I almost missed seeing this excellent 2018 documentary about Hal Ashby because it was playing at odd random times at the newly reopened Oriental Theatre in Milwaukee. They have definitely expanded the programming from what Landmark used to do, often showing a half-dozen different movies a day, even though there are three screens, so you really have to pay attention. As much as I'd like to, I cannot see everything that plays there. When I first saw the title of this one I thought maybe it was a follow up to Room 237 (2012)—more Kubrick conspiracy theories, starting with the HAL 9000 computer. It's interesting, Hal Ashby and Stanley Kubrick were contemporaries (and the Oriental has been showing mini-retrospectives of them both)—very, very different, of course, but having in common that they were both obsessive, uncompromising artists. People who aren't film nerds, but are a little older, will know a lot of Ashby films without realizing they are made by the same director. They are all very different, but have much in common when you look more closely.
This is the first I've heard of Amy Scott, who made this film—she has a website, you can read about her—I'm going to. The first thing to know is: she made this portrait of Hal Ashby, his life and work. Really, see it at a theater if you have the chance—because it's still a big screen experience—the collection of scenes from these great Ashby films, alone, is worth your time. There's also a formidable lineup of interviews—people close to him, and filmmakers influenced by him—the list is so long I'm not going to try to decide who to include and who not to, here—you can look it up! But it also included my friend Nick Dawson, who wrote a fine biography about Hal Ashby called Being Hal Ashby: Life of a Hollywood Rebel (2009), which I read half of, put aside for some reason, and have recently resumed reading. In keeping with my promise to write shorter movie articles, I'm going to wrap this up, but I just want to add, I don't normally get too emotionally caught up in non-narrative films, but at some point I thought I was going to cry. I didn't, because, you know, I'm all out of tears—but I felt like it—and writing this now, thinking about old Hal Ashby, I again felt like I was going to cry. I guess it must have something to do with that greatest thing an artist can do—to actually convey love through your work—to an anonymous audience (perhaps not even born yet) who you just have to have faith is out there—and will love you back.
Randy Russell 10.2.18