The story of how a troubled boy from Utah who rarely watched films became the director of Being There and Harold and Maude, challenging Hollywood with his progressive attitude.
FilmInFocus editor Dawson chronicles each of Ashby’s films from its conception to premiere in dense detail, enriched by hundreds of reported conversations and recollections. The author pays special attention to Ashby’s formative years as an editor, during which he was mentored by director Norman Jewison through many films before eventually being handed the reins. According to countless testimonies from his peers, friends and actors, Ashby was brilliant, witty and entertaining. His reputation and appearance as a drug-addled hippie belied his obsessive work ethic and commitment to professionalism on set. Much of the delight in reading this story comes from the irony surrounding certain films and personal choices. Before it became a cult classic, Harold and Maude was a flop with the critics. Though he climbed purposefully to prominence as a filmmaker, Ashby dove headlong into new love affairs without circumspection; he married within weeks and divorced almost as quickly. Dawson posits that the death of Ashby’s father—which Hal, alone among his family, considered a suicide—was the shadow the filmmaker could never escape and the source of chronic unrest in his personal life. The author withholds this kind of analysis for most of the narrative, but he offers it occasionally as a justification for Ashby’s eruptions and abandonments. Dawson glides through Ashby’s wrecked personal relationships, wisely choosing to dwell instead on the work of a man whose career consumed his life.
A worthwhile portrait by a capable biographer.