DJ Swearinger of the Washington Redskins and “The Weight Loss Champion” Chuck Carroll go one-on-one. Swearinger credits eating a primarily plant-based diet with keeping his body fresh during the brutal grind of a long season. He’s also on a mission to enlighten his family as some members are struggling with diabetes.
#Helping others with #HeathTips and #Research #Videos
Warner Bros. TV Group has launched an investigation into allegations of inappropriate behavior by Andrew Kreisberg, an executive producer on the CW shows “Arrow,” “Supergirl,” “The Flash” and “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow,” Variety has learned. Kreisberg, who has been suspended by the studio, has engaged in a pattern of alleged sexual harassment and inappropriate physical contact over a period of years, according to 15 women and four men who have worked with him.
“We have recently been made aware of allegations of misconduct against Andrew Kreisberg,” said Warner Bros. TV Group in a statement to Variety. “We have suspended Mr. Kreisberg and are conducting an internal investigation. We take all allegations of misconduct extremely seriously, and are committed to creating a safe working environment for our employees and everyone involved in our productions.”
Kreisberg strongly denies the allegations in this story.
None of the 19 sources for this story wanted to be named for fear of retaliation. Many of the women are current or former employees in a range of positions on those shows, and they cited fear of retaliation from either Warner Bros., the studio that makes those dramas, or from the companies and individuals associated with those programs.
“We were recently made aware of some deeply troubling allegations regarding one of our showrunners,” said Greg Berlanti and Sarah Schechter, who head Berlanti Productions which oversee Kreisberg’s shows. “We have been encouraging and fully cooperating with the investigation into this by Warner Bros. There is nothing more important to us than the safety and well-being of our cast, crew, writers, producers and any staff. We do not tolerate harassment and are committed to doing everything we can to make an environment that’s safe to work in and safe to speak up about if it isn’t.”
All the men and women who spoke to Variety describe similar incidents of inappropriate touching and endemic sexual harassment; they often told the same stories and corroborated each other’s accounts.
According to sources who either witnessed this behavior or were subjected to it, Kreisberg is accused of frequently touching people without their permission, asking for massages from uncomfortable female staff members, and kissing women without asking. Almost every source cites a constant stream of sexualized comments about women’s appearances, their clothes, and their perceived desirability.
Kreisberg told Variety, “I have made comments on women’s appearances and clothes in my capacity as an executive producer, but they were not sexualized. Like many people, I have given someone a non-sexual hug or kiss on the cheek.” He denies that any inappropriate touching or massages occurred.
None of the sources Variety spoke to reported Kreisberg to Warner Bros. human resources, on the assumption that they would pay a price for that, given how important his position was at the company. “Going to HR never crossed my mind, because it seems like nothing’s been enforced,” one woman says. But as word spread of this story, human resources began interviewing the women on his staff.
Many women said they found the work environment created by Kreisberg to be so hostile and “toxic” that they leave a room when he enters it. Kreisberg reiterated his denial that he gave any staffers unwanted attention.
“I have proudly mentored both male and female colleagues for many years. But never in what I believe to be an unwanted way and certainly never in a sexual way,” he said. But sources paint a different picture.
“The workplace feels unsafe,” one woman says, a sentiment echoed by others. Said another, “He scares people.”
Last year, a high-level female producer who works with Kreisberg brought her concerns about his inappropriate behavior and his harassment of employees to a senior executive at Berlanti Productions, the company owned by mega-producer Greg Berlanti, who oversees all of the series Kreisberg works on. “There was zero response,” this woman says. “Nothing happened. Nothing changed.”
Sources close to Berlanti Productions says Berlanti was never made aware of any allegations about Kreisberg’s behavior, and if he had, he would have directed them to human resources.
A male writer who worked for one of the CW shows Kreisberg has run says, “It was an environment in which women — assistants, writers, executives, directors — were all evaluated based on their bodies, not on their work.”
This male colleague says that he talked to Kreisberg about his behavior a few times, but “it had no impact,” the co-worker says. So the writer came to understand that “sexual harassment and demeaning women was just pervasive there — like white noise in the background,” he says.
This male colleague has known Kreisberg for some time, and about six years ago, he says he also wrote Kreisberg an email to try to get him to change. After these attempts, he says, Kreisberg often would not speak to him for days, or he would ignore what was said.
