Ashby. Ashby is an important figure in the American New Wave of the 1970’s or the “New Hollywood”. Look at his seven first films below, an extraordinary run, and he stays in the decade. He would pass away in the 1980’s at a young age (59) and had some issues before that essentially stopped his streak—but these are justifiably iconic films. For the purposes of this list he’s hurt by the fact that only one of his seven films landed in the top 100 of the 1970’s (though 4-5 others are between 101-150 I’d guess). He came up as an editor (In the Heat of the Night- Oscar win for editing and how about his work in 1968’s The Thomas Crown Affair?) and his work here as director, indeed, is immaculately edited.
Best film: Harold and Maude. A visually audacious comedy with memorable contributions from Ruth Gordon and Cat Stevens (I can’t picture the movie without those two) but its Ashby we have to thank for the artful compositions like this below and that memorable opening long-take.
total archiveable films: 7
top 100 films: 0
top 500 films: 1 (Harold and Maude)
top 100 films of the decade: 1 (Harold and Maude)
most overrated: Being There is an insightful critique and statement on society. It gives us one of Peter Sellers’ best performances and this shot is one of Ashby’s five greatest single images. But, I can’t quite get behind the TSPDT consensus ranking which is #556. I’d have it a couple hundred slots below that at least.
most underrated: Bound for Glory
- Most notable for the first use of Steadicam- and it is an incredible shot tracking from behind through a massive crowd- great shot
- Almost feels like a remake of Grapes of Wrath
- The yellow glaze dustbowl photography is stunning- early precursor to Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate and Malick’s Days of Heaven
- Like all Ashby films the editing is just superb- careful dissolves
- The Steadicam and camerawork really is a perfect match for the breeziness of both the narrative and Woody’s life and ethos
- Highly Recommend- HR- top 10 film of 1976 towards the back end of the top 10
gem I want to spotlight : Shampoo. It is easy to laugh at it now with the period-specific fashion and hair but there’s an excellent film underneath all that. Warren Beatty does the impossible and gives a good performance portraying a truly dumb person (he did this in Bonnie and Clyde, too)—we have Ashby’s editing to piece it all together and that soundtrack is incredible—especially the use of The Beatles.
stylistic innovations/traits: Sociopolitical films to capture the 1970’s, the Vietnam era complete with drugs and Rock N Roll (music is incredibly important to Ashby’s body of work). Ashby’s an editor by trade, and the dissolves in Bound for Glory, The Last Detail– especially- are worthy of high praise. There are some very nice mise-en-scene landscapes in his oeuvre like the stunner in Harold and Maude (above) and the iconic shot of Carradine on the train in Bound for Glory and when talking style you have to mention the use of the Steadicam tracking shots in Bound for Glory.
- Harold and Maude
- Bound for Glory
- The Last Detail
- Being There
- Coming Home
- The Landlord
By year and grades
|1970- The Landlord
|1971- Harold and Maude
|1973- The Last Detail
|1976- Bound For Glory
|1978- Coming Home
|1979- Being There
*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film
MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film
HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film
R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives