Archive for Hal Ashby

Swink

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , on February 18, 2021 by dcairns

Hal Ashby, in Directors in Action (a 1973 collection of pieces from Action, the Directors Guild of America’s official magazine) tells of the pep talk he got from William Wyler’s editor, Robert Swink, when he was starting as a junior cutter:

“Once the film is in hand, forget about the script, throw away all of the so-called rules, and don’t try to second-guess the director. Just look at the film and let it guide you. It will turn you on all by itself, and you’ll have more ideas on how to cut it than you ever dreamed possible. And use your instincts! Don’t be afraid of them! Rely on them! After all, with the exception of a little knowledge, instincts are all we’ve got. Also, don’t be afraid of the film. You can cut it together 26 different ways, and if none of those works, you can always put it back into daily form, and start over.”

Swink would have been forty years old and the movie would have been THE BIG COUNTRY in 1958, so the language here is undoubtedly Ashby’s hippy-inflected speech. And some of the editorial philosophy may likewise be Ashby’s — but Swink cut for both William Wyler — minimal coverage but an insane number of takes — and George Stevens — multiple shot sizes from every conceivable direction — and he cut inventively and boldly, so I do believe a lot of what Ashby is passing on came from him. It’s good advice, whoever came up with it.

Block and Tackle

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 14, 2020 by dcairns

Other directors had tackled the work of Lawrence Block before A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES, but it hadn’t gone well. Hal Ashby was shut out of the edit on 8 MILLION WAYS TO DIE, and Nic Roeg was fired after five days on NIGHTMARE HONEYMOON. Block also served as screenwriter for Wong Kar-Wei on MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS, which I haven’t seen.

AWATT was also a bit jinxed, since Harrison Ford bailed on it (too violent, perhaps) and it collapsed. When it sprang to life again, screenwriter Scott Frank was in charge and Liam Neeson was the lead, and the result is very violent indeed. It also fits snuggly into that rather unproductive and creepy subgenre Neeson seems now irrevocably associated with, the female kidnap drama where Neeson says bad-ass things into a phone in a husky voice.

We watched this purely because the writer-director’s two Netflix miniseries, Godless and The Queen’s Gambit, are absolutely sensational. You’ve probably sought out the latter if you have Netflix, but go after the former too. Both are much better than AWATT, which is a decent thriller. The banter and relationship between Neeson and Astro (yes, that’s his name), defrocked cop and homeless kid, is really good. There’s what they call “strong support” from Dan Stevens (Frank seems to get half his casts from Downton Abbey) and Boyd Holbrook, and a good turn from Ólafur Darri Ólafsson.

It just doesn’t seem to add up to more than a really horrible situation that gets resolved with a substantial body count. What have we learned? I mean, I don’t require a message. But maybe the problem is that Neeson’s character, Scudder, is the star of a whole series of books, so he’s a bit unchanging. At any rate, at the end of this one he seems substantially the same lumpen brute as at the start. There’s a sense in which, if Stevens’ character were the protagonist, the stakes would escalate markedly.

Very snazzy cinematic use of the Alcoholics Anonymous 12 steps, though.

Scott Frank is a big fan of seventies US films like DOG DAY AFTERNOON. He just doesn’t want to ever take things that far, it seems. As he himself puts it, he’s “always looking for a safe place to land.” But he’s a huge talent and The Queen’s Gambit is still the best new thing I’ve seen this year apart from THE LIGHTHOUSE.

A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES stars Oskar Schindler; Hellboy; Gatz Brown; Pierce; David Haller; Alma Wheatley; Calvin Walker; Ragnar the Rock; Hiram Lodge; Jesse Edwards; and Ptonomy Wallace.

The Road Sign of the Cross

Posted in FILM with tags , , on March 10, 2020 by dcairns

I’ve watched HAROLD AND MAUDE so many times I am an actual item on the disc menu but never noticed until freeze-framing this shot below, in preparation to showing the next scene in a class, that they have special religious paint marks for parking spaces outside the church.

Fortunately I had an American student (hi Stella) who was able to confirm my suspicion that this is not an actual thing and that it’s just the filmmakers being whimsical. Pretty funny and pretty subtle if you’re not looking for it.