In Amy Scott’s directorial debut, Hal, she describes Hal Ashby’s successes and failures as an Oscar-winning director, and as an individual. Following in the footsteps of her protagonist, Scott directs her first feature of the long awaited story of the ingenious director and editor Hal Ashby. (SYJ: 4.5/5)
Review by FF2 Media Intern Sophia Y Jin
The documentary starts off with someone switching on a film reel- a film rolls. Several interviews takes place with people who had worked with Ashby or had known him well. The first interview was with director Norman Jewison. During the earlier stages of Ashby’s career, he often edited for Jewison. From the beginning, he praises Ashby and his creativity.
Throughout the film, Scott displays various clips of Ashby’s works, and strings them together to tell the story of his life. Whether it is his anger or being estranged from his daughter, Ashby’s movies had a way of circling back to reflect his own personal circumstances. Scott includes many highlights of his life, but does not hesitate to also show the bleak periods too. Despite his coworkers and friends loving him dearly, he was not a very good father. His daughter is featured in the documentary, describing how he didn’t really come home from seeking his dream out in Hollywood. The experience of being estranged from her is portrayed in his own work Lookin’ to Get Out. In this film, Jon Voight plays the estranged father to his daughter, played by his own daughter Angelina Jolie. Hal Ashby’s later works did not fair as well as his previous, as many people hadn’t heard of the movies he created in the 80s.
Jane Fonda is a well known actress featured in this documentary. During the sixties, she was hated by many due to her involvement with Vietnam at the time of conflict. Ashby, however, did not shun from the idea of creating a film to do with the Vietnam war, more specifically, with the veterans. Ashby was anti-authoritarian, and during his troubled youth he created many films that challenged racial and gender stereotypes. This led to many of works receiving ridicule from the audiences and critics. However, this did not stop Ashby from conituing his work in filmmaking. In fact, his anti-authoritarian nature granted collaborative freedom to many people, including Oscar-winning actors such as Jane Fonda and Jon Voight etc. This did not stop Ashby from continuing his work in filmmaking. Scott portrays Ashby as a truly passionate filmmaker through the many interviews.
Amy Scott successfully pieces together various stories of Hal Ashby’s creativity and filmmaking. Not only are her transitions smooth and effective, she also incorporates his own work into his story with occasional reenactments, drawing a comparison between the two. Alongside this, she also presents a parallel between Ashby and herself, as she also started out in filmmaking as an editor, and is transitioning into directing with her first feature in her 40s. Using an arc to shape her film, Scott begins with someone turning on a film reel, and closes with someone switching it off, creating a circular sense of completion to the entire film.
Overall, the film was very well done. Its visual effects were clear and vibrant, and the music was well-suited to the picture. However, this film did not contain very much context for the time period it was set in. For the older American generation who has either studied it or lived through the 60s onwards, the movie is smooth-sailing. To the younger generation, especially those who did not grow up in America and study that time period, there may be some gaps in understanding the context of the film.
Hal left the audience wanting to learn more about Hal Ashby and his movies, whether it is out of curiosity or nostalgia. Scott gives the sense of happiness in his successes, and sadness in his downfalls, creating a connection between the audience and the protagonist of this poignant documentary.
© Sophia Y Jin (9/12/2018) FF2 Media
Photo Credits: Oscilloscope
Does Hal pass the Bechdel Wallace test?
Yes, there were three actresses who were also identified as filmmakers and talked about.