Archive for Hal Ashby

Yes.

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , on March 21, 2017 by dcairns

New video essay written by me and edited by Stephen Horne. Part of our series for Criterion, Anatomy of a Gag (previous installments on Tati and Etaix).

This one is on Hal Ashby’s BEING THERE, new to the Collection. Hope you enjoy!

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Buyer’s Remorse

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 7, 2015 by dcairns

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Finally caught up with THE HEARTBREAK KID after meaning to see it for years. Father Ted creators Graham Linehan & Arthur Matthews rate this one as a favourite, which marks it out as above the general run of Neil Simon movies, and it’s almost unique among NS films in that it has a recognized director, Elaine May. The one other auteur collaboration in Simon’s oeuvre is THE SLUGGER’S WIFE, a collaboration with Hal Ashby which ended with the director booted off the film after turning in a first cut which featured no dialogue for the first half hour. An approach better calculated to alienate the king of the one-liners could hardly be imagined.

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May was a lot better at handling Simon, In his wonderful memoir It Would be So Nice If You Weren’t Here, Grodin talks about how Simon briefly wanted to fire him (after the first read-through) and constantly wanted to fire Jeannie Berlin, complaining that she wasn’t attractive enough. May graciously accepted Simon’s criticisms, soothed his feathers and carried on, never letting him know that Berlin was in fact her daughter.

May is so good at the comedy of conflicted response, and that area seems so alien to Simon’s work, that I find myself wondering to what extent she’s subverting the material — with the author in the room. From what he says in his book, Grodin was clearly aware that his character could easily be seen as “creepy and hateful” –and those qualities played a part in my reading of him, though maybe ultimately “pitiful” is a better word — this guy, who runs out on his wife on their honeymoon because he meets Cybill Shepherd, is never going to be happy, and he’s going to leave a trail of human devastation behind him. Grodin was slightly surprised at the number of men who told him they identified deeply — and uncritically — with the character, which suggests he and May succeeded in balancing the portrayal so that people with the same character flaws as Grodin would see him as entirely reasonable. I wonder if those guys found it funny? Fiona likened it to a comedy version of THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY.

Still, Simon did give it that title. He must’ve known what he was doing. He must.

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Jeannie Berlin gets a lot of the best laughs, though it’s teamwork all the way. Fiona loved her inability to behave like a dream girl. A lot of her behaviour WOULD work with some men — getting her boobs out on the freeway, for instance, which Grodin reacts to with hilarious, infantile panic. An exactly similar moment occurs in May’s previous A NEW LEAF, in which Walter Matthau emits a plaintive “No, don’t let them out!” and runs away. Maybe the reason Isabelle Adjani’s boob flash in ISHTAR seems to upset so many people — really, so many of the bad reviews focus on this moment — is because Dustin Hoffman doesn’t deliver a clear and exaggerated comic reaction to justify it. It becomes sexposition.

Berlin’s last scene is HORRIFIC and DISTRESSING! And then she disappears from the picture and we’re supposed to root for Grodin on his quest to get the girl. While this last fifth — the traditional three act/four part structure doesn’t seem to apply here — has some good laughs but is governed by a gnawing uncertainty and tension (Where is this GOING?) — it’s as if the bigger dramatic problem was not “boy gets girl” but “boy gets rid of previous girl” and with Berlin out of the way a strange calm descends, as Grodin’s character impresses by his rather astonishing determination. Romantic comedy sociopath.

Almost Too Late

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on May 14, 2014 by dcairns

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I got an invitation to contribute to the Masters of Cinema Blu-ray of TOO LATE BLUES. Somebody had dropped out and they needed it in a week. Unfortunately, I was preparing to go to Toronto in LESS than a week. And I had never seen the film. And did not consider myself a Cassavetes expert by any means.

But I watched the film and halfway through I knew I had to say YES. So I went on a binge of reading and viewing to make myself more familiar with my subject. I induced two students from Edinburgh College of Art’s film course final year (thanks, Anna & Mario!) to shoot and record me talking about the film in front of projected frames, and I think it turned out pretty good.

You may pre-order here —

Too Late Blues (Masters of Cinema) (Dual Format Edition) [Blu-ray + DVD] [1961]

I had a little more thinking time for this one, which is a film I’ve screened almost annually at the college —

Harold And Maude (Masters of Cinema) (Blu-ray) [1971]

But oddly, the TOO LATE BLUES piece I did may actually be the better of the two.

If…. (Masters of Cinema) [Blu-ray] [1968]

Finally, I wrote an essay for the booklet of this one. Like H&M, this is a film I know well from way back. I supplemented my own musings by interviewing Brian Pettifer, a Lindsay Anderson stock company star who remembers it all very fondly, though alas Paramount wouldn’t let us include any of his observations about the film’s sparse budget…

If you click on those links and buy something, you will be supporting Shadowplay, which is to say ME. Secretly, I think this is a good thing to do.