Asked if any colleague, anyone from Berlanti Productions or anyone from Warner Bros. ever told him that he should not make sexually harassing comments to women, Kreisberg said, “No.”
According to many interviewed by Variety, Kreisberg’s problematic behavior, particularly around women, got worse once he had a great deal of authority as an executive producer on several shows.
“The power went to his head,” says a male writer. “It became clear to me that it would be very dangerous, career-wise, for me to confront him about his behavior.”
Two women say he would talk about how he hired staffers based on their looks, and one quoted him as saying, “You should have seen the other dogs we interviewed for that position.” Kreisberg denies saying this.
“Younger women were constantly belittled and subjected to nasty comments,” says a writer who has worked with Kreisberg.
A high-level producer at a CW show says that a young woman who worked in two successive lower-level jobs was the object of Kreisberg’s “obsessive crush,” and left due to his unwanted attention, an account confirmed by more than a dozen other sources. This former employee did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Kreisberg says that he has devoted attention to younger staffers “as a mentor, yes, to both men and women. In a sexual way, no.”
One woman who had a professional relationship with Kreisberg says that, after a while, the texts that he was sending her took a turn. “It was clear he wanted more than a work relationship,” this woman says. The situation made her uncomfortable, because she did not want anything other than a professional connection with him.
One male writer says that Kreisberg called him into his office to view footage of a woman who was coming in later that day to audition. In the video, the woman was topless.
“My mind went blank. I don’t know what I said,” says the writer, who notes that Kreisberg was grinning. “But my internal reaction was, ‘Why would you show me this — it’s wildly inappropriate!’ I could not get out of there fast enough.”
Kreisberg says that “in doing research on the internet about a prospective actress, we found that she had a role in a premium cable network show. It was not a X-rated show. We clicked on the video and she was topless.”
A woman reports that when a female co-worker walked into his presence, he said, “Wow, you look so tired that I don’t even want to have sex with you anymore.” The woman’s children were present and heard the remark. Kreisberg denies having said this.
Every source agrees that the staffers who received the harshest treatment were usually women. But men were not immune.
A young male “Arrow”-verse staffer recalls that he one day stopped by to see a female colleague, and leaned down on her desk as he talked to her. Without the man’s knowledge, Kreisberg came in, placed his hands on the man’s posterior and began pretending to have sex with him, saying something like, “Well, if you’re offering.” Kreisberg denies that this occurred.
“He laughed, and we all laughed, but I felt very uncomfortable,” this employee says. “I have never had anyone put their hands on me like that in a work situation. He did it because he feels like he can do whatever he wants.”
One female colleague says that Kreisberg “joked” about waking up next to her, while another junior staffer recounts Kreisberg telling a group of employees, in reference to a work trip involving her and Kreisberg, “What happens in Vancouver, stays in Vancouver.” He once asked an array of women for their bra sizes, says a source, citing an impulse to buy a bra for his wife. Kreisberg denies making these comments.
Another woman says that she was asked, in the presence of one other woman, to lie on Kreisberg’s office floor while he assumed a push-up stance over her. Then he asked her to pretend to choke him.
“It was for research, he said,” according to this employee. “I didn’t feel like I had any right to say, ‘This is weird.’” This woman recounts that he mimed having sex with a copy machine once when she and another woman were in the room. She quit over his behavior and the atmosphere it created.
“It is not uncommon in writer’s rooms that we act out what we want production to film,” Kreisberg says. “There was never any sexual intent or overtones.”
Kreisberg and another high-level male producer, at one point, looked at photos of naked women in the presence of two women, one of whom spoke to Variety. Kreisberg says the photo incident did not happen.
Women say that they avoided having to sit on a couch next to him. Multiple women called that place in the room “the hot seat,” because Kreisberg would keep getting closer and closer to the woman next to him, no matter how many times she moved away from him.
Several sources talked about dressing as plainly as they could; one woman says that she even stopped wearing V-neck shirts. “You would have to watch what you said, what you wore, to try to stop being subjected to sexual innuendo,” says one woman.
“As an assistant in this industry, there’s nowhere for me to go,” recalls one woman who ended up quitting. “So I just took it.”
