Peter Bart once said, “Hal Ashby was the most American of those directors and the most unique talent. He was a victim of Hollywood, the great Hollywood tragic story.” And he was right. Born with a lethal sense of rebellion in his blood, his life was never simple, but his films—from The Landlord and Harold and Maude to Shampoo and The Last Detail to Coming Home and Being There, his films some of the most iconic, compassionate, and fascinating works of the 1970s. As we noted in our Cinematic Panic: Harold and Maude:
In speaking with director Zal Batmanglij a few months ago, we got on the topic of storytelling and the nature of the way a film like Harold and Maude (and all of Ashby’s) unfolds in bursts that store themselves inside the chambers of your heart. “It’s leaving all sorts of crazy fireworks behind and someone’s just lighting a fuse and they’re running away,” said Batmanglij, “It’s like years later, the fireworks are exploding inside your heart, and you think of that story of just these outsiders that fall in love.” There’s something entirely unqiue about all of Ashby’s work that speaks distinctly of a time and place in history that fails to exist in modern Hollywood. In Peter Biskind’s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls he writes of Ashby’s odd behavior at length, but when I think of the amazing director who died all too early, I imagine he’s still holed up in the darkened editing room in his home amongst the trees in Laurel Canyon, chainsmoking endlessly while eating nothing but nuts and sugarless gum.
And thanks to director Amy Scott—the first person to gain total access to his estate—a documentary on Ashby is finally on the horizon. But to fund the film, she is going to need your help. And with actors like John C. Reilly and Jane Fonda on board, Scott has launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise money for the doc. You can find out more on the project HERE and watch the moving teaser trailer for Once I Was: The Hal Ashby Story below.