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Being Hal Ashby: Life of a Hollywood Rebel

by Nick Dawson

Availablepaperback$26.95 978-0-8131-3463-5
Availablecloth$50.00 978-0-8131-2538-1
Availableweb pdf$26.95 978-0-8131-7334-4
Availableepub$26.95 978-0-8131-3919-7
Screen Classics
440 pages  Pubdate: 12/01/2011  6.125 x 9.25 x 1.25  47

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Hal Ashby set the standard for subsequent independent filmmakers by crafting unique, thoughtful, and challenging films that continue to influence new generations of directors. Initially finding success as an editor, Ashby won an Academy Award for editing In the Heat of the Night (1967), and he translated his skills as an editor into a career as one of the quintessential directors of 1970s. Perhaps best remembered for the enduring cult classic Harold and Maude (1971), Ashby quickly became known for melding quirky comedy and intense drama with performances from A-list actors such as Jack Nicholson in The Last Detail (1973), Warren Beatty and Goldie Hawn in Shampoo (1975), Jon Voight and Jane Fonda in Coming Home (1978), and Peter Sellers and Shirley MacLaine in Being There (1979). Ashby’s personal life was difficult. He endured his parents’ divorce, his father’s suicide, and his own failed marriage all before the age of nineteen, and his notorious drug abuse contributed to the decline of his career near the end of his life. Ashby always operated outside Hollywood’s conventions, and though his output was tragically limited, the quality of his films continues to inspire modern directors as varied and talented as Judd Apatow and Wes Anderson, both of whom acknowledge Ashby as a primary influence. In Being Hal Ashby: Life of a Hollywood Rebel, the first full-length biography of the maverick filmmaker, author Nick Dawson masterfully tells the turbulent story of Ashby’s life and career.

Nick Dawson is editor at FilmInFocus.com and writes a weekly interview column, The Director Interviews, for Filmmaker magazine. Originally from the UK, he has written on film for Empire, Uncut, the London Times, and the Scotsman.

"Given that Ashby made several important films that continue to have substantial impact on filmmaking and as cultural references, and given the fact that Dawson tells the Ashby story in a fascinating and involving way, this work will represent an important addition to the study of film." --Timothy Meyer, coauthor of Mediated Communication: A Social Action Perspective

Ashby’s quiet genius brought us the some of the best American films of the ’70s—Harold and Maude, The Last Detail, Shampoo, Coming Home, and Being There—movies which have not lost their compassion, relevance or unforced artfulness with the passage of time. Dawson’s biography provides a thorough and insightful overview of why Ashby was so highly regarded by friends and colleagues, not just as a filmmaker, but as a remarkable human being. -- Lee Hill, author of A Grand Guy: The Art and Life of Terry Southern

Film scholars have frequently lamented the lack of a Hal Ashby biography. Now, there is one and it will long remain the definitive study. In addition to making a close analysis of Ashby’s work, Nick Dawson has also sought out the people best qualified to provide the most informed and incisive insights into his personal life and professional achievement. There should be no excuse to deny Ashby his place among the most important American directors of the post-studio era. -- David Parkinson, author of History of Film

Scrupulously researched and sensitively rendered, Being Hal Ashby is the definitive biography of a protean, gone-too-soon talent. -- David Stenn, author of Bombshell: The Life and Death of Jean Harlow

Finally somebody has put down in print—and in fascinating, intricate detail—what so many have known for so long, and in doing so has deepened our knowledge of Ashby's contributions to American cinema. Hal Ashby and his films are deserving of great attention; Nick Dawson's book is the first important step towards making this so. -- Aaron Hunter, Department of Film Studies, Queen's University Belfast

Finally, a book—and a very good one indeed—on Hal Ashby, the neglected, least appreciated director of the 1970s. Hopefully, Dawson's excellent volume will revive his reputation and get him the attention he deserves. -- Peter Biskind, author of Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock 'N' Roll Generation Saved Hollywood