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An animated movie based on the iconic Mario video game franchise about plumbers Mario and Luigi is in early stages after Illumination Entertainment reached an agreement with Nintendo to produce the film.
Miyamoto is the creator of Mario and many other Nintendo properties, and Meledandri is the owner of Illumination Entertainment, along with Universal Studios. The Wall Street Journal reported in November that Nintendo and Illumination were near an agreement for a movie about Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. The games and spinoffs have sold more than 330 million units.
Illumination has produced the “Despicable Me” series, “Minions,” and “The Secret Life of Pets.” Nintendo agreed in 2015 with Universal Parks and Resorts to build attractions based on Nintendo characters including Mario and Luigi.
Nintendo made a deal that spawned 1993’s live-action “Super Mario Bros.” starring Bob Hoskins, John Leguizamo, and Dennis Hopper, but the movie performed poorly at the box office.
WSJ reported in November that the “Mario” movie would be animated by Illumination’s Mac Guff studio in Paris and that the project was in the early stages of development. That means it will be several years before the movie is ready for release in theaters.
Video game movies have a mixed record in Hollywood. Three were released in 2016 — Sony’s animated “Angry Birds”; Legendary’s live-action “Warcraft,” which performed well in China; and New Regency’s live-action “Assassin’s Creed.” “Angry Birds” turned in a decent performance with a sequel in the works for 2019.
Yoshino, a well-regarded editor, had been suspended by former editor-in-chief Lewis D’Vorkin amid an aggressive effort to learn which newsroom staffers were responsible for leaks to outside news organizations reporting on turmoil afflicting the newspaper. The incident caused an immediate revolt in the newsroom, and within days, Tronc, the Times’ parent company, had removed D’Vorkin from the post and named him to a senior position at Tronc.
Tronc on Sunday named veteran Chicago journalist Jim Kirk as editor-in-chief. He had been interim editor until D’Vorkin’s appointment in October. During an all-hands meeting on Monday, Kirk said he had invited Yoshino to return.
The Times has been besieged in recent weeks by a number of scandals, including an investigation into Los Angeles Times publisher and CEO Ross Levinsohn after NPR published a report detailing two sexual-harassment settlements and past inappropriate behavior by Levinsohn. He is currently on unpaid leave while an outside law firm investigates.
Newsroom staffers, who recently voted overwhelmingly to unionize, have been aggressively pushing back on plans recently unveiled by Tronc executives, who want to create a network of unpaid contributors similar to a model recently abandoned by the Huffington Post. After Yoshino’s suspension, Times journalists issued public statements in support of the business editor.
Yoshino on Wednesday declined to comment.
An iconic TV series known for its eye-popping makeovers just got one of its own.
On Feb. 7, Netflix will unveil eight new one-hour episodes of “Queer Eye” — a freshening up of the groundbreaking 2003-07 Bravo Emmy winner in which five outspoken gay men beautified the lives of hapless city slickers. In its heyday, nearly 3.5 million viewers from all demographics embraced the highbrow superheroes each week. It spawned 13 international editions and one CD soundtrack. Alas, stylist Carson Kressley’s exasperated one-liners are now part of the early-aughts time capsule, along with studded Nokia flip phones and hot pink Juicy Couture sweats.
Enter the Fab Five 2.0: culture expert Karamo Brown, spitfire hairdresser Jonathan Van Ness, no-nonsense decorator Bobby Berk, cosmopolitan fashion pro Tan France and soft-spoken chef Antoni Porowski. They’ve ditched the bustling New York City streets for rural Georgia, focusing on grizzled men of the Red State Deep South. (They’ve also dropped the “…For the Straight Guy” part: in one episode, the guys help a closeted man come out.) An introduction to button-down shirts is only the start of the top-to-bottom renovation, as this woke crew is taking on race and other cultural divides as well.
“The original show was fighting for tolerance,” France, a Brit of Pakistani descent, declares at the outset of each episode. “Our fight is for acceptance.”
France believes that “back in the day” with the original incarnation of the series, viewers were able to see the surface aspect of a lot of gay men, which helped strides towards that tolerance about which France speaks. However, he notes “you didn’t get an insight.” And that is one way the new version of the show will differ from the original.
