Customer Reviews: Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood
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1939 may have been Hollywood's high watermark for classic filmmaking, but 1967 was ostensibly the year Hollywood grew up, the turning point when the old guard faced off with the new mavericks in dominating not only the year's box office but also the year-end critical accolades. Entertainment Weekly columnist Mark Harris cleverly and incisively looks at the five diverse films that made up the Best Picture Oscar race that year and dissects each one from development to the Oscar ceremony the following spring - The Graduate,Bonnie and Clyde,Guess Who's Coming to Dinner,Doctor Dolittle, and the eventual winner, In the Heat of the Night. His meticulous research feels thorough, lending a surprisingly cohesive picture of an industry in flux between the aging, out-of-touch moguls unable to forecast film-going tastes and the revolutionary novices, influenced by the European New Wave, abandoning a studio system in collapse.

Instead of tracing these films individually, the author looks more holistically at the middle of the decade when a diverse array of people concurrently faced a multitude of challenges in getting their pictures made. Many have been interviewed extensively for the book, and it becomes readily apparent why these five films epitomize the revolution when you see who the directors behind them. Mike Nichols and Arthur Penn, who directed "The Graduate" and "Bonnie and Clyde" respectively, were relative neophytes who challenged studio thinking with their groundbreaking films. On the other side of the spectrum were two veterans - Stanley Kramer, who reunited legendary icons Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn in their final pairing, the superficially controversial "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?"; and Richard Fleischer, who tried to replicate the success of My Fair Lady and The Sound of Music, with his big-budget disaster, "Doctor Dolittle". In between them was Norman Jewison, a studio journeyman with aspirations to become a more serious director. He found his opportunity with the racially-charged crime drama, "In the Heat of the Night", which among the five movies, best represented a balance between the two ends of the filmmaking spectrum.

Other key figures dominate Harris' narrative, such as screenwriters Robert Benton, David Newman and Robert Towne, who turned "Bonnie and Clyde" from a conventional gangster picture into an incisive character study that fluidly alternated laughs with visceral moments of violence. Obviously, actor-producer Warren Beatty figures prominently with that seminal film, especially in removing Clyde's bisexual orientation from the script and in casting his co-star, which became a Scarlett-level search among Hollywood's hottest actresses at the time. Natalie Wood, Jane Fonda, Tuesday Weld and even Beatty's sister Shirley MacLaine were under serious consideration before a relatively inexperienced Faye Dunaway landed her breakthrough role. Fleischer, producer Arthur P. Jacobs and an especially irascible Rex Harrison could not help but be weighed down by all the setbacks that befell "Doctor Dolittle" from uncooperative animals to wrong-headed studio thinking resulting in an overly grandiose 2 ½-hour epic presented with fanfare in road-show engagements.

Casting on "The Graduate" turned out to be one of the biggest challenges as the original choices for Mrs. Robinson and Benjamin Braddock were, believe it or not, Doris Day and Robert Redford. While curious in hindsight, it was fortunate that Nichols and producer Lawrence Turman finally selected Anne Bancroft and a then-unknown Dustin Hoffman for the roles. Tracy's frail health was the ongoing concern during the production of "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner", as Kramer was able to maneuver around studio concerns over a movie about a pending interracial marriage. Intriguingly, Sidney Poitier turns out to be an important figure in three of the five films. He stars in "In the Heat of the Night" and "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner", and he was also being lured to play a minor role in "Doctor Dolittle" until it became apparent that ongoing production delays eliminated this possibility. An unexpected box office draw at a time when racial tensions were escalating, Poitier turned into a lightning rod for both whites and blacks in terms of what was expected of him as a role model.

