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Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood Hardcover – February 14, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. While one might think that the films discussed in this book have been thoroughly plumbed (The Graduate; Bonnie and Clyde; In the Heat of the Night; Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?), Entertainment Weekly writer Harris offers his take in this thorough and engaging narrative. Instead of simply retelling old war stories about the production of these five Best Picture nominees at the 1968 Oscars, Harris tells a much wider story. Hollywood was on the brink of obsolescence throughout the 1960s as it faced artistic competition from European art films and financial implosion due to an outdated production system and rising budgets. Harris doesn't shy away from complexity in favor of easy answers, and the personalities that he profiles—among them Sidney Poitier, Mike Nichols, Warren Beatty and Richard Zanuck—are certainly worthy of the three dimensional approach. Harris also peppers his narrative with moments that capture the rising cultural tide that broke in the late '60s: chipping away at the moralistic Production Code, and Hollywood's inconsistent engagement with the Civil Rights movement are continuous sources of interest throughout this fascinating book. (Feb.)
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From Bookmarks Magazine
Mark Harris, a former editor for Entertainment Weekly, combines his remarkable knowledge of film history with interviews and research that capture the Zeitgeist of the late 1960s, particularly the cloistered, changing world of Hollywood. The films that challenged the industry’s expectations were, Harris writes, “game changers, movies that had originated far from Hollywood and had grown into critics’ darlings and major popular phenomena.” In the manner of Otto Friedrich’s City of Nets, Peter Biskind’s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, and Ethan Mordden’s Medium Cool, the author does an admirable job of bringing that “revolution” to life. Drawing on his deep knowledge and a sly sense of humor (and irony) about Hollywood’s quirkier side (witness an account of Jane Fonda’s Fourth of July party in 1965), he crafts what Charles Matthews deems “likely to be one of the classics of popular film history.”
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.
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As promised, "Pictures at a Revolution" does tell the stories of the five films nominated for the 1967 Best Picture award, from conception of the films through the awards night, with a quick "Where are they now?" (or more accurately, a "Where did they go immediately after?") section at the end. The organization is loosely chronological, swapping among the story lines of the movies in question. Since the films were only connected by their place in time (there was no common director or writer among the five, they weren't all from the same studio; that sort of thing), the interlacing of the stories does lead to a mental stop-start for the reader. But Harris's style keeps it all entertaining enough that it is well worth remembering just where "Dr. Dolittle" was when we last had a sighting of it.
The book has received high praise from other reviewers with deep knowledge of the industry and the art, and the good news is that those recommendations hold up for the casual reader. I give the book four stars rather than five because I, at least, did not come away with any new way of looking at that time in moviemaking or model for understanding it. Perhaps the word "Revolution" overpromises. Harris does a wonderful job of capturing the sense of the new and the sense of change that was afoot in 1968, as the awards were being given. The fact that following that landmark year some good "big" movies were made and many very bad "little" movies were released is undeniable. And in looking at those years, that may simply be a case of art imitating life: it felt like a revolution at the time.
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.