“They couldn’t talk about their private lives. This time we’ve got the bandwidth to talk about ourselves. You’re ready to learn the ins and outs of real gay life. We’re your peers, not just accessories,” France says.
The most resonant example is built around police officer (and proud Donald Trump supporter) Cory Waldrop in the third episode. While driving home from a suit shopping trip, Brown — the only black member of the cast — tells Waldrop that his own son didn’t want to get a driver’s license for fear of being pulled over and shot by a cop. In turn, Waldrop says he’s stereotyped as a prejudiced white officer and reassures him that black lives matter.
“That conversation was about me being a black man and a father to black children before I’m talking about being a gay man,” Brown explains. “We are not checking our other identities at the door.”
“Right now we need to have a conversation,” Berk adds. “The second the news comes on TV, people turn it off or tune it out. People don’t want to hear the other side. This show addresses that. We’re in a lot of towns where people have very different views from our own. We get to find a middle ground.”
The guys had never met each other before showing up at a massive and intense two-day casting audition in Los Angeles last year.
“It was like speed-dating,” Berk says. “We’d go in groups of five from table to table with various executives and just rotate until they found who they were looking for.”
Together, they are a mix of charismatic personalities with impressive backgrounds: Brown was the first openly gay black male on MTV’s “The Real World” and a full-time social worker for ten years; France is the creator of women’s clothing line Kingdom & State; Van Ness stars in the viral web series “Gay of Thrones;” Berk has a home furnishings line; and Porowski, a Canadian, is the protégé and former personal chef of original “Queer Eye” foodie Ted Allen.
“The original Fab Five were trailblazers,” Brown says. “They have all reached out to us and say they can’t wait to see the show. And that feels good for us because even though we’re creating our own legacy, it’s good to know that that the guys whose shoulders we’re standing on are supporting us.”
They do admit, however, that the series benefits from changes.
The new gang had five full days to spend with each client (dubbed “heroes” in the show). Thanks to the commercial-free Netflix, “we had more time, logistically and literally, to go deeper than what they did in the first round,” Berk notes.
The Georgia uproot also led to more interesting challenges. “Those guys had the luxury of having different markets and stores off Fifth Avenue,” Porowski says. “That’s not the reality in the South. We couldn’t just head into Prada or Armani. That forced us to explore the person’s needs.”
The group raves about their success stories — from Tom, a self-proclaimed “dumb old country boy from Kentucky,” to Neal, an introvert who had hidden his decade-long battle with depression. “When we saw Neal, he didn’t want us to look at him or talk to him or touch him,” Van Ness says. “He was very insecure. I was shocked at the change. We do a lot of outside makeovers but we’re there for the inside too.”
“He just told me he bought a charcuterie platter to entertain!” Porowski says.
At its heart, the show remains as hopeful as ever. “The universality of wanting to show up for yourself is the same,” Porowski says. “Helping people is never going to get old.”
GOTEBORG, Sweden — “Borgen” showrunner Adam Price won the $25,000 2018 Nordisk Film & TV Fond Prize for “Ride Upon the Storm,” awarded for the outstanding writing of a Nordic drama series.
Sold by Studiocanal, “Ride Upon the Storm” was described by the prize’s jury as “quite simply a show with a beating heart and soul; for us the plot was almost insignificant; all we cared about was the characters, their emotional life, their troubles and dilemmas.”
Calling the series TV drama “as magnificent and dignified as a Caravaggio or a Rembrandt,” the jury of Italian-U.K. TV executive Walter Luzzolino, of Walter Presents, Swedish actress Sofia Helin and Finnish entertainment journalist Kirpi Uimonen Ballesteros commented that “the fact that such a story could be written, and commissioned by a big terrestrial broadcaster is nothing short of miraculous.”
Produced by Camilla Hammerich for DR Drama, part of Danish pubcaster DR, “Ride Upon the Storm” was aired from Sept 24, 2017. It stars Lars Mikkelsen, Ann Eleonora Jørgensen, Morten Hee Andersen and Simon Sears as a family of priests, ruled by a patriarch father, God-like to the two sons. His favoritism towards one, August, and disappointment with the other, Christian, forces them both into making desperate choices, the synopsis runs.
