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Picture Paperback – June, 2002

4.2 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


NPR.org, 3/17/11

“You will never forget this book.”

The Week, Kenneth Turan’s “The Book List,” 7/4/14
“A terrific piece of journalism and a landmark in the history of American nonfiction writing.”

From the Inside Flap

When New Yorker staff writer Lillian Ross heard that John Huston was planning to make a film of Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage, she decided she would follow the movie's progress "in order to learn whatever I might learn about the American motion-picture industry." In the spring of 1950, Huston visited New York and called the young writer to say that progress was not smooth: "Come on over, kid, and I'll tell you all about the hassle."
"the funniest tragedy that I have ever read."
   William Shawn, then managing editor of The New Yorker, described Picture for the jacket of the first hardcover edition, writing: "On the surface, Miss Ross has written a precise, marvelously detailed account of how one motion-picture, The Red Badge of Courage, was made. Beyond that, exuberant, she has presented everything any sane person should want to know about how a big film studio functions. And beyond that, she has written what must be called, for lack of a more appropriate word, the definitive book on
the Hollywood community--its language, its manners, its preoccupations, its ideas. Last, she has
told a dramatic story about some extraordinary people, and, in a
triumph of interlineation, has
written a treatise on human nature."   Lillian Ross's marvelous description of John Huston's work and the film's subsequent fate at the hands of its studio bosses was first published as a serial in The New Yorker and was released in book form as Picture in 1952. It remains the best account of the inner workings of Hollywood. Picture received tremendous praise not only for the sheer quality of the writing but also for its technical innovation--the presentation of reporting as a novel. Picture received plaudits from the worlds of film and literature in equal measure. Charles Chaplin acclaimed it as "a brilliant and sagacious bit of reporting," and S. N. Behrman deemed it --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press; 2nd Printing edition (June 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0306811286
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306811289
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #413,579 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Lillian Ross, a writer for the New Yorker, heads to Hollywood in 1950 to watch John Huston make his next picture, "The Red Badge of Courage" at MGM, and manages to capture a horrifying snapshot of the studio system at its worst during a difficult time of transition for the film industry. She happens to be on hand to see Louis B. Mayer forced out and Dore Schary installed as studio head while the film is in mid-production. There are several scenes of Huston grinning and bearing it as Schary pompously lectures the great director of "The Maltese Falcon," "Treasure of the Sierra Madre" and "The African Queen" on how to make a movie. Schary pompously cites how he "solved story problems" in several of his own stodgy, now-forgotten pet projects as producer, like "The Next Voice You Hear." In one hillarious scene we see Arthur Freed, MGM's great producer of musicals, playing yes-man to Schary, and we glean, perhaps, how Freed, by appeasing the new boss, managed to keep some autonomy for his own expensive production unit through much of Schary's cost-cutting reign.
Then come the ill-conceived (or deliberately rigged) sneak previews. This serious war drama is screened at a local theater for an audience that came to see a Ginger Rogers romantic comedy, and the audience response is... (surprise!) vociferously negative. They find the film depressing, and many walk out. The old adage that new executives try to kill the projects put into the works by their predecessors may apply. Schary uses these preview results to justify having the movie re-cut while Huston is out of the country working on another film.
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Format: Paperback
Lillian Ross made her name with this New Yorker series about a half century ago. It was startling in its cynical and very humerous view of the self important and self delusional power players at MGM. With all that we have learned about this industry during the intervening 50 years the story has lost much of its potency, but is still a classic of the genre.

I read it in its original form all those years ago. It was a wonderful and hilarious read. But the protagonists, of course, were extremely upset and hated it. Happily,Lillian has survived; still writing for New Yorker.
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By A Customer on November 28, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Lillian Ross has given movie fans and those with a serious interest in film an extraordinary book about the final days of the studio system--and shows exactly why it collapsed. A few years later the independent film-maker emerged, and another book details that experience. Interestingly enough, both books deal with Audie Murphy. Like the Ross book, A THINKER'S DAMN by William Russo recounts the foibles of movie-making, this time in Saigon with Joe Mankiewicz in 1957. Each provides a timeless impression of a bygone movie era.
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The first third of the book is a rather sketchy (i.e. non-technical) description of John Huston and his producer going on location to film the movie, "The Red Badge of Courage". The remaining two-thirds of the book is a blow-for-blow description of how all the other studio executives re-cut, re-shot, re-arranged and otherwise muddled the initial vision of the director. John Huston had left for "African Queen" shooting in Africa and wasn't around to defend his original intent.

All the "Hollywood types" come across as the cliches you've seen again and again. The old-time boss, Mayer: "It's gotta have heart! Like the Andy Hardy movies!". The producer: "I was prepared for Art that was a commercial flop, but now it's just a flop". Everyone seems totally insecure, and totally afraid to defy the studio heads, and they live in fear of the comments made by a few on the preview cards filled in by special preview audiences.

By the end of the book you're pretty sick of all these characters and you begin to wonder what the point is.
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This is one of filmdom's best "Making Of" books. An unabashed fan of works like THE MAKING OF THE WIZARD OF OZ, I really don't know how I missed Lillian Ross's PICTURE for so long. In this moderate-sized book -- which began as five long articles for the NEW YORKER magazine -- Ms. Ross follows famed director John Huston in 1950 as he writes, readies and films an adaptation of Stephen Crane's Civil War novel, THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE. Huston already had a reputation as a perceptive director with a flair for seeing the drama within the ordinary, but this film posed challenges both in its making and in the clash of studio politics nearing its peak back at MGM headquarters. Outdoor temperatures when climactic battle scenes were filmed topped 105 degrees and in Culver City, Huston and others had to struggle with the mixed messages the company was sending about the film; Louis B. Mayer, still officially head of the studio, would not green-light the movie, but the rising Dore Schary as "head of production" did.

Film buffs can glean insights into how such a movie was filmed, but the real insight comes from the power struggle between Dore Schary and Louis B. Mayer, and the curiously self-justifying logic that set in when people were confronted with -- yet refused to fully face -- that this MGM movie was not going to be a classic. Even when director Huston's responsibilities were done and he headed to Africa to start on a new movie (an independent, far from MGM's control), the argle-bargle continued. Late in the book Mayer let his contract lapse and Schary took full control of the studio, now in the hands of MGM executives who, terrified by negative remarks at several previews, started tinkering with Huston's movie. Ms.
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