Behind the scenes: Hal Ashby in the '70s


Hal Ashby is probably best known for directing the 1971 dark romantic comedy Harold and Maude.

But when Beeler Gallery Director of Exhibitions Michael Goodson decided to curate a film series focusing on Ashby, he wanted to highlight some of the late American filmmaker’s other works.

So he turned to The LandlordThe Last DetailComing Home and Being There to build a new film series called Hal Ashby in the ’70s. We talked to Goodson about the series, which kicks off March 8 and runs through March 29 at the Canzani Center Screening Room.

Q: Why do a film series about Hal Ashby?

A: I just like movies from the ’70s, and Hal Ashby in particular — he’s the auteur of ’70s cinema.

He told a range of stories from absurdist comedic stories to movies like Coming Home which actually grapples with real issues.

Q: What interests you about Ashby in particular?

A: Mostly it’s just the way he tells a story, and I would say specifically in terms of ’70s cinema the way he got actors to behave. I also like the way the films look. Part of that is just filmstock, you know, like the way things were shot in the ’70s.

Q: Why these movies in particular?

A: The first conceit was to avoid the film that everyone might expect, which is Harold and Maude, and to start with the film that he made at the dawn of that decade, which is The Landlord with Beau Bridges. It’s actually in a way that now through time looks a little clumsy in terms of the way it’s addressed, but it does attempt to address the idea of race in contemporary America — contemporary at that time.

The Last Detail is a no brainer. It is quite simply one of the best movies ever made. And Jack Nicholson being Jack Nicholson at the height of his abilities.

Coming Home has always s been a hard one for me to watch but I think it’s a really interesting take on a love story that has at its essence rage — and I like that about it.

And then Being There, the last film that Ashby made in the ’70s, in 1979, is actually a perfect film for this election cycle. It is a story about an idiot that rises ostensibly to the presidency. So it’s perfect for this moment.


Hal Ashby in the ’70s kicks off March 8 and runs through March 29 at the Canzani Center Screening Room. All events are free and open to the public.

The Landlord, 1970 Tuesday, March 8 7 p.m. At age 29, Elgar Enders “runs away” from home and buys a building in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn. Initially his intention is to evict the tenants and convert it into a posh flat, but soon he has other thoughts on his mind.
Starring: Beau Bridges, Lee Grant, Diana Sands, Pearl Bailey
Runtime: 113 minutes

The Last Detail, 1973 Tuesday, March 15 7 p.m. Two bawdy, tough-looking Navy lifers are commissioned to escort a young pilferer named Meadows to the brig in Portsmouth. At first, they view the journey as a paid vacation, but are quickly depressed by the prisoner, who looks prepared to break into tears at any moment.
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Randy Quaid, Otis Young, Clifton James, Carol Kane
Runtime: 103 minutes

Coming Home, 1978 Tuesday, March 22 7 p.m. Sally Bender is the wife of a Captain in the U.S. Marine Corps. When he is sent over to Vietnam, Sally is left alone. With nothing else to do, she decides to volunteer at a local veteran’s hospital, where she begins to fall in love with a wounded veteran.
Starring: Jane Fonda, Jon Voight, Bruce Dern
Runtime: 126 minutes

Being There, 1979 Tuesday, March 29 7 p.m. A simple-minded gardener named Chance has spent all his life in an old man’s house in Washington. When the man dies, Chance is put out on the street with no knowledge of the world except what he has learned from television.
Starring: Peter Sellers, Shirley MacLaine, Jack Warden, Melvyn Douglas
Runtime: 130 minutes