This down-and-dirty romp through Hollywood in the 1970s introduces the young filmmakers--Coppola, Scorsese, Lucas, Spielberg, Altman, and Beatty--and recreates an era that transformed American culture forever.
Peter Biskind is a cultural critic and film historian. He was the editor-in-chief of American Film magazine from 1981 to 1986, and the executive editor of Premiere from 1986 to 1996. His writing has appeared in scores of national publications, including Rolling Stone, Paris Match, the Nation, The New York Times, the Times of London, and the Los Angeles Times, as well as film journals such as Sight and Sound and Film Quarterly. He is now a contributing editor for Vanity Fair. He has published six books: Seeing Is Believing: How Hollywood Taught Us to Stop Worrying and Love the Fifties (1983); The Godfather Companion (1990); Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex, Drugs, and Rock 'n' Roll Generation Saved Hollywood (1998); Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance, and the Rise of Independent Film (1998); Gods and Monsters: Thirty Years of Writing on Film and Culture from One of America's Most Incisive Writers (2004); and Star: How Warren Beatty Seduced America (2010).
However much is true, however much really happened that way, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How The Sex 'N' Drugs 'N' Rock 'N' Generation Saved Hollywood by Peter Biskind remains one of my favorite non-fiction reads. For those who hear "film history" and think Titanic, in 1967, the major American film studios were in such disarray and the counterculture seemed to be overturning conventions with such speed that a new generation of filmmakers, by and large under the age of 30, (and universally white males), briefly seized the controls. This director-driven era of American film lasted ten years and generated such groundbreaking pictures as:
Easy Rider, M*A*S*H, The Last Picture Show, The Godfather, American Graffiti, The Exorcist, Mean Streets, Chinatown, Jaws, Shampoo, Taxi Driver, Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Apocalypse Now and Raging Bull. Biskind, the former executive editor of Premiere magazine goes behind the scenes of each film and others to explore the creative hubris that resulted in these ever being made and the personal hubris that destroyed the careers of many involved, as well as ultimately turning control from the artisans back over to the financiers.
Some choice excerpts:
-- [Peter] Fonda's call couldn't have come at a better moment for [Dennis] Hopper. He had hit rock bottom. A wild and disheveled sometime actor, talented photographer, and pioneering collector of Pop Art, a former pal and acolyte of James Dean, whom he had met on the set of Rebel Without a Cause, Hopper had been blackballed for crossing swords with director Henry Hathaway. He was in the habit of buttonholing studio types at parties and hectoring them about the industry--it was rotting from within, it was dead--the Ancient Mariner on acid. He kept saying, "Heads are going to roll, the old order is going to fall, all you dinosaurs are going to die." He argued that Hollywood had to be run on socialist principles, that what was needed was an infusion of money channeled to young people like himself. He recalled, "I was desperate. I'd nail a producer in a corner and demand to know, 'Why am I not directing? Why am I not acting?' Who wants to deal with a maniac like that?" They smirked, moved away.
-- Now that The Last Picture Show was happening, Bogdanovich finally got around to reading the book. Peter was in a funk. He was a New York boy, what did he know from small town Texas? Polly [Platt] liked the book because it spoke to her experience growing up in the Midwest. "There were all these movies about this, but they were all fake," she says, "Everything that's in that book, the taking off of the bra, hanging it on the car mirror, the hands that were cold and the girl who would only let him touch her tits, just barely getting your hand up this girl's leg, were experiences I'd had as a young woman. There were parts of the woman's body that were completely off limits in America. These were things that it was just impossible to show in Hollywood films, whereas in European films, like Blow-Up, you saw pubic hair."
-- Most films used professional extras; the same faces would turn up again and again, looking like cookie cutouts. Francis didn't want to use professionals, because he didn't want The Godfather to look like other movies. He wanted the faces to look authentic, so he spent a lot of time casting the extras. Says [Gray] Frederickson, "That was not the way Hollywood had ever done things before, and it freaked them out. Extras were extras. To the studio, it was just time wasted." The day they shot Clemenza with the cannoli, Jack Ballard, Paramount's head of physical production, told Francis, "If you don't finish on time today, you're not gonna come to work tomorrow." Rumors flew that, indeed, Coppola was going to be fired.
