Sunday, May 10, 2009

literi: Nick Dawson's "Being Hal Ashby"

The late, great Hal Ashby on location in New York for "The Landlord" with his star Beau Bridges
Hal Ashby (1929–1988) had a relatively brief run as a filmmaker, too short, but the handful of films that he turned out, even the lesser titles when he started to self-destruct towards the end, are nothing less than remarkable. Starting with his first film, "The Landlord" (1970), he had me hooked. Hal Ashby remains one of my very favorite filmmakers - one of two, actually, running a close second to only Alfred Hitchcock.

Why it took so long for someone to confront, dissect and honor the man's talent in a biography is beyond me. But Nick Dawson's heartfelt, scholarly tome, "Being Hal Ashby: Life of a Hollywood Rebel" (440 pages), recently published by the University Press of Kentucky, was well worth the wait. I gladly bring it to your attention.

Hal and I became friends during my first year as a critic when I was just about totally obsessed with "The Landlord." We met several times over the years (most memorably on a smoky, atmospheric nighttime location in Bakersfield, Ca. for "Bound for Glory"), we corresponded often and he generously gave me his worn shooting script for the film.

Nick Dawson utilized material from Hal's personal archives that included his letters to me and mine to him, as well as some of my reviews of Hal's films. It's a small contribution to a fine book, very small.

But I'm genuinely proud of it.


David said...

"Coming Home," "The Last Detail," "Shampoo," "Harold and Maude," "The Landlord," "Being There" and "Bound for Glory." Yeah, Ashby was great alright.

John said...

Glad to hear the rave review. Thanks, looking forward to reading it. One question, were are the Hal Ashby's of today? We seem to be lacking.