A look back at a prince of cinema who was undone by his inner Falstaff.

To what extent the late director and weed enthusiast Hal Ashby has been forgotten depends on the circles in which you run. The also-late Red Vic Movie House used to show his Harold and Maude every year, and the Roxie still screens it annually in honor of the Red Vic. Amy Scott’s documentary Hal is a celebration of Ashby’s 1970s canon: The Landlord, Harold and Maude, The Last Detail, Shampoo, Bound for Glory, Coming Home, and Being There, a run rivaled in that decade only by Coppola’s. (Speaking of whom, it’s surprising in retrospect that John Cazale never appeared in an Ashby film.)

Along with the usual talking heads and film clips, Hal is also a welcome addition to the modern wave of documentaries that use previously unheard audio recordings of their subjects, such as Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story. But the increasingly coke-addled Ashby’s output between Being There and his 1988 death is largely brushed off, and his concert films Let’s Spend the Night Together and Neil Young: Solo Trans are granted only four seconds of screentime. Considering what a big deal is made of pop music in his narrative films, it’s a shame his pure music work is treated as an embarrassing secret, but we all remember Hal in our own way. 

Not rated.
Opens Friday at the Opera Plaza Cinema.

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