-- Usually, when studio executives screen a picture, they exit without comment. After Ashley, Calley, and Wells saw The Exorcist for the first time, they just sat there, dumbfounded. Calley asked, rhetorically, "What in the fuck did we just see?" They loved it, but did not know what they had, and decided to release it in no more than thirty theaters, where it was to play exclusively for six months, a terrible release pattern for a potential blockbuster, as The Godfather had shown. Nor did Warners preview the picture. They were afraid to. Says [William] Friedkin, "If The Exorcist had previewed it would have never come out. 'Cause people would have written on the cards, 'This is terrible, you have a little girl masturbating with a crucifix, you dirty Jew bastard.' Those were the kind of notes we got anyway, afterward. But if we'd gotten them before, they would have died."
-- Meanwhile, [Paul] Schrader continued to write furiously. He desperately wanted to direct. "Somewhere in between how Obsession and Yakuza turned out I realized that if you were a critic or a novelist, you lived by your words," he says. "When you're a screenwriter, that didn't happen. You're half an artist. If you wanted to be in control of your own life, you had to be a filmmaker." He rewrote the Taxi Driver script, wanted it to be an American Notes from the Underground, an American Pickpocket. He read the diary of Arthur Bremer, the man who shot George Wallace. One night, in a New York hotel, he picked up a girl in a bar. When he got her to his room, he realized that she was "1. a hooker, 2. underage, and 3. a junkie. At the end of the night, I sent Marty [Scorsese] a note saying, 'Iris is in my room. We're having breakfast at nine. Will you please join us?' A lot of the character of Iris was rewritten from this girl who had the concentration span of about twenty seconds."
-- Lucas felt he was ready to screen Star Wars. The special effects weren't finished, and George had cut in black and white dogfights from old World War II films, but you got the general idea. DePalma, Spielberg, Huyck and Katz, Cocks, and Scorsese met at the Burbank airport. It was foggy, and the flight to San Francisco was delayed. When it finally took off, Scorsese wasn't on board. He was as nervous about Star Wars as Lucas was about New York, New York. He hated flying, but Huyck and Katz thought, Well, he's really competitive, he really didn't want to see it, didn't want to know about the film. As Scorsese puts it, "You'd have the anxiety--if it's better than yours, or even if it isn't better than yours, you think it is. And your friends will tell you it is. And you believe it. For years."
-- Simply put, the success of Star Wars, coupled with the failure of New York, New York, meant that the kinds of movies Scorsese made were replaced by kinds of movies that Lucas (and Spielberg) made. As [John] Milius put it, "When I was at USC, people were flocking to Blow-Up, not going to the theaters to the jolted by a cheap amusement park ride. But [Lucas and Spielberg] showed there was twice as much money out there, and the studios couldn't resist that. No one had any idea you could get as rich as this, like ancient Rome. You can clearly blame them." And Friedkin, "Star Wars swept all the chips off the table. What happened with Star Wars was when like McDonald's got a foothold, the taste for good food just disappeared. Now we're in a period of devolution. Everything has gone backward toward a big sucking hole."
Easy Riders, Raging Bulls has my highest recommendation for students and others discovering the key films of the era and are looking for more information about this gilded age in Hollywood. Biskind really does his work, getting superstars like Warren Beatty and Steven Spielberg on the record as well as those who worked behind the scenes--like film editors Marcia Lucas and Paul Hirsch--who never became famous. There's gossip (the author has contributed to Vanity Fair) and probably a bit of exaggeration or even misrepresentation on a few fronts, but Biskind covers multiple sides of any event pretty well. None better than the test screening of Star Wars in San Francisco.
With the effects and sound finally finished, Lucas screened it again at the Northpoint, just like Graffiti. Marcia had taken a week off from New York, New York to help George. "Previews always mean recutting," Lucas said gloomily, anticipating the worst. The suits were there, Ladd and his executives. Marcia had always said, "If the audience doesn't cheer when Han Solo comes in at the last second in the Millennium Falcon to help Luke when he's being chased by Darth Vader, the picture doesn't work." From the opening shot of the majestic Imperial Starship drifting over the heads of the audience across the black vastness of space studded with stars blinking like diamonds, the place was electric. "They made the jump to hyperspace, and you could see bodies flying around the room in excitement," recalls Hirsch. "When they get to that shot where the Millennium Falcon appears at the last minute, not only did they cheer, they stood up in their seats and raised their arms like a home run in the ninth inning of the seventh game of the World Series. I looked over at Marcia and she gave me a look like, I guess it works, ya know? So we came out, I said to George, 'So whaddya think?' He said, 'I guess we won't recut it after all.'"
