the Hollywood film. The charge that Hal Ashby was little talented and only succeeded based on having "good collaborators" is ridiculous; all successful directors have good collaborators since film is such a collaborative medium. And Ashby continued to work with the best talent into the 1980s, when the quality of his films inexplicably declined. Ashby's films of the '70s succeeded because his vision hit a resonant chord with an audience that was recovering from the tumult and change of the 1960s. At that time, audiences needed a director who could disguise slice-of-life dramas as black comedies, who could highlight the ironies of existence, and who could suggest a silver lining on the other side of life's trying experiences. Hal Ashby did all this with deftness and style.
Ashby is now largely ignored, forgotten, or disparaged in film guides and critical studies, but he should take his place along contemporaries such as Coppolla, Altman, Polansky, and Scorsese as one of the finest directors of films in the 1970s. The fact that his career as a director was not long in terms of years should not detract from the fact that he made a small group of incredibly successful, creative and memorable films. He was also a brilliant editor who was able to integrate popular music into his films and invest them with a special meaning. The characters that he created and the situations of his best films remain in our memory: Harold speeding towards the cliff in his sports car, Maude encouraging Harold to "go out and love some more," George and Jackie caught making love in the refrigerator's light, and Chance telling Eve "I like to watch" and Eve misunderstanding his meaning. So let's take a moment to remember the director that time forgot, Hal Ashby, and the wonderful films he made in that long ago decade of the 1970s.
© 1998 by James A. Davidson. All rights reserved