“It is the most difficult series I have done till now,” said Price of the character-driven drama that explores good and evil and the spiritual journey towards seeking a greater meaning in life. The former head of drama at Danish commercial broadcaster TV2 Denmark, and since 2014 co-owner of SAM Productions, Price has written for television since 1990.
His “Nikolaj and Julie,” broadcast on DR over 2002-2003, received an Emmy, and “Borgen,” also aired by DR, over 2010-2013, which he created and wrote, was sold to more than 80 countries, winning the U.K.’s BAFTA TV Award, the Prix Italia, a Golden Nymph in Monte Carlo, and was named Best Danish Drama Series in the last three years. “Ride Upon the Storm” has been renewed for another season on DR.
“In many ways it was the simplest task ever – all the nominated shows are exceptional examples of Scandinavian storytelling at its best. But we ended up discussing “Ride Upon the Storm” for hours. It was unlike anything we have ever seen before, a bold, original approach to a deeply unfashionable subject, an innovative push that does not mirror the popular formula for fast, slick thrillers,” the jury said.
“We all felt this was a piece of television destined to transform and refresh the Scandi canon,” it concluded at the closing of first day of the 12th TV Drama Vision at the Göteborg Festival.
The nominees for the Nordisk Film & TV Fond Prize were Sweden’s Karin Gidfors and Charlotte Lesche for Geir Henning Hopland’s “The Lawyer,” and Finland’s Rie Jokela, Kirsi Porkka and Jari Olavi Rantala for Jokela’s “Deadwind.” Also in contention: Iceland’s Johann Ækvar Grimsson, Andri Óttarsson and Nanna Kristin Magnúsdóttir for Óskar Thór Axelsson’s “Stella Blómkvist,” and Norway’s Megan Gallagher, Alexander Opsal and Bjørn Ekeberg for Gunnar Vikene’s “Borderliner.”
The video streaming platform is an extension of the Amazon Prime home shopping and delivery membership scheme which launched last year in Japan. (Amazon Prime Instant Video was present in Japan from 2015.) Amazon Prime Video will stream both current and older HBO series in Japan, from April 1.
The move is an initiative of the HBO parent company in the U.S., rather than HBO Asia. HBO Asia is headquartered in Singapore and currently serves 22 Asian territories, excluding Japan.
Without having to pay additional fees, Amazon Prime Japan subscribers will be able to watch six seasons of “Game of Thrones,” and some 50 past and present shows including “Big Little Lies,” “Silicon Valley,” “The Sopranos” and “The Wire.” They will be available six months after their linear premier on Tohokushinsha’s Star Channel. The service will also soon begin to pick up series that are current from 2018.
HBO has a prior exclusive deal with Hulu Japan for some series and had previously sold a limited number of shows to Amazon Prime for Japan.
The scheme rewards theaters which derive more than 55% of their box office revenues from Chinese films, by allowing them to keep half of a 5% tax they pay on ticket sales. There are bigger bonuses for those which score 60% and 66%.
The scheme is not the first time that China has announced such a scheme. In March last year it said that theaters earning 66% could keep half the tax.
“I don’t think the Chinese government reduced the target because they were feeling generous. They wanted results, and they weren’t getting them at 66%,” said lawyer Matthew Dresden at law firm Harris Bricken. Boosted by the $860 million gross for “Wolf Warriors II,” market share for Chinese films stood at 52% as of mid-November.
The scheme has numerous potential problems. These include the creation of an additional incentive for theaters to engage in fraud. Chinese cinemas have a long-established history of distorting results, and in diverting revenues from one film to another. The requirement to use a government-controlled box office reporting system is supposed to eliminate this.
It also contradicts other systems and structures. The major exhibitors are privately-owned profit maximizing companies. And the country’s dominant distributor of imported, revenue sharing movies is state-controlled China Film Corp.
The scheme adds another wrinkle to the ongoing negotiations between China and the U.S. over quotas, revenues and distribution conditions. China currently operates a range of tight controls over foreign films. These include regulators who decide release dates, and two or three blackout periods per year when only Chinese films can be released.
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Stephen Colbert cruised through a live edition of CBS’ “The Late Show” on Tuesday, thanks to plenty of material from President Trump’s State of the Union address and a lively segment with “2 Dope Queens” hosts Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson.