This book is alternately fabulous and frustrating. In the fabulous column, Biskind is to be commended for his incredibly thorough research. How he got an interview with producer Bert Schneider is beyond my comprehension -- the guy is a total recluse, and one of the most fascinating figures in Hollywood history. I love the way he puts across the story-telling abilities of his interviewees...instead of distilling the information in cold, analytical prose, he lets everybody from Bruce Dern to Warren Beatty to Margot Kidder speak for themselves in compelling, salty language. There's plenty of dirt dished in this book, and I was ready for second and third helpings by the time I finished it.
On the minus side, Biskind comes across as an embittered would-be filmmaker in this book. He takes people to task for some pretty dumb things. For instance, I find it difficult to buy his argument that Steven Spielberg and George Lucas ruined 70s Hollywood by cranking out enormously popular films. I mean, all they did was make great movies. The fact that mainstream producers insisted that every subsequent movie draw record crowds is what drove the nail in the coffin of 70s cinema. Clearly, Spielberg and Lucas have tremendous talent, as well as a deep respect for filmmaking. It's not their freakin' fault that the money guys stopped funding quirky genre pictures as a result of the success of pictures like Jaws and Star Wars.
Also, I had to laugh at the way Biskind clucked his tongue at the excesses of guys like Martin Scorsese, Hal Ashby, and Francis Ford Coppola, only to turn around and mock Steven Spielberg for being a nerd. I mean, if you're going to argue that drugs and alcohol derailed the careers of some fine directors, you can't then chastise the one guy who led a squeaky-clean existence. Besides, such views are reductive, in my opinion. Nobody is sadder than me that 70s film culture no longer exists. But if you're going to lay the blame for its demise with anyone, put it the door of the people who fail to finance great pictures, instead of the ones who have the courage to make them.
Maybe some day I'll come back to this and write the sumptuous review it deserves. However, right now, I feel a bit like Chinatown screenwriter Robert Towne after he'd written the script for Hal Ashby's and Warren Beatty's Shampoo: I've hit the old writer's-block wall. I took a ton of notes on this, because it had so many good insights and quotes, but it's just not gelling. So rather than go into the ample details of this sweeping and awesome chronicle of 1970s Hollywood, let me simply recommend it, even though it might not mean much to you unless you agree at the outset that the best films of the '70s represent a high-water mark of sophistication, thematic weight, artistic originality, etc., that has generally not been matched in any era since. I agree with that premise, and Biskind does in this book exactly what I wanted of it: to take me behind the scenes to the boardrooms, dens, bungalows, and creative spaces where a ferocious set of passionate people fought each other tooth and nail to get their visions on film -- and how all of those creatives, money men, and production companies tied together. It's a mighty tangled web. Even if everyone's stories contradict one another, I have little problem with this. In the Dream Factory, it's all fantasy. The contractions are indicative of the competitiveness.
