I have heard of Hal Ashby a long time ago, and remember watching the beginning of 'Being There,' but like most movies, I never got around to finishing it. Over my spring break and this week I watched both 'Harold and Maude' and 'Being There.' My initial impressions are that those two films are brilliantly conceived. Ashby is an absolute master at incorporating music into his films. The editing style in both films is lead by the music, and everything is paced incredibly well. There's a scene in 'Being There' where Chance the gardener (Peter Sellers) leaves the home he's been living in for his entire life. The sequence plays out very much like a music video. The music is a mix, incorporating some electronic and the 2001: A Space Odyssey famous build up.
I think a fair measure of an intelligent artist isn't so much what you put into the film, but what you leave out. Ashby is incredibly disciplined when it comes to oversaturating his film with gratuitous cutting or sound. He simply lets the performances lead the direction of the film. And I should mention that the performances he was able to elicit were some of the most unique, fun and interesting I'd seen in any movie. There's such incredible chemistry between actors, and the casting is just perfect in both films. I think it's a testament to the comfortability of the actors on set, and their relationship with Ashby.
I've been thinking lately about the functionality of certain scenes in a film, and the purpose of dialogue and what that means in the context of the character. It's hard to pick up the complete purpose in one viewing, at least for me right now, but more than often I find that the joke I laughed at earlier on has a much more meaningful purpose than simply getting the audience to laugh. I think the brilliance of a good writer comes from masking purpose in completely character driven dialogue. The dialogue doesn't even have to be pertinent to the situation, as long as it says something about the character and his mind set.
This leads to another point. Every scene has beats. Each scene is composed, and when I say composed I mean staged, written, and acted out, to pit two or more characters against each other. I would say that every scene has to have a direction, that increases the stakes in some manner. In dramatic writing, every scene needs a context, establish an element of anticipation, and then release it, but maybe not entirely. I watched 'Ivan's Childhood' over the break, and remember being incredibly aware of where the writer was taking me. I didn't know where, but I was going somewhere, and the charcter's were the medium by which I was taken there.
A scene from Ivan's ChildhoodAshby is incredibly aware of the audience. He makes his films at two different levels, I think. The first level is the completely superficial one-viewing in the theater, and the other level is the potential second, third, and fourth viewings at which point the audience can pick up the various levels of complexity in the film. Overall, I enjoyed the film's very much.