Colbert offered his annotated commentary on highlights from Trump’s 90-minute speech to Congress. Among the zingers he delivered at the Ed Sullivan Theater were jabs about brewing scandal over Trump’s alleged affair and 2016 payoff of porn star Stormy Daniels.
- Colbert invoked his peevish Trump impression after a clip of the President praising “beautiful clean coal.” “If I weren’t burning coal I might be dating it,” he said.
- To Trump’s promise of reducing the cost of prescription drugs, Colbert responded: “Drugs would have really helped me get through his speech.”
- Trump’s promise of offering “love and loyalty” to all people in America brought the retort: “If the government isn’t that loyal with their love they get $130,000 to keep quiet about it.”
- Trump touted the recent tax reform legislation that makes the first $24,000 of income earned by married couples tax-free. “A benefit Trump will be enjoying for at least a few more weeks,” Colbert said.
- Colbert’s best line was not about Trump but Rep. Joseph Kennedy III (D-Mass.), a rising star who delivered the Democratic response to Trump’s speech. Or as Colbert referred to the tall redheaded Congressman: “Conan O’Brien.”
The live staging of the episode went off without a hitch. During commercial breaks, Colbert conferred with “Late Show” executive producer Chris Licht briefly but mostly moved around the set, hamming it up with members of the audience. In the brief pre-show Q&A, Colbert told the crowd the guest he most wanted to have on the show was Pope Francis. He also showed off his ability to speak French and his bona fides as a “Star Trek” geek.
During the show, “Pod Save America” hosts Tommy Vietor, Jon Favreau, and Jon Lovitt were on hand to offer a harsh assessment of Trump’s speech and his first year in office. Favreau said Trump appeared to be “reading a hostage statement” and “didn’t use his Twitter voice.”
Williams and Robinson followed, admitting that neither of them watched Trump’s address. “How are two dope queens dealing with the man from Queens,” Colbert asked the pair. Robinson replied: “I’ve been listening to Mary J. Blige non-stop and bathing in cocoa butter.”
“We’re like, ‘Black Panther’ is coming out in two weeks. We don’t have time for this,” Williams said of Trump’s speech.
Robinson and Williams dubbed Colbert a “zaddy,” or a “hot dude” with attitude — to Colbert’s delight.
The show finished out with a mock-serious taped bit from Michael Weatherly, whose Tuesday night CBS drama “Bull” was preempted by the State of the Union. “I speak on behalf of all Tuesday shows in primetime,” Weatherly said. “We’re preempting what it means to be an American.”
Country star Chris Stapleton closed out the telecast with a soulful rendition of “Drunkard’s Prayer,” from his Grammy-winning album, “From a Room: Volume 2.” (As he waited to go on, Stapleton did his own version of scatting with “Late Show” bandleader Jon Batiste, and he declared himself to be a “zaddy” too.)
Colbert had all of seven seconds to say goodnight after Stapleton’s performance. He joked that it was the Conan O’Brien joke that put him over on time. “Somebody was going to make that joke,” he said. “And I wanted to beat ’em to it.”
In the seven landmark movies he made during the ’70s, from his very first feature, 1970’s “The Landlord” (way ahead of the curve in its post-bleeding-heart racial awareness), up through 1979’s “Being There” (way ahead of the curve in its dryly amused satirical image politics), with the New Hollywood classics “The Last Detail” (1973) and “Shampoo” (1975) coming in between, the director Hal Ashby had an entrancingly shaggy, inquiring, no-fuss style that always revealed the most vulnerable and moonstruck qualities of the characters he showed us. By the time an Ashby movie was over, you knew every last facet and hidden beauty wart of the people on-screen. Their daydreams fused with ours.
So it would seem only fitting if “Hal,” a documentary portrait of Ashby, rustled up a certain stubborn intimacy to reveal who this intensely revered and softly mysterious filmmaker really was. Anyone drawn to the subject will probably go into “Hal” knowing certain basic things about Hal Ashby: that he broke into the business by working, for years, as a film editor; that he looked like a furtively angelic hippie biker in his long stringy hair and even longer scraggly white-blond beard; that he had substance-abuse issues; that he died, in 1988, when he was just 59; and that up until he lost his mojo, after “Being There,” he imparted a fresh glancing humanity to everything he touched.