You might appreciate this book a lot more if you've seen the following "mainly" '70s "New Hollywood" films, as I have (this does not include all the amazing non-US films which make up the '70s cinema zeitgeist, which are essential, but does include a few Hollywood-adjacent Brit films I couldn't ignore. Yes there are a few flicks from the late '60s and a couple from 1980, as they fall within the movement and the theme of the book):
* I've thrown an asterisk next to some of my personal faves:
Across 110th Street Agatha Alambrista! Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore Alice, Sweet Alice Alien * All That Jazz All the President's Men American Graffiti American Hot Wax …And Justice for All The Anderson Tapes The Andromeda Strain Annie Hall * Apocalypse Now * Assault on Precinct 13 The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman Avanti Bad Company The Bad News Bears Badlands The Ballad of Cable Hogue Bananas Barry Lyndon -UK/US * The Beguiled Being There * Best Boy Beyond the Valley of the Dolls The Big Fix Billy Jack Black Caesar The Black Stallion Black Sunday Blazing Saddles Blue Collar * Blume in Love Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice Bonnie and Clyde Bound for Glory * Boxcar Bertha A Boy and His Dog The Boys in the Band Breaking Away Brewster McCloud Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia * Brothers Buck and the Preacher Butley - UK Cabaret California Split * The Candidate Cannonball Carnal Knowledge * Carrie Catch-22 Charley Varrick * The Cheap Detective Chilly Scenes of Winter China 9, Liberty 37 The China Syndrome Chinatown * Cinderella Liberty Cisco Pike Citizens Band, aka., Hande With Care Claudine A Clockwork Orange * Close Encounters of the Third Kind Cockfighter Coffy Colossus: The Forbin Project Coma Comes a Horseman Coming Home Convoy Cooley High Cops and Robbers Conrack The Conversation Cotton Comes to Harlem The Cowboys Cross of Iron * Dark Star Dawn of the Dead * A Day in the Death of Joe Egg -UK Day of the Jackal -UK The Day of the Locust * Days of Heaven Death Wish The Deep The Deer Hunter A Delicate Balance Deliverance * Desperate Characters Desperate Living Diary of a Mad Housewife * Dillinger * Dirty Harry Dog Day Afternoon * Dollars Duel * The Duellists The Driver * Easy Rider Eadweard Muybridge, Zoopraxographer * Edie in Ciao Manhattan, aka Ciao Manhattan Electra Glide in Blue The Electric Horseman Emperor of the North End of the Road Enter the Dragon Eraserhead Escape from Alcatraz Essene Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex Executive Action The Exorcist Exorcist II, The Heretic Faces Farewell, My Lovely Fat City * Fear On Trial Fiddler on the Roof Fingers * FIST Five Easy Pieces * Foul Play Frank Film * French Connection The Friends of Eddie Coyle * The Front The Fury Gal Young ‘Un The Gambler Gates of Heaven * The Gauntlet Get Carter - UK The Getaway Getting Straight Gimme Shelter The Girl Most Likely To... Girlfriends Go Tell the Spartans Godfather Godfather II Going in Style Gone in 60 Seconds The Goodbye Girl The Graduate Grease Greaser's Palace * The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid The Great Santini The Great Train Robbery Grey Gardens The Grissom Gang Hair Halloween Happy Birthday Wanda June Hard Times Hardcore * Harlan County USA * Harold and Maude * Harry and Tonto Harry in Your Pocket The Heartbreak Kid Heartland * Hearts and Minds * Hearts of the West Heaven Can Wait Heaven's Gate Heavy Traffic * Helter Skelter Hester Street Hi, Mom High Anxiety The Hired Hand The Hospital The Hot Rock House Calls Husbands Hustle I Never Sang For My Father The Iceman Cometh Images * The In-Laws Interiors Invasion of the Body Snatchers Jaws Jeremiah Johnson Jesus Christ Superstar Joe Johnny Got His Gun Julia Junior Bonner * J. W. Coop Killer of Sheep The Killing of a Chinese Bookie * King of Marvin Gardens Klute * Kramer vs. Kramer Lady Sings the Blues The Landlord * Last Chants for a Slow Dance The Last Detail * Last House on the Left The Last Movie The Last Picture Show Last Tango in Paris The Last Tycoon The Last Waltz The Late Show The Laughing Policeman Law and Disorder Lenny The Lickerish Quartet Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean Little Big Man Little Murders * A Little Romance Local Color The Long Goodbye * The Longest Yard Looking for Mr. Goodbar Love and Death * Lovers and Other Strangers Loving Magic The Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart A Man Called Horse The Man Who Would Be King Manhattan Marathon Man MASH McCabe and Mrs. Miller * Mean Streets * Meat Midnight Cowboy Midnight Express Mikey and Nicky * Milestones Millhouse: A White Comedy Minnie and Moskowitz The Missiles of October The Molly Maguires Multiple Maniacs * The Muppet Movie Nashville National Lampoon's Animal House Network A New Leaf Nickelodeon Night Moves Norma Rae North Dallas Forty Northern Lights Obsession Old Boyfriends The Omega Man * The Omen One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest The Onion Field Opening Night The Other Side of the Wind The Out-of-Towners The Outlaw Josey Wales Over the Edge Paper Moon Papillon