Cameron Crowe and Peter Bart will host a panel discussion with Haskell Wexler, Jon Voight, Judd Apatow, Seth Rogen, Diablo Cody, and Ashby’s agent Jeff Berg as part of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences salute to Oscar-winning film editor and director Hal Ashby (right) on Thursday, June 25, at 7:30 p.m. at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills.
The panel discussion will be followed by a screening of Ashby’s quirky 1971 classic Harold and Maude, starring Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon.
The salute will also kick off a weekend retrospective screening series at the Academy’s Linwood Dunn Theater in Hollywood, featuring five new prints of Ashby’s films from the Academy Film Archive.
I’m not sure why Judd Apatow, Seth Rogen, and Diablo Cody will take part in the panel discussion. Not that they won’t have anything of interest to say, but it’s unfortunate that so many of those who actually worked with or knew Hal Ashby won’t be present – unless organizers are still working on that, which is a possibility. I sure hope so. After all, it’s an impressive list. Keep on reading.
Ashby, who began his career as a film editor, e.g., The Loved One and several Norman Jewison films, including The Cincinnati Kid and The Thomas Crown Affair, won an Oscar in that capacity for Jewison’s socially conscious cop thriller In the Heat of the Night (1967).
Ashby’s directorial debut was the capable The Landlord (1970), starring Beau Bridges in the title role. From then on, the Utah-born, Mormon-raised filmmaker tackled a series of films that have become emblematic of the offbeat, politically-socially conscious Hollywood of the 1970s.
Among those are the aforementioned Harold and Maude, an anti-Establishment, black comedy masterpiece featuring several outstanding performances; The Last Detail (1973), in which three sailors (Jack Nicholson, Otis Young, Randy Quaid) defy rules and regulations to have a little fun and learn a thing or two about life; and Shampoo (1975), mixing national and gender politics, as a Los Angeles (hetero) hairdresser (Warren Beatty) becomes entangled with several women (Goldie Hawn, Julie Christie, Lee Grant).
Also, Bound for Glory (1976), starring David Carradine as Depression Era folk singer Woody Guthrie; Coming Home (1978), a depiction of the plight of handicapped Vietnam veterans that earned Ashby an Academy Award nomination, and Oscar statuettes for Jon Voight and Jane Fonda (above); and Being There (1979), a witty comedy about a naive, TV-addicted gardener (Peter Sellers) who goes far thanks to the powerful imbeciles who surround him. (Forrest Gump was a way subpar rip-off.)
During that period, 11 performers received Oscar nominations for their work in Ashby’s films. Four of those (Voight, Fonda, Lee Grant in Shampoo, Melvyn Douglas in Being There) won. Several more (e.g., Ruth Gordon, Bud Cort, Vivian Pickles, Ellen Geer, all in Harold and Maude; Shirley MacLaine in Being There) should have been – at least – nominated but weren’t.
With the end of the 1970s, Ashby’s career suffered a severe downturn – partly a result of drug abuse; partly, as per Ashby’s biographer Nick Dawson, as a result of the new studio system of the 1980s. Unfortunately, the director was never to recover his standing in the industry.
Ashby’s 1980s films were generally critical and commercial failures, including the little-seen Lookin’ to Get Out (1982), with Voight, Ann-Margret, and Burt Young (the director’s cut of this film – which apparently features 4-year-old Angelina Jolie – was recently found and will be made available on DVD later this month); the terrible (and terribly conventional) The Slugger’s Wife (1985), with Michael O’Keefe and Rebecca DeMornay; and the much-panned Jeff Bridges thriller 8 Million Ways to Die (1986).
Considering that Ashby’s films almost invariably have an unapologetically liberal outlook, it’ll be interesting to see what Jon Voight, who now increasingly sounds like a foaming-at-the-mouth right-winger, will have to say about the director’s work. Too bad Jane Fonda won’t be around, but at least Haskell Wexler – he of Medium Cool, Introduction to the Enemy, and Brazil: A Report on Torture – will be there.
Photos: Courtesy of the Margaret Herrick Library.
The schedule/synopses below are from the Academy’s press release:
Friday, June 26, 7 p.m. at the Linwood Dunn Theater
The Landlord (1970)
Ashby made his directorial debut with this poignant comedy in which a wealthy young man buys a Brooklyn apartment building and plans to displace the mostly black tenants, before personal relationships cause him to rethink his intentions.
Cast: Beau Bridges, Pearl Bailey, Diana Sands, Louis Gossett, Lee Grant
Academy Award nominee: Actress in a Supporting Role (Grant)
This classic tale of womanizing and blowouts in the fast lane of the swinging ‘60s was written by the film’s star, Warren Beatty, and the Oscar-winning writer of Chinatown, Robert Towne.
Cast: Beatty, Julie Christie, Goldie Hawn, Lee Grant, Jack Warden
Academy Award winner: Actress in a Supporting Role (Grant)
Academy Award nominee: Actor in a Supporting Role (Warden), Art Direction (Richard Sylbert, W. Stewart Campbell; Set Decoration: George Gaines), Writing – Original Screenplay (Robert Towne, Beatty)
Saturday, June 27, at 7 p.m. at the Linwood Dunn Theater
The Last Detail (1973)
Two career sailors are assigned to deliver a young petty thief to the brig for an eight-year stint, and along the way they decide to show him a thing or two about life, drinking and sex.
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Otis Young, Randy Quaid, Clifton James, Carol Kane, Michael Moriarty
Academy Award nominee: Actor in a Leading Role (Nicholson), Actor in a Supporting Role (Quaid), Writing – Screenplay based on material from another medium (Robert Towne)
Coming Home (1978)
This profoundly moving anti-war film portrays the personal drama of a romance between a disabled vet and the wife of an Army captain.
Cast: Jane Fonda, Jon Voight, Bruce Dern, Penelope Milford, Robert Carradine, Robert Ginty
Academy Award winner: Actor in a Leading Role (Voight), Actress in a Leading Role (Fonda), Writing – Screenplay written directly for the screen (Story by Nancy Dowd; Screenplay by Waldo Salt, Robert C. Jones)
Academy Award nominee: Actor in a Supporting Role (Dern), Actress in a Supporting Role (Milford), Directing (Ashby), Film Editing (Don Zimmerman), Best Picture (Jerome Hellman, producer)
Sunday, June 28, at 7 p.m. at the Linwood Dunn Theater
Being There (1979)
Peter Sellers portrays an isolated and apparently simpleminded gardener whose entire worldview is shaped by what he has seen on television. His subsequent celebrity exposes the follies of contemporary culture.
Cast: Peter Sellers, Shirley MacLaine, Jack Warden, Melvyn Douglas, Richard Dysart, Richard Basehart
Academy Award winner: Actor in a Supporting Role (Douglas)
Academy Award nominee: Actor in a Leading Role (Sellers)
Tickets to each evening of the Ashby retrospective screenings as well as June 25 salute featuring Harold and Maude, are $5 for the general public and $3 for Academy members and students with a valid ID.
The Samuel Goldwyn Theater is located at 8949 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. The Linwood Dunn Theater is located at 1313 Vine Street in Hollywood.
For more information, call (310) 247-3600 or visit the Academy’s website.
Winona Ryder, Diablo Cody
Cameron Crowe, Yusuf Islam / Cat Stevens, Judd Apatow
Yusuf Islam / Cat Stevens