Old gossip and silver screen trivia are not Harris' priorities here as he provides a thoughtful overview of the industry from a business and societal standpoint. He vividly shows a country engrossed in racial tensions and agitation over the war in Vietnam. The author also brings to light the antiquated censorship tool of the Production Code. Nonetheless, it's the focus on the fascinating personalities involved that makes the book a must-read for cinema-philes. A prime example is his detailed description of a 1965 Fourth of July party hosted by Fonda and her husband-to-be Roger Vadim. Old and new Hollywood were in attendance and holding court in their respective corners, as her father Henry and Gene Kelly were mingling with the likes of Beatty and Dennis Hopper. Toying with Mussorgsky's famous multi-piece piano suite, Pictures at an Exhibition, to come up with the book's apt title, Harris has done a superb job of showing how movies are a true reflection of our cultural history.
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on February 16, 2008
Mr. Harris has taken the five Best Picture nominees for the 1967 Oscars and pin-point that year as the fall of the studios. Two films dealt with racism ("Guess Who's Is Coming To Dinner," and "In the Heat of the Night") in very differnet ways, one with sexuality and changing morals ("The Graduate"), another with amoral violence ("Bonnie and Cycle") while the last picture attempted to be another Hollywood musical ("Dr. Dolittle.") This was the year that independent film-making and European influences reached a critical mass against the static studio machine.

Ironically Sidney Poitier was shut out for a Best Actor Oscar with three brilliant performances, two of them in the Best Picture category. These little tidbits are found in the book that follows the five movies from pre-production to the Oscar. The narrative is quite readable and the behind the scenes stories are interesting and amusing. Mr. Harris should pick out other landmark years and repeat the process. This book is a must for any movie fan.
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on February 24, 2008
I am a bit of Hollywood history buff and it is wonderful having a number of books on the subject out right now (check out Misfits Country). In this well written and excellently researched book the author takes the reader back to 1967 and analyzes the five nominees for best picture and there reflection and effects on society in at that momentous time of change. The Movies are: "The Graduate (40th Anniversary Collector's Edition)," "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (40th Anniversary Edition)," "Bonnie and Clyde," "In the Heat of the Night (40th Anniversary Collector's Edition)" and "Doctor Dolittle." Aside from being a great walk down memory lane it is also full of insightful social commentary. The sixties were a special time of social change and the movies and the movies of that decade reflected and effected this change on so many levels. I would love to see the author expand on this in another book that might take on the best movies of the decade. And do try Misfits Country an excellent read that is a behind the scenes look at the making of the classic movie The Misfits!
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on October 17, 2008
This is a very impressive book. Great concept, great research, all very well woven together to create an engrossing picture of an industry and a period which are sometimes unfathomable to the layman. As an industry veteran, and as someone who was marginally involved in some of the movies discussed here, I congratulate Mr. Harris on a job well done.

HOWEVER: I am appalled a the sloppiness of the CD reading. Did anyone listen to it? Mr. Harris? Was there a producer? The numerous mis-pronunciations of names and places really made listening a very difficult experience:

Sidney Lummit?
Larry Tourman?
The Mad Woman of Shiloh?
Amy Archerd?
Cubby Brock-ohli?

And on and on. Numerous egregious errors. If only the reader had done his homework. And if only someone had listened to the finished product. Shameful - particularly because the reader has a very appealing voice and delivery.
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on March 6, 2008
Mark Harris has written what is sure to be considered a masterwork of film analysis...tracking the five films nominated for the 1967 Best Picture Oscar from infancy to (in at least a couple cases) infamy. With access to many of the actual players (Warren Beatty, Dustin Hoffman, Mike Nichols, Dick Zanuck, etc), Harris creates a credible, highly entertaining book chock full of information not necessarily known before to the general public (Truffaut AND Godard were on the cusp of directing Bonnie & New Jersey!)

Surely anyone interested in what was going on culturally & politically in the late 60s would find the book informative. It's a well thought-out blend of both.
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on June 29, 2013
At 496 pages, this may seem like a daunting read. However, the style of writing makes it easy for those folks who generally don't read to get into. It's got a lot of fun anecdotes (Did you know Ava Gardner believed she didn't have the ability to become a great actress?). I recommend to film fans, but I also recommend this to folks with a casual interest in 60s cinema. In fact, I recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the 60s in general. I'm only 28. But two things I enjoy reading are history and film studies. There are a lot of film and history books that are overly analytic, pretentious, and swamped in big words and dull writing. This book is easy to read with good and entertaining. After reading it, I actually started to read the bios of the people back then. You'll learn a lot about Hollywood by reading this book. The first thing you'll learn is an almost 500 page book can be both informative and entertaining.
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on February 26, 2010
It's common these days to look back on the old studio system with nostalgia. This book is about the year it crashed and burned. Five Pictures at a Revolution is the story of how new independent directors competed with some of the old hands in 1967. As the author aptly puts it, "Warren Beatty who looked like a movie star, was a producer. Dustin Hoffman who looked like a producer, had become a movie star." "Sidney Poitier, who looked like no movie star had ever looked," was the biggest box office in history, and Hollywood didn't know what to do with him.

