Rediscovering Hal Ashby

A directors cut version of Hal Ashby’s Lookin’ to Get Out will be released tomorrow. When the film was originally released in 1982, Ashby had bouts with Paramount. The director recut the film for himself before it was recut by the studio. Jon Voight, who wrote produced and starred in the film, recently discovered Ashby’s version of the film.

Voight explains: “Hal was working on two other films at the time (of the movie’s release), and there was a lot of drama. Our film was handed over to other editors, and the result was a crippled movie. We were very hurt by the reception…Finally, this is the film he intended. It’s like a message in a bottle.”

Ashby also directed Harold and Maude, Shampoo, The Last Detail, Coming Home and Being There. These films, especially Harold and Maude, have a major cult following but surprisingly few people discuss Ashby, the director. For example, I have seen these movies but never noted the director until I read this article in The Star Ledger.

Stephen Whitty also discusses a new biography about Ashby in this article. Being Hal Ashby by Nick Dawson profiles the director who had a contentious relationship with the studios and died at age 59 in 1988.

While it might not be the loudest movement in Hollywood, the rediscovery of Ashby’s work is something to be admired. I am currently reading Dawson’s biography and am looking forward to rewatching Ashby’s films with this fresh perspective.

Lauren Conrad is the next Virginia Woolf

Lauren Conrad, the star of the fake-reality show The Hills is now an author. Her first book is called L.A. Candy, the story of a girl who unexpectedly finds herself the star of a reality show. Gee. I wonder where she got that brilliant idea. 

It irks me that this girl who about as much personality as tofu has gotten so many perks from that craptastic reality show. I understand why it is this way. But it is incredibly frustrating when you’re actually working towards something and then this girl who has done nothing except star on reality shows and “go to fashion school” gets a three-book deal. And she can’t even come up with an original story.

No flames for ‘Flames’: Discovering Sedaris

This summer I decided I liked David Sedaris without having ever read a single word from one of his six collections of short stories. I don’t know why I did this, but it’s something that happens rather frequently. Usually once I decide that I’m interested in something, I watch or read everything I can find on the subject. Then miraculously I am not only an expert on the subject but I actually enjoy my chosen area of expertise.

What I did not prepare for, however, was not enjoying Sedaris’s Me Talk Pretty One Day while I was in Boston, riding the T. I accredit this surprising occurrence to the fact that I had also decided to like the T before ever riding it. If there is one thing I have learned from this habit, it is that my chosen “interests” should never be combined.

Perplexed but undeterred, I told myself again: I am going to like David Sedaris. This is why I then read his other works and his most recent collection of essays, When You Are Engulfed in Flames. And somewhere in between Harvard Avenue and South Hadley, I found out that I really do enjoy Sedaris and his reflections on seemingly mundane subjects.

As in Sedaris’s earlier collections, the essays in Flames focus on those he knows best—his family, his boyfriend Hugh and his friends. With Sedaris’s distinctive storytelling ability that blends keen observations with unmatched humor, these very real people become characters and in essence the glue that holds his works together. But it is Sedaris himself who becomes his stories’ best character, whether he is central to story’s plot (That’s Amore) or just the narrator (Buddy, Can You Spare a Tie?).

Then there are stories about the people who change your life, such as a traumatizing childhood babysitter (The Understudy) or an irritating airplane seatmate (Solution to Saturday’s Puzzle).

Sedaris’s storytelling skills are at their best when he recounts his attempts to quit smoking over a stay in Japan in Flames’ final essay, The Smoking Section. In this three-part story, the author describes his life as a smoker with the brand of humor that has become the Sedaris standard. It is his uncanny ability to tell his personal stories in a way that at once feels familiar and reminds us to see the lighter side of life.

Flames is yet another excellent compilation of humor writing by the one and only Sedaris. Having read six of his essay collections in the last three months, I can finally vouch for their worth. Sedaris’s writing is witty and hilarious while at the same time sentimental and touching.

Just never read his work while riding public transportation: although you might feel as though you are in one of his stories, it is not the way to truly appreciate Sedaris.

When You Are Engulfed in Flames
David Sedaris
323 pp. Little, Brown & Company.

Source: Mount Holyoke News, Books

Stamps Honor Early Black Cinema

This past Wednesday (July 16) the US Postal Service issued a stamp set that honors five early films in early Black Cinema.


Black and Tan – a 19-minute film released in 1929 featuring Duke Ellington and his Cotton Club Orchestra.

Caldonia – a 18 minute short films, which was released in 1945. It showcased singer, saxophonist and bandleader Louis Jordan.

Hallelujah – a 1929 movie released by MGM. It was one of the first films from a major studio to feature an all-black cast. Producer-director King Vidor was nominated for an Academy Award for his attempt to portray rural African-American life, especially religious experience.

Princess Tam-Tam – a 1935 film starring Josephine Baker as a simple African woman presented to Paris society as royalty.

The Sport of the Gods – a 1921 film based on the book by Paul Laurence Dunbar


Of the five, I’ve only seen Hallelujah. It is a bit difficult to watch as it is unlike any other early musical. It far more complex than the typical backstage musical of the twenties and thirties. Nevertheless, it is really worth seeing.

The history surrounding not only these films but all of early black cinema is simply fascinating, It one of the most rich, frustrating, and brilliant aspects of early American cinema and I encourage anyone to read about the subject.

In fact, you can begin with these two books:

Oscar Micheaux: The Great and Only: The Life of America’s First Black Filmmaker

Disintegrating the Musical: Black Performance and American Musical Film

Check This Out!

For decades, moviegoers have had a fascination with the deaths of Hollywood’s most glamorous. Cut! Hollywood Murders, Accidents, and other Tragedies takes a look at the deaths of various actors, actresses, movie moguls, singers, and directors. It features stories about James Dean, Natalie Wood, Marilyn Monroe, Irving Thalberg, Lon Chaney and every one in between.

Here is the back cover excerpt:

For over 100 years, many movie makers have a sought to explore the worst facets of human nature in their films. But in the strange world of Hollywood, sordid scandals and gruesome deaths are not limited to the silver screen. Celebrities have met their maker at the hand of murderers, and from drug overdoses, car accidents, and suicide — some going out in a flash of brilliance at the height of their career, while others faded into obscurity before dying, sad and alone.

From the premature demise of some of Hollywood’s brightest child stars to the terrible accidents that have occurred on film sets, Cut! features gripping true stories of death and despair in Hollywood. Hundreds of color and duotone images accompany the intriguing text, which includes quotes, fascinating facts, and information about the final resting places of the stars. Cut! is the definitive volume on the fleeting lives and sudden deaths of Hollywood actors and actresses, many of whom became more famous in death than they ever were in life.

Check it out. It is a fascinating read.