The Parallax View Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid * Patton Payday * Phantom of the Paradise Pink Flamingos The Plot Against Harry The Poseidon Adventure Pretty Baby Prime Cut The Prisoner of Second Avenue The Projectionist Pumping Iron Quintet Rancho Deluxe * Real Life Rock 'n' Roll High School Rocky Rollerball Rolling Thunder Roseland Rosemary's Baby A Safe Place Saint Jack * Same Time Next Year Saturday Night Fever Save the Tiger Scarecrow The Scenic Route See No Evil Semi-Tough The Sentinel Serpico The Seven-Per-Cent Solution The Seven-Ups Shaft Shampoo * The Shootist Short Eyes * Silent Movie The Silent Partner * Silent Running Sisters Silver Streak Slap Shot Slaughterhouse-Five Sleeper Sleuth Smile Smoky and the Bandit Soldier Blue Sometimes a Great Notion Sorcerer * Sounder Soylent Green Star Wars Stay Hungry * The Stepford Wives Stevie - UK The Sting Straight Time Straw Dogs The Strawberry Statement Such Good Friends The Sugarland Express * Summer of ’42 Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams Superfly * Superman Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song The Switchblade Sisters * The Taking of Pelham One Two Three * Taking Off Taxi Driver Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon The Tenant - not US, but can't leave it out * Texas Chainsaw Massacre That's Entertainment I and II Theatre of Blood They Might Be Giants They Shoot Horses Don't They? * Thieves Like Us * Three Days of the Condor The Three Musketeers, and, The Four Musketeers -US/UK co-prod. Three Women * Thunderbolt and Lightfoot * THX 1138 Tomorrow A Touch of Class Trash * Tropic of Cancer The Turning Point The Twelve Chairs 200 Motels Two-Lane Blacktop Ulzana's Raid Underground An Unmarried Woman Vanishing Point * Walking Tall Wanda The Wanderers The Warriors * Watership Down A Wedding * Welfare Westworld What's Up Doc? Where the Lilies Bloom Who’ll Stop the Rain The Whole Shootin' Match The Wild Bunch * Wild Rovers Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory The Wind and the Lion Winter Kills Wintersoldier * Wise Blood * A Woman Under the Influence Woodstock The Yakuza Young Frankenstein Zardoz - UK
FYI, I'm not a fan of some of these, but can get behind about 99 percent of them. You are free to pilfer this list in your efforts at cinematic completion.
The upshot of this book's negative reviews seems to be that it is too full of gossip. I'm trying to imagine someone who buys a book about the film industry and is surprised, much less disappointed, by encountering gossip.
According to Biskind, the great party house in the early '70s was the little A-frame Margot Kidder and Jennifer Salt rented for $400 a month on Nicholas Beach near Malibu. Nowadays Kidder says that Biskind exaggerated its debauchery, that it was really a pretty mellow scene. I find this revelation terribly disappointing—I need my illusions. I am even more distressed to learn that Salt went on to write the screenplay for Eat, Pray, Love.
"Directors don’t have much power anymore, the executives make unheard of amounts of money, and budgets are more out of control than they ever were. And there hasn’t been a classic in ten years." - Francis Ford Coppola
After Bonnie and Clyde opened, Stefan Kanfer defined the New Hollywood in the most perfect way: "disregard for time-honored pieties of plot, chronology, and motivation; a promiscuous jumbling together of comedy and tragedy; ditto heroes and villains; sexual boldness; and a new, ironic distance that withholds obvious moral judgments."
The history of cinema is chock-full of interesting people, tidbits, and large entities that every cinema lover should be aware of to understand why films are what they are. Biskind recounts with vividness (albeit with an unpolished touch) the story of rebellious New Hollywood. It was like a shooting star that shined brightly for a while but which ended up in a crater somewhere in the desert. It was a concept that bit itself in the leg despite the best of intentions, and "the last time Hollywood produced a body of risky, high-quality work—as opposed to the errant masterpiece—work that was character-, rather than plot-driven, that defied traditional narrative conventions, that challenged the tyranny of technical correctness, that broke the taboos of language and behavior, that dared to end unhappily." In this case, it's vital to understand the context of 70s and late 60s movies to fully grasp their ideas and potential.
New Hollywood boiled down to the ambitious goal to override the studio system and give talented people the chance to explore their ideas in a new artistic, auteurish, way, making the 70s the era of directors. It's when Biskind tries to venture to the business side does the text shrivel into mere detailed listings of budgets and how much of the cut each one involved got. He, does, however, manage to convey the feeling that the era was the time for young people to take away the power from the giants of the John Ford era and to take advantage of the executives' confusion about the changes of the social climate, and go completely berserk with their ideas (and personal lives).