Glides through Ashby’s wrecked personal relationships, wisely choosing to dwell instead on the work of a man whose career consumed his life. A worthwhile portrait by a capable biographer. -- Kirkus Reviews

Dawson, an editor at FilmsInFocus, has written a superb biography of this troubled, talented man. -- Tucson Citizen

"Penetrating, insightful, with keen and precise discussions of each of the director’s films, this book is a celebration of Ashby’s work and his rebellious spirit." --John Foote,Incontention.com

"Mention Hal Ashby’s name these days and eyes usually glaze with nonrecognition. Start listing the late filmmaker’s movies and they glimmer with admiration . . . . Author Nick Dawson, who wasn’t born when Ashby thrived, aims to end that anonymity." --tampabay.com

"In the first real biography of Ashby, FilmInFocus editor Dawson delivers a book that is simultaneously informative, insightful, and genuinely fun to read." --Library Journal

"In this groundbreaking and exhaustively researched biography, Nick Dawson draws on firsthand interviews and personal papers from the Ashby’s estate to offer an intimate look at the tumultuous life of an artist unwilling to conform or compromise." --Turner Classic Movies

"Dawson’s superlative biography is sure to renew interest in the director of Harold and Maude, The Last Detail and Being There. He has written a comprehensive and sympathetic book, generously quoting from interviews from family and collaborators from every period of Ashby’s life, as well as from personal letters. . . . Being Hal Ashby joins Patrick McGilligan’s Robert Altman: Jumping off the liff as one of the definitive books on Seventies cinema." --Film Comment

"Depicts the director refusing to capitulate to an increasingly corporate industry."--Village Voice

"[Hal's] bad luck, bad decisions, self-destruction due to excess, and stubborn refusal to get his deteriorating health checked out... [are] excellently recounted [this] book."--indieWIRE

"Dawson’s impeccably researched and admirably clear-eyed biography reclaims Ashby from the fog of myth and sets his career in perspective, reminding us again what a loss his death was." --DGA Quarterly

"It’s obvious that Nick Dawson has a deep appreciation of the director’s work and his enthusiasm is contagious. . . . When a book inspires me to reevaluate my own opinions about a filmmaker’s career, it’s well worth recommending." --Cinebeats

"Dawson depicts Ashby’s professional and personal relationships in a way that is fittingly yet painfully human." --Anniston Star

"Dawson’s brilliantly-written biography will long remain the definitive literary exploration of Ashby’s work." --Hugh Lilly, Insequential

"Films and books strive toward a common goal: telling a story. And very few modern filmmakers are as good at spinning a yard as the late Ashby was, the subject of a penetrating and applause-worthy biography written by film journalist Nick Dawson." --Pop Matters

"Rebel is a biography that finally tells the full story of Ashby’s unlikely journey from Ogden, Utah to Hollywood." --Facets Features

"Nick Dawson should be teaching a course in how to write a Hollywood biography. Being Hal Ashby is note perfect, with the appropriate attention paid to the art and to the artist’s messy life." --Creative Loafing

"The legendary director . . . has finally become the subject of a long-overdue biography." --Splice Today

"[Ashby’s] speedy rise and spectacular swan dive from Tinseltown’s high board is an old story, but a fascinating read as relayed by Nick Dawson in his scrupulously researched Being Hal Ashby: Life of a Hollywood Rebel." --Sunday Star Ledger

"A rigorously researched, page-turning biography of the iconic director that is highly recommended." --Filmmaker Magazine

"A fascinating and fun read for anyone acquainted with Ashby’s work." --GreenCine Daily

"Dawson [excels] when reporting on film, and both Beatty and Ashby remain object lessons of filmmakers taking chances at the top, not simply as first-timers with nothing to lose." --Bookforum

"Nick Dawson has written the first biography of Ashby, a work that examines the director’s tormented personal life and childhood, and traces the troubled personal skein into an exemplary body of work in motion pictures." --Editors Guild Magazine