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The Films of Hal Ashby

By Christopher Beach

Publication Year: 2009

Analyzes the films and filmmaking career of director Hal Ashby, placing his work in the cultural context of filmmaking in the 1970s.

Published by: Wayne State University Press

Series: Contemporary Approaches to Film and Media Series


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pp. v

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pp. vii-ix

When I was fourteen years old, I went to see an offbeat comedy called Harold and Maude. I knew nothing about the director—a man with the unpretentious name of Hal Ashby—and I was completely unprepared for what I was about to see. The film’s brilliantly satirical love story, its haunting visual images, and its evocative musical score of songs by Cat ...

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1. Hal Ashby: New Hollywood Auteur

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pp. 1-9

Hal Ashby was part of a generation of American filmmakers who collectively produced the phenomenon known as the New Hollywood. Ashby, Robert Altman, Peter Bogdanovich, John Cassavetes, Francis Ford Coppola, Brian De Palma, William Friedkin, Terence Malick, Paul Mazursky, Alan Pakula, Bob Rafelson, Michael...

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2. Hollywood Maverick: Ashby, the New Hollywood, and the 1970s

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pp. 10-37

The city of Ogden, Utah, is situated at the base of the Wasatch Mountains, an hour’s drive north of Salt Lake City. The jagged peaks of the Wasatch, rising more than five thousand feet above Ogden, provide a spectacular setting that could serve as the backdrop for a Hollywood western. Ogden, established by the Mormons...

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3. On the Road to Find Out: The Landlord and Harold and Maude

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pp. 38-65

Ashby’s first two films as a director, The Landlord and Harold and Maude, are social comedies that focus on young male protagonists. Both films also reflect, through narrative and characterization, the sense of confusion and alienation that marked the late 1960s and early 1970s. The central characters of these films suffer...

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4. Once I Was a Soldier: Visions of the Military in The Last Detail and Coming Home

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pp. 66-95

In 1978, two major Hollywood releases depicted the devastating effects of the Vietnam War on American soldiers and their communities at home. Hal Ashby’s Coming Home focuses on the physical and emotional traumas caused by the war: the wounds of one central character have left him a paraplegic, while two...

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5. I Like to Watch: Shampoo and Being There

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pp. 96-117

Toward the middle of Coming Home, Sally Hyde asks her husband Bob to describe his experience in Vietnam. “Why don’t you tell me about it?” she asks. “I want to know what it’s like.” Bob’s reply marks a striking departure from the typical dialogue of Hollywood war films: rather than elucidating his experience of the war...

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6. There’s Something Happening Here: Music in Ashby’s Films

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pp. 118-142

Watching Harold and Maude, one has the sense that Cat Stevens’s songs were written with Ashby’s film in mind. Like the film, Stevens’s music is concerned with life’s difficult questions, and it seems to reject a technological, class-based society in favor of a more holistic and spiritual worldview. Stylistically, Stevens’s songs...

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7. A Director under the Influence: Ashby’s Final Decade

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pp. 143-157

The release of Ashby’s eighth film, Second-Hand Hearts, was practically a nonevent. After sitting on the shelf for nearly two years while Ashby fiddled with the editing, the film had a disastrous screening in front of the New York Film Festival committee in May 1981. Released to the public a month later...


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pp. 159-171


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pp. 173-179


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pp. 181-187


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pp. 189-194

E-ISBN-13: 9780814335420
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814334157

Page Count: 208
Illustrations: 8
Publication Year: 2009

Edition: 1
Volume Title: N/a
Series Title: Contemporary Approaches to Film and Media Series