Sundance 2018 Review: Hal – A Not So Shallow Look At Hal Ashby

Thanks to this documentary I am now on a first name basis with director Hal Ashby. As a cinephile I know there are more Ashby movies I need to see. I’ve seen the big ones: The Last Detail, Harold and Maude, Shampoo and Being There. This doc covers everything and even offers new (to me at least) perspectives on the classics.

Hal Ashby appears in Hal by Amy Scott, an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Insitute. All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or ‘Courtesy of Sundance Institute.’ Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

Blending audio of Ashby, new interviews with his very famous collaborators and archival footage, Hal begins with Ashby’s work as an editor. There’s some great film editing porn for me showing Steenbeck machines and tape splicers like I used to use in film school or as a projectionist. Filmmakers who were influenced by Ashby also give interviews, like Judd Apatow and Alexander Payne.

It gets to Harold and Maude pretty fast. Hard to believe such a seminal movie was so early in his directing career. A new interview with Yusuf Islam/Cat Stevens says the music used in the film wasn’t finished. Ashby just liked the demos so never recorded new versions.

A 1972 phone interview with Jack Nicholson talks about The Last Detail. We learn the military declines their cooperation because of the film’s profanity. Sure, the language is why the military had a problem with The Last Detail.

As for films I haven’t seen, I will be adding The Landlord to my queue. I didn’t know has the first steadicam shot in a feature film. On Coming Home, which I do need to see, Jon Voight stayed in the wheelchair, even up stairs.

All of Ashby’s ‘80s movies are kind of lumped together. They’re not trying to show the good in them, although Lookin’ to Get Out looks promising.

A truly amazing discovery is test footage for Tootsie, from which Ashby was fired before filming. Dustin Hoffman is in costume with Ashby on VHS tape.

Sundance has given us documentaries on lots of filmmakers. In my time there’ve been docs on Marlon Brando and Roger Corman. Ashby might have been a tad less prolific than either actor or producer but there’s just as much myth behind his filmography.

Written by
Fred Topel also known as Franchise Fred has been an entertainment journalist since 1999 and specializes in writing about film, television and video games. Fred has written for several outlets including About.com, CraveOnline, and Rotten Tomatoes among others. His favorite films include Toy Story 2, The Rock, Face/Off, True Lies, Labyrinth, The Big Hit, Michael Moore's The Big One, and Casablanca. We are very lucky and excited to have Fred as part of the We Live Entertainment team. Follow him on Twitter @FranchiseFred and @FredTopel

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