Rebel With A Cause: Our Review of ‘Hal’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - January 18, 2019
Rebel With A Cause: Our Review of ‘Hal’

It’s those overlooked auteurs that you end up learning more then you expect from.

Hal has nothing to do with a spaceship from 2001: A Space Odyssey but rather it rounds itself into being a seminal little tribute and ode to one of the more underrated and appreciated cinematic storytellers of the modern age.

While Hal Ashby directed a remarkable string of acclaimed and admired classic films throughout the 70’s and even 80’s he is often overlooked amid the crowd of luminaries from his generation. Hal is an exuberant portrait of a man who lived his art to the fullest as the film explores that curious oversight, using rare archival materials, interviews, personal letters, and audio recordings to reveal a passionate, obsessive artist. Ashby was a Hollywood director who constantly clashed with and never quite fit into the Hollywood system, but was also a unique soul with an unmatched insight into the human condition. With an elusive blend of honesty, irreverence, humor, and humanity he told his stories and you can’t help but feel inspired by Ashby’s love of people and even more importantly his love of cinema.

In a career path similar to her subject, first time feature director and long time editor Amy Scott has crafted a balanced and nuanced tribute to a filmmaker that deserves more respect than we’ve collectively given him.  If anything Hal will get a new generation of film fans to track down a bunch of films that deserve an audience equal to some of his contemporaries who are marked among the cinemas absolute best.

With it being a debut feature there is an unmistakable tone of hero worship to the film, however it is admittedly deserved as Amy Scott does manage to find the real sense of anger that Ashby worked with.  His was obsessed with the art form on so many levels and to be fair when you transition from a career in editing in the 60’s to make a series of film in the 1970’s that includes The Landlord, Harold and Maude, The Last Detail, Shampoo, Coming Home, Bound For Glory and Being There you’d have a level of confidence to you that could easily make you buck the system that was coming in all around him.

To her credit, Scott doesn’t simply focus on Ashby the artist but also Ashby the man as well who was as emotionally frenetic and flawed as he was socially inspired and emotionally in tune to the ethos of the times that he was living in.  An obsessive workaholic who rarely slept, loved women (perhaps a little too much as he was married FIVE times) and had an appetite for copious amounts of marijuana and eventually cocaine.

As much as the admiration for her subject comes through loud and clear, Scott never shies away from the rough edges of who he was as a human being, which actually makes him all the more compelling, and through a myriad of interviews and archival footage we truly get a sense of who he was as a creator and a storyteller.  Even during his slide in the 1980’s where he constantly fought with the Hollywood studio system which had morphed from being auteur driven and supported in the 1970’s to a more bland corporate landscape where the talk of the town was simply about delivering blockbuster films, something Ashby couldn’t have been any more opposite of.

In the history of cinema there have rarely been runs like the one that Hal Ashby pulled off as a story teller in the 1970’s and if at the absolute worst the only thing that Amy Scott’s Hal does is to get more people to watch the likes of Being There or Harold and Maude then it is a job well done.  However on a grander scale it serves as an important reminder to never forget where the medium has been on the emotional and purely entertaining levels that Hal Ashby took it to, so that we can have a true sense of where the medium of film will eventually be going.

This post was written by
David Voigt is a Toronto based writer with a problem and a passion for the moving image and all things cinema. Having moved from production to the critical side of the aisle for well over 10 years now at outlets like, Criticize This, Dork Shelf (Now That Shelf), to.Night Newspaper he’s been all across his city, the country and the continent in search of all the news and reviews that are fit to print from the world of cinema.
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