You come out of “Hal” knowing a little more than that, but maybe not as much as you wanted to know. Ashby’s personal life is mostly left off the table, even though he was an aggressive womanizer who was married five times. He routinely went to war with studio executives and relished the battles, yet the place he occupied in the political arena of Hollywood society remains something of a blank. The director, Amy Scott, is a film editor herself, and she’s content, in just 84 minutes, to cobble together an anecdotal, behind-the-scenes film-by-film breakdown of Ashby’s career, narrated by Ashby himself, who is heard on audiotapes and in letters, mostly grousing about them — i.e, the meddling suits he considered his earthly nemesis.
“Hal” has a once-over-lightly quality, but at times it offers a telling window into how the New Hollywood worked. We first see Ashby bounding up to the podium at the 1968 Academy Awards, looking surprisingly straight — at least, next to the image he would project only a couple of years later — in coiffed hair, a trimmed goatee, and a square-meets-groovy white turtleneck. Yet in his acceptance speech for best editing (for “In the Heat of the Night,” directed by his friend and mentor Norman Jewison), instead of the usual roster of thank yous Ashby offers a message of love — a sign that even as he approached 40, he’d been baptized in the new youth culture. As an editor, cutting a movie was often literally all he did, closeting himself in the editing room for months at a time, sleeping there, obsessing over the pieces of film he had hanging everywhere. But he always wanted to direct, and when he got the chance it meant letting the sunshine in.
“The Landlord,” as tough and soulful as it was, came and went, but Ashby gave his career a jump-start by making one of his most beloved films, and also his most uncharacteristic: the ghoulishly prankish sentimental black comedy “Harold and Maude” (1971). I always had mixed feelings about its slightly smug romantic absurdism, but there’s no denying that Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon (and Cat Stevens) were a match made in cult-movie heaven. We see footage of Cort at Ashby’s memorial, evoking how special Ashby made him feel on the set. He was the anti-Kubrick, treating each actor as the center of the universe.
If “Harold and Maude” was a burlesque ’70s artifact, it was “The Last Detail” that established Ashby as a major voice. If you watch it now, it’s almost shocking how naturalistically it rolls by. We hear testimony from Robert Towne, the fabled screenwriter who was really a nobody, doing uncredited rewrites, up until he wrote “The Last Detail,” talking about how he and Ashby fought to keep in all the profanity that poured out of Jack Nicholson’s “Badass” Buddusky. In so many ways, that’s how the films of the ’70s came into being — one dogged pushback and maverick whim at a time.
Yet Ashby was modest, the kind of invisible great filmmaker who served the material. That was certainly the case with “Shampoo,” since it was Warren Beatty’s vision to make a confessional comedy about the life of a SoCal Don Juan. It was Ashby, working with Towne again, who deepened a soap-opera caper by coaxing out the Watergate subtext, posing the libidinous wanderings of Beatty’s hairdresser against a spangly backdrop of American hypocrisy.
“Hal” sketches in the creative mechanism behind other triumphs, from the majestic dustbowl image poetry of “Bound for Glory” to the way that Ashby used improvisation to bring out Jon Voight’s most emotionally naked performance in “Coming Home” (the actor’s one last tinge of greatness after “Midnight Cowboy”). The glory of “Being There,” which Judd Apatow hails as his idea of a perfect film, is that Ashby staged a comedy as if it were the stateliest of dramas: You laugh at Peter Sellers’ Zen idiot Chauncey Gardner, but mostly you stare at him with a kind of smiling wonder. That, however, was the last time that Ashby connected with an audience.
There was a reason for that. In the ’80s, Ashby made trivial bad movies — “Second Hand Hearts,” “Lookin’ to Get Out,” “The Slugger’s Wife” — because he was still fighting the studios. He didn’t understand that the battle was over; the suits had won. There was little place left for Ashby’s humanism-on-the-fly, though Jeff Bridges’ portrait of a detective who suffers alcoholic blackouts, in “8 Million Ways to Die” (1986), remains the last thing on film that had an Ashby-esque essence. Ashby died, of pancreatic cancer, in 1988, and here’s a hindsight prediction: Had he lived longer and seen the rise of the American independent film revolution, he would have become part of it. As much as any director who ever lived, he was its stirringly empathetic and plainspoken godfather.