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June 29, 2009


Event Review by Don Rose

It was the perfect coda to the just-ended LA Film Festival. Officially, the Hammer Museum event was billed as a screening of LOOKIN' TO GET OUT, the 1982 film directed by Hal Ashby. By the time it took place, the night had blossomed into an all-star tribute to the late director -- another triumph for UCLA's "Archive Treasures", which "showcases works from the UCLA Film & Television Archive's extensive collection, ... rarely screened gems presented in original and restored prints." The packed audience on June 29 enjoyed the first public screening of a director's cut of Lookin' to Get Out with never-before-seen footage put back in. Recently discovered at the Archive by Nick Dawson - author of "Being Hal Ashby: Life of a Hollywood Rebel" - this version represents Ashby's original, intended cut before Lorimar Productions took control of the film and released its own version in theaters 27 years ago. This version reveals Ashby, an Oscar-winning editor (In The Heat of the Night) and director (Coming Home), working at the top of his game, and will make its Warner Home Video DVD debut on Tuesday, June 30.


Starring Jon Voight, who co-wrote the script with Alan Schwartz, Lookin' to Get Out follows "beautiful losers" Alex (Voight) and Jerry (Burt Young), who flee New York for Las Vegas with two vicious loan sharks on their tail. After Alex scams their way into a penthouse at the MGM Grand and a stack of chips on credit -- with the unwitting help of Alex's ex-girlfriend (Ann-Margret) -- the two buddies set their sights on the big score but fate comes calling. On his fourth outing with cinematographer Haskell Wexler, Ashby revels in exposing the glittering facades of Vegas, but where his most celebrated films engage the larger zeitgeist through irony and humor, here Ashby narrows focus to burrow deep into the nature of personal loyalty and friendship. As the obsessive-compulsive gambler Alex, Voight delivers a fun, lively, energetic performance that pairs well with Young's understated Jerry. Voight says this of the discovery of the new extended version: "For various reasons, the film we released didn't really represent Hal's best work. I knew every version of the script and every cut, so I was understandably excited when I heard about this, yet I also didn't want to be disappointed. But when I saw it, I knew instantly it had Hal's touch. The way he took all the elements and made it his own, it was almost like we were working together again. When Hal Ashby cut his films himself, it was magic.

The trajectory of Ashby's career turns sharply from the phenomenal promise and success of the 1970s -- The Landlord, Harold and Maude, The Last Detail, Coming Home, Being There -- to the self-destruction and decline of the 1980s. The special screening on June 29 presented a version of Lookin' to Get Out that adds a wrinkle to this critical divide between Ashby's early and later works. The film also has the distinction of featuring a very young Angelina Jolie, Voight's daughter, in her acting debut - as the daughter of Voight's character.

The Ashby evening at the Hammer was wonderful all around. It began with a reception and book signing by Ashby biographer Dawson in the courtyard. Then everyone moved to the Billy Wilder Theatre, where Voight shared a few heartfelt comments before the film. After the screening, one of the best panels ever gathered at the Hammer took the stage, an all-star reunion of the film's primary creative forces: actor/screenwriter Voight; co-screenwriter Schwartz; actress Ann-Margret; actor Young; and cinematographer Wexler. Dawson also joined the panel, which was moderated by screenwriter-director Curtis Hanson. Other actors and creatives involved with this film and other Ashby works were in attendance, and Voight asked them to stand up and receive recognition; to my surprise, it seemed like half the audience stood up. Legendary casting director Lynn Stalmaster was there, who said a few words, as did Ashby's daughter; three other main actors from Lookin' to Get Out (the loan sharks and the casino owner) were also in the audience, as was Voight's son.

LOOKIN' TO GET OUT (1982). Directed by Hal Ashby. Lorimar Productions. Producer: Robert Schaffel, Edward Teets. Screenplay: Al Schwartz, Jon Voight. Cinematographer: Haskell Wexler. Cast: Jon Voight, Ann-Margret , Burt Young, Bert Remsen, Jude Farese. HDcam, 105 min. Extended version released by Warner Home Video on DVD Tuesday, June 30, 2009.