“Pictures at a Revolution” by Mark Harris

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Easily one of the Top 5 best books I’ve read about American film history is Mark Harris’s terrific 2008 tome “Pictures at a Revolution.”  “Pictures” focuses on the five films nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1967 and through chronicling the genesis, production, and release of these films, Harris makes a strong argument that this was the tipping point between the Hollywood of old and the “new Hollywood” that emerged in the 1970s.  If you enjoyed Peter Biskind’s seminal 1970s Hollywood chronicle “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls,” “Pictures” is a worthy prequel and, arguably, just as complex and readable as Biskind’s famous book.

However, please note that while Harris focuses extensively on the five Best Picture nominees of 1967 (“Bonnie and Clyde,” “Dr. Doolittle,” “The Graduate,” “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” and “In the Heat of the Night”), this isn’t the limit of the tale that “Pictures” tells.   Harris paints vivid portraits of the creative forces behind these films (Mike Nichols, Warren Beatty, Arthur Penn, Stanley Kramer, Sidney Poitier, Rod Steiger, Norman Jewison, Rex Harrison, Faye Dunaway, Francois Trauffaut, Buck Henry, Katherine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Anne Bancroft, and Joseph E. Levine among several others) as well as other films from the era that were also making a huge impact (“Jules and Jim,” “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” “Blow Up,” “The Sound of Music,” “My Fair Lady,” “A Patch of Blue” among several others).   While “Pictures” may not be as gossipy as Biskind’s classic, it serves as a wonderfully entertaining social history of how 1960s Hollywood reflected (and in many cases, resisted) the cultural changes that swept the nation during that tumultuous decade.  If you have any interest at all in film or social/cultural history, Harris’s book is a must-read.

Favorite anecdote:  Warren Beatty is showing “Bonnie and Clyde” to Warner Brothers studio head Jack Warner.  Warner advised that if he has to get up to go to the bathroom, the picture will not work.  Warner excused himself three times to use the restroom.  At the end of the screening, Warner advised that the film was terrible because it was “a three-piss picture.” Beatty tried to flatter Warner by saying that “Bonnie and Clyde” was an homage to the gangster movies that made Warner Brothers a huge success in the 1930s.  Warner’s reply: “What the f–k’s an ‘homage’?”

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“Short Cuts” (1993) dir. Robert Altman

My favorite film of 1993 (aside from Tony Scott’s Quentin Tarantino-scripted “True Romance), was Robert Altman’s “Short Cuts.”  “Short Cuts” is a devastating 3 hour-plus epic about the damaged lives of multiple souls in the “City of Angels,” circa 1993.   The movie complies several short stories by Raymond Carver and intersects the stories, so that the characters of each story interact with each other at various times for various reasons.  It shows the randomness of life and how all of our actions (no matter how small) can have an impact on the world around us.   Seeing it during a not-so-great point in my life, the film hit me like a brick to the face and I was shaken for days.  This is not to say the film lacks humor.  The movie is oftentimes hysterically funny, albeit in a very dark way.  It also features brilliant performances by a diverse, all-star cast, including Tim Robbins, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Robert Downey Jr., Chris Penn, Fred Ward, Tom Waits, Anne Archer, Madeline Stowe, Jack Lemmon, Andie McDowell, Lily Tomlin, Lili Taylor, Frances McDormand, Buck Henry, Annie Ross, Lori Singer, Matthew Modine, Julianne Moore, and several others.

“Short Cuts” was Altman’s ultra-ambitious follow-up to his 1992 comeback film “The Player.”  However, unlike “The Player,” “Short Cuts” didn’t fare too well at the box office.  Despite this, “Short Cuts” was on many Top 10 lists and Altman was nominated for an Oscar for Best Director.   While I enjoy “The Player,” “Short Cuts” is a far better film and its influence has grown tremendously over the years and its format about multiple characters/stories intersecting has resulted in some great films (P.T. Anderson’s “Magnolia”) and not-so-great (Paul Haggis’s “Crash”).  An underrated masterpiece and my all-time favorite Robert Altman film.