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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Devastating inside look at Hollywood
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...
Published on July 17, 2004 by Charles M. Howell

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Like watching sausage made!
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...
Published on October 8, 2012 by Charles Hall


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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Devastating inside look at Hollywood, July 17, 2004
By 
This review is from: Picture (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.
Anyone who suspects that there never was a golden age of Hollywood without inept executives and corporate committees will enjoy this book. You wonder how anything good ever gets made. Cynics will chuckle, film lovers will just shake their heads in sorrow. Of course, there is that other adage about not wanting to see how the sausage gets made...
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars GREAT IN ITS TI ME, May 11, 2005
This review is from: Picture (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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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars MORE THAN A MOVIE BOOK!, November 28, 1999
By A Customer
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Like watching sausage made!, October 8, 2012
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Charles Hall (Raleigh, NC USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Picture (Paperback)
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "I have a washbasin but no shower in my office. Dore has a shower but no bathtub. L.B. has a shower AND a bathtub." --, October 23, 2014
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This review is from: Picture (Paperback)
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. Ross's investigative technique was simple but brilliant: she took meticulous notes and quotes the principal players at length, essentially letting them impeach themselves. Since PICTURE reads like a novel, I consider it in the same vein as Truman Capote's "nonfiction novel" IN COLD BLOOD (1966) or its less well-known predecessor, THE MUSES ARE HEARD (1956), which profiled an American troupe's groundbreaking trip to the U.S.S.R. to present George Gershwin's opera PORGY AND BESS.

Although Ms. Ross does not inject overt humor into PICTURE, the post-production and publicity people at MGM do it for her, spouting off defensive optimism whose tenor changes from day to day depending on whose philosophy they were emulating. At book's end Ross visited the annual MGM stockholder's meeting in New York and met MGM corporation head Nick Schenck, to whom Mayer and Schary were both subordinate, who was totally unconcerned about the size of his office suite or even that his salary was less than L.B. Mayer's. In PICTURE, Lillian Ross has given us a fascinating document that still rests among the best of books on film and will provide some uncomfortable clues about why so many pictures from the Hollywood system seem to be ham-handedly edited, perhaps with the goal of appealing more to critics than the mass audience. Oh, and that picture John Huston "escaped" to Africa to film? It became The African Queen, a top-ranked movie without the ministrations of MGM or any other major studio here or abroad.

Other recommendations:

The Making of The Wizard of Oz;

Portraits and Observations (Modern Library), which includes THE MUSES ARE HEARD.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Masterpiece!, April 20, 2012
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E. Hunter Hale (Salt Lake City, UT) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Picture (Paperback)
I read PICTURE when it was first published as a young man very interested in filmmaking. Returning to it more then fifty years later it still remains the best behind the scenes story of making a film. It follows director John Huston as he attempts to bring to film THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE to the screen in a masterful way. No other book has captured the process of making a major film at a Hollywood studio in the detail that this book does. The cover of the 50th Anniversary Edition has the critical quote from Newsweek: "The Best Book On Hollywood Ever Published". That it is! Lillian Ross has authored an insiders look that is both entertaining and amazingly informative. If I were teaching a class on filmmaking this would be required reading along with a viewing the Huston film on DVD. If you a love for great films then you own it to yourself to get a hold of this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars RED BADGE OF COURAGE, February 17, 2009
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This review is from: Picture (Paperback)
I FOUND THE BOOK TO BE A FASCINATING , BLOW-BY-BLOW ACCOUNT OF HOW THIS MEMORABLE BUT OVERLOOKED FILM WAS MADE. I HAVE THE MOVIE ON DVR AND CAN WATCH THE SCENES AS SHE DESCRIBES WHAT IS GOING ON BEHIND THE CAMERA IN THE BOOK. THE BOOK LEFT ME WITH A SENSE OF LOSS , BECAUSE OF THE DESCRIPTIONS OF ALL THE MEMORABLE FOOTAGE THAT WAS CUT, AND IS NOW LOST. HER DEPICTIONS OF THE KEY INDIVIDUALS INVOLVED IN THE MAKING OF THIS MOVIE , FROM PRODUCER , PLAYERS , STUDIO HEADS AND ALL OTHERS INVOVLED IN MAKING THIS MOVIE IS FASCINATING.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Biography of a Movie, October 6, 2011
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C. C. Black (Princeton, NJ USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Picture (Paperback)
I can add little to the accolades already assembled here, save that Ross's "Picture" fulfilled every promise I had read of it. It's ironic that her report of the making of John Huston's "The Red Badge of Courage" artistically surpassed the movie itself. For journalists, film buffs, and anyone who loves clean prose, this is a classic work: a bittersweet valentine to a Hollywood that no longer exists.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A well written first-hand account of how a movie is made., May 12, 1999
By A Customer
An entire book on the creation of John Huston's "The Red Badge of Courage." What's most amazing is that Ross seems to be a fly on the wall. She attends big meetings with Hollywood execs. She is along with the gang during casting, shooting, editing, and previews. This is reporting like reporting was meant to be. It is such a good first-hand account, that people uninterested in movies will find favor with it.
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3.0 out of 5 stars OK, but not as good as the glowing reviews, May 8, 2014
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This review is from: Picture (Paperback)
I enjoy books about the motion picture business in the 1900s -- at least up to mid-century.

This book got glowing reviews, so I bought it. I didn't enjoy it very much, so I didn't bother to finish it. After starting to read it, I also remembered that I had bought a copy some years ago -- and didn't enjoy it then either.

I thought it moved pretty slowly, even though it is a small book. I have read several much longer books -- biographies of major players in the motion picture industry -- and enjoyed them to the last page. It seems like I should have enjoyed this one, but I didn't.
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Picture by Lillian Ross (Paperback - June 2002)
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