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Hal Ashby's "Lookin to Get Out" finally gets out on DVD

Burt Young told me how excited he was to finally see Hal's version.

Hal Ashby's "Lookin' to Get Out" screened last night at the UCLA Billy WIlder Theatre

We saw this film at CineVegas, where we met writer Al Swartz, along with his co-writer Jon Voight. When I saw Jon, Sunday at the LA film festival award brunch, he invited us to see the film again last night at the UCLA Billy Wilder Theatre. During his introduction Jon announced that he wanted to sit in Billy Wilder's seat. Billy used to watch all his dailies in this theatre, and Jon felt the presence of Billy and Hal Ashby last night and his daughter was in the audience. This director's cut of the film had been recently rediscovered in the UCLA archive by author Nick Dawson during research for his new book Being Hal Ashby. Al Swartz shared how he had written 30 pages of a script, based on his own story about a gambler who goes back to Vegas to escape New York city. He was "lookin' to get out" of town and escape the two thugs chasing him down for money owed, from a poker game "last night which became today because that was yesterday".

Al who had spent years working in the music business gave his thirty pages script to musician Chip Taylor, Jon's brother. Chip passed them on to Jon who was making Coming Home with Hal Ashby at the time. Jon was captivated by the story and he wound up co-writing the script with Al over a two year period. After Jon won the Academy Award for his performance in Coming Home, in which he co-starred with Jane Fonda, he concentrated on getting this film made.

Jon and Haskell Wexler, who shot this film and many others with Hal, discussed examples of how Hal worked. Haskell said they made Coming Home as a statement about not just Vietnam but about war in general. Jon explained that Hal allowed actors to work out their roles and be natural and faithful to the script. He allowed them the freedom to go with their instincts and Hal had the ability to always find the position in any controversy that was right for the film.

Jon said Haskell and Hal had a very quiet approach to filmmaking, as they hardly spoke to each other, or the actors, they were just geniuses. Jon said he knew he wanted Ann Margaret and Burt for the parts, and Hal agreed and said go get them. Ann Margaret, still beautiful, commented that "Hal was just the sweetest man, he was so kind and gentle to work with". Burt Young (Rocky, Chinatown) said he ran into Jon on a studio lot, and Jon told him he needed a strong solid actor who could kick him off the stage with his skill. Jon asked him if he could do that, and Burt said yes, and got the part of Jerry Feldman. Burt waved to legendary casting director Lynn Stallmaster in the audience, and said "it wasn't always that easy getting parts in pictures, but Lynn was always in his corner". Lynn told a story about how Hal had gone far beyond what Hollywood normally did when choosing one actor over another by bringing in his second choice so that he could personally encourage him to keep at it. The role of the young sailor being transported to prison in The Last Detail earned an Academy award nomination for Randy Quaid and the actor not chosen John Travolta then only 18 years old has gone on to become a major star as well and earned two Academy award nominations. Lynn said that was the way Hal was, he cared about people.

Along with the discovery of this version of the film Jon also discovered and met Hal's daughter,who had never met her dad. The part of the little girl in the film was originally to be played by Jon's son James, who was in the audience. But Hal wanted a little girl in the role, so it became Angelina Jolie's first part on screen at age seven. The little girl is fathered by Jon's character Alex, but after learning about her, he chooses for her to remain with her mother and her new father who can better care for her. Jon said he never knew that Hal even had a daughter until recently, but that part was surely him speaking to her. She said that she had always known that Hal was her Dad, but she only found her father through his movies and felt that he communicated with her through them. Jon shed more insight into Hal's relationship with her and this is probably made more clear in Dawson's book.

It is wonderful that this lost piece of work can be added to the great careers of all involved as part of their legacy. The Las Vegas in the film was created from the imagination of the great art director Robert Boyle who very soon will be 100 years old and is still working. Most of the film was actually shot on stages in Los Angeles.

Curtis Hansen, (LA Confidential) moderated the panel and said this screening had been a part of a larger retrospective of Hal Ashby's work. Jon said he felt Curtis had Hal's type of talent. Jon said "Hal surrounded himself with people he loved, and loved to work with, and those that knew him felt he was like a brother". Today the film is being released on Warner Home Video on DVD with a companion documentary. Now the entire world can experience this lost Hal Ashby film that hasn't been available in over 25 years and never before in the director's cut. All of the actor's and crew present were thrilled with the film in this version. It was amazing how many of them were present at the screening.
by Marla Lewin
The Global Film Village:

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