Despite having a pretty varied taste in movies, it was fantastic to find out that the NH directors were inspired by (and in some cases even aspired to be) the great auteurs of the European cinema. Arthouse requires a specific kind of attention and the utmost focus of the viewer, but Scorsese et.al. injected their films with their own sense style. Perhaps not always as recognisable as Europeans' (especially Antonioni and Bergman), but slightly more approachable for the big audience (although I still can't believe Raging Bull (1980) bombed).
Not only that, but the small changes in the movie making process Biskind discusses all make sense when watching the movies (Taxi Driver (1976) etc.). Script writers ceased to be disposable and it was important for them to dive headfirst into their work, instead of considering it as a some sort of cheap job on the way to literature. Cast on the other hand was no longer comprised of polished cookie cutter people, but (apart from a few exceptions of course) average looking theatre people that lended realism to the movies. Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate (1967) is a prime example. No one was especially looking for stars.
Biskind suggests that NH was partly about anger at authority and celebration of counterculture (like in Easy Rider (1969)). This tapped into a new audience, but unfortunately it didn't last long. Biskind's tone feels slightly derogatory, especially towards Lucas and Spielberg. He also seems to draw his own conclusions and interprets some movies in a way that it's represented as fact instead of as his own opinion. I'm not a fan of non-fiction authors who make their stances known, especially if the manner is bitter and unfairly inculpatory.
That being said, I understand what Biskind perhaps wants to say. The enthusiasm for making art gradually yielded when the studios started to recover. Spielberg and Lucas can't be the only ones to blame, but they did contribute involuntarily to the blockbuster era. Biskind makes a convincing claim that Spielberg's leanings towards conservatism and commercialism, occasional twelve-year-old-like behaviour, affinity with not crediting whoever helped him in his current movie (Rob Cohen thinks Verna Fields was responsible for the idea of showing only little of the shark in Jaws (1975) etc.), and favoring regressed adults and nostalgia for authority lead to tasteless and odourless cinema.
It may not be Spielberg's fault that after Jaws the studios were hungry for equally lucrative profits, but he chose to be part of the establishment. "Us" turning into an all-inclusive everyman instead of the counterculture kids is not necessarily only a bad thing, but it gave way to diluted family fares. Biskind says that Lucas had wanted a wholesome (Jesus Christ I hate that word) tone for Star Wars (1977), claimed it was a Disney movie, favoured happy endings along with straightforward storytelling and accessible two-dimensional characters. I agree with Biskind regarding Lucas and Spielberg bringing back small-town and suburban values. Lucas even said that "Words are great in the theater, but that’s not movies". Chilling.
Can you imagine what Apocalypse Now (1979) would have looked like if it had been directed by Lucas like it was initially intended? Pauline Kael said it well: "Discriminating moviegoers want the placidity of nice art — of movies tamed so that they are no more arousing than what used to be called polite theater. So we’ve been getting a new cultural puritanism — people go to the innocuous hoping for the charming, or they settle for imported sobriety, and the press is full of snide references to Coppola’s huge film in progress... [They were] infantilizing the audience, reconstituting the spectator as child, then overwhelming him and her with sound and spectacle, obliterating irony, aesthetic self-consciousness, and critical reflection."Friedkin compares the change with McDonald's getting hold of the nation. Lucas claims that he and Spielberg "understood what people liked to go see", but that just smells calculating as hell, not to mention that his claim that he destroyed the Hollywood film industry by making films more intelligent is just complete and utter bullshit. He even "believed that the most important parts of a film are the first five minutes and the last twenty. Everything in between is filler, and if there is enough action, no one will notice that the characters aren’t particularly complex, or that the acting is wooden".
The NH era was in a lot of ways wild, in good and in bad. The BBS offices smelled of pot, most were in a democratic mood and ready to help in friends' movies, everyone wanted to go to Peru to work with The Last Movie (1971) so that they could smuggle drugs back to L. A., Hopper's drug problem caused the directors to make notes in the script what kind he could take in each scene, there were some directors with huge egos and some (like Coppola) were simply megalomaniac crazies, women (who often contributed in some way to their men's films) had to cope with their men acting like assholes and thinking the open relationships of the 70s gave permission for cheating (Bert Schneider to Candice Bergen: "I’m sorry it’s so threatening to you, Bergen, but you have to understand that I’m a love object for every woman who walks into my office.... Start dealing with that. It’s time you began growing up."), on the set of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) the actors were provided with pot as a kind of takeaway so that they wouldn't have to go to the street etc.
