Thursday, December 13, 2018
Doc Watch: "Hal" (2018)
Format: Amazon Streaming
Hal (2018) is a documentary about prominent 1970's film director Hal Ashby, best known these days for, probably Harold and Maude, The Last Detail, Coming Home and Being There.
I've not a thing in the world against Hal Ashby, but the only one of his films I've seen is Harold and Maude. Frankly, his movies are a known blindspot, gone uncorrected, for me. But it is what it is. Someone has to watch Hallmark movies, and I'm doing my part
Full disclosure: the reason we watched this movie is that, apparently, Jamie went to high school with the director, and she wanted to see the picture. I was up for anything, so we gave it a whirl.
Overall, the film is a great intro to Ashby, giving a sketchy bio of the man with interviews with all sorts of known faces from the Bridges brothers to Allison Anders to Lou Gossett Jr. to Norman Jewison. Detailing the manic work habits, deep convictions and disregard for authority, we get a picture of Ashby's rise and fall.
Maybe the weirdest part of the movie was served up before we even started the movie: the blurb description on Amazon posits that Ashby is forgotten (in comparison to his contemporaries), which is a fairly disputable claim. The film itself pushes the idea a bit (but does not make it the film's focus), that Ashby doesn't get the credit he deserves and isn't as well remembered as his still-alive or died-recently contemporaries, which, again, I think is in dispute. His name and films are still cited pretty liberally. And it's not that hard to say "he died in the 1980's, and with that comes less discussion of a person than those who are still with us."
The doc gets into the corporate nature of film in the 1980's, which was a free wheeling mom & pop sort of economy compared to today's studios - but it does give you an idea of what happened to the sorts of movies that gave film legitimacy of a different kind and that I think a lot of modern cinephiles still crave. Overall, though, it did make me want to finally correct the injustice of my ape/robot-tilted movie-intake and watch a few more of his films. It's always worth spending time looking at a kind of film they really don't make anymore for mainstream audiences.