If you are old enough to remember the sputtering end of "old Hollywood," you might remember some of the dreadful movies it produced in those final years. Restricted by censorship, the system went crazy producing big budget musicals, James Bond spy films and Bible epics. Movie executives were out of touch with the mood of the country--which was mired in an unpopular war, the civil rights movement and a host of other causes. Despite huge dissatifaction within American society, Hollywood movies reflected little change. Then, in 1967 Dr. Doolittle competed with In the Heat of the Night, The Graduate, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and Bonnie and Clyde for Best Picture. What a year.

Mark Harris had access to many of the folks who worked on the five movies and he's a gifted storyteller and journalist. This is a great book for someone who wants to find out about how movies went from apolitical musicals, epics, thrillers and dramas to irreverent works by Woody Allen, Stephen Spielberg, Nora Ephron etc.
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on March 5, 2008
A highly readable account of how the five pictures nominated for best picture for 1967 came into being - with the thesis being that 1967 marked a transition as the last of the old Hollywood studio system came apart (e.g. Jack Warner sells Warner Bros and then retires) and the new Hollywood appears (e.g. Warren Beatty, 20-something rising new star decides to control his destiny by producing his own film).

One of the things the book makes clear is how small town much of Hollywood was -- and how, to some degree, it divided up by age (there's a story of a party that Jane Fonda holds and invites her father and his friends and her contemporaries -- and how the guests clustered in different places, and went home at different times, during the night). It also vividly explains the gestation of each move, and sketches how the movies represent various trends in Hollywood of the time.

The book is very readable and full of wonderful material. The only reason I don't rate it 5 stars is that it assumes that you've seen all five movies and remember them well enough to grasp why the discussion of a particular scene is important (I only remember three of the movies well enough and sometimes felt a bit lost in the discussions of the two [Bonnie & Clyde and Heat of the Night] that I didn't remember) and that you're film literate enough that a casual mention of a particular film title (Planet of Apes, Reds, etc.) will resonate and convey a message.
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In 1967, Hollywood gave the world, among many other movies, a musical flop from the git-go (DR. DOLITTLE), an earnest movie about race relations that many critics found dated upon its release (GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER?), a more contemporary tale of racial antagonism in the small-town South (IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT), a sex comedy/satire probably impossible under the old Hollywood Code (THE GRADUATE), and a gangster movie with a narrative and emotional shifts straight out of the French New Wave (BONNIE AND CLYDE). Never before or since have the cultures of Old Hollywood (studio-based, boss-driven) and New Hollywood (independent screenwriters and auteurist directors, location shooting) banged so solidly together. PICTURES AT A REVOLUTION by Mark Harris is a delightfully readable, fly-on-the-wall account of those five movies, their origin, the people behind the camera (Sidney Lumet, Stanley Kramer, Mike Nichols and others) and in front of the camera (Rex Harrison, Faye Dunaway, Dustin Hoffman, Rod Steiger, the indispensable but under-celebrated Sidney Poitier and others), and finally the jockeying among these five nominees for Best Picture Oscar that led to the one chosen. I have rarely enjoyed a making-of book so much and this one, detailing five makings-of in a rapidly changing Hollywood, is like five great books delightfully interwoven. Highly recommended.
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on February 17, 2008
i tore through this huge book in a couple of hours. god, the memories it brought back. i was 12 in 1967 but my very liberal parents took me to or let me see these movies and it was thrilling to read about them again. i loved them all except Doolittle and it was even fun in a Schadenfruede kind of way to read about that train wreck of a movie. Page after page of wonderful anecdotes about these movie that were able to derail the big studio system and for a brief while, Hollywood made strange and daring movies until Star Wars came around and destroyed the whole thing. But take a look at this years five nominees and you will have hope for movies as they are all worthy and good examples of smart movies getting made again. we need another revolution like the Graduate/Bonnie and Clyde thing and it might be happening with No Country/There Will be Blood movies.
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