We can all agree, though, that most films that resulted from this mayhem are good, and distinguishable as 70s and late 60s films. Biskind says that after their recovery, studio executives are now mostly businessmen who are interested about commercialism and money. Were now in a situation where it's difficult to brief an idea that doesn't promise huge profits. Indie movies do find their audience, but compared to the blockbusters, their market is much smaller. Star salaries are higher than ever. New faces are easier to be pushed around, and when one of the greats got an opportunity to make a comeback, they resorted to a mainstream film and failed.
Altman is not optimistic: "You get tired painting your pictures and going down to the street corner and selling them for a dollar. You get the occasional Fargo, but you’ve still got to make them for nothing, and you get nothing back. It’s disastrous for the film industry, disastrous for film art".
Who knows what will happen in the future. It's clear that we need all kinds of movies, and everyone has their own taste. I still wish there were more brave filmmakers who would get the opportunity to showcase their talents, no matter how wacky their ideas might be, and maintain their distinctive style through the years. I also wish that the movie business would slow down their hunger for money and would actually stop and smell the flowers, and see the talent out there.
Fortunately, these days we have our moments as well. With the explosive Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) Miller succeeded in lighting the screen on fire. It was magical and different. Ripped my guts out with its energy and beauty, and that's what I'm personally looking for in a movie. Godard showed that anything is possible, and even Lucas said that "Emotionally involving the audience is easy. Anybody can do it blindfolded, get a little kitten and have some guy wring its neck".
A look back at the Hollywood scene of the 1970s, from the heydays of the counterculture in the late 60s to the conservative Reagan era in the early 80s. Like most film lovers I agree early to mid-70s was the greatest period for American movies. It happened because the director stopped being a hired hand and was put in charge of the whole film. I find auteur theory overrated, it regards successful directors who don’t fit the description as phony hacks. But there is no doubt empowering directors created a raw, real, grittier American cinema.
Easy Riders, Raging Bulls traces the key architects of New Hollywood – writers, directors and producers; swimming in and out of the lives of a large cast of characters. It dishes more dirt than a gossip magazine as it lays out the background to some of the most chaotic productions like Bonnie and Clyde and The Godfather. It is too detailed often wasting time on the wall décor of a producer’s house or who was dating whom. Biskind tries to find a connective thread – self-destructiveness, lot of the directors did not live up to the initial promise. William Friedkin (The French Connection, The Exorcist), Peter Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show, Paper Moon), Robert Altman (MASH, The Long Goodbye), Hal Ashby (Harold and Maude) , even Francis Coppola, who became one of the greats in a single decade with the two Godfathers and Apocalypse Now failed to repeat those levels of success. Biskind suggests it was drugs and egotism, even the one director who escaped the curse – Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull) became a drug addict.
Cocaine, greed, megalomania, and success of Jaws and Star Wars killed the movement. Star Wars and Jaws showed there is more money targeting families. It would lead to the popularity of summer blockbusters and finally destroy risk- taking. The anything goes environment which supported the creative risks would never re-emerge. Funny Scorcese disses Marvel but stays mum on Star Wars which was the first franchise that made movies commodities than artworks.
The problems are mainly its length. Most of the chapters are variation of talented people messing up their lives, it gets stale after a while. The cast of characters is so large that it’s tough to follow. Chinatown is one of my favorite movies so I did not mind knowing Robert Towne felt more comfortable re-working others’ scripts than to complete his own. But other snippets about people I did not care about, mainly the producers, bored me. Some of it is self-mythologizing, for example it calls Lumet a journeyman director. Lumet has made more good movies than a few of these New Hollywood directors put together. If you love movies it’s a must read, if you are not it really gives you the fly on the wall feeling. It might be structured as celebrity gossip but it is astute and insightful about one of the most innovative periods in the American film industry.
Money—how much who was getting paid for what—was a private affair, but sex was a publicly traded commodity among the Raybert guys, sexual exploits a variation on who could piss further.
These three guys know they’re being assholes, but it’s all in fun. This is the way Hollywood is supposed to be.
Scorsese on women They put up with us until they find out who we are, and then you have to get another one.
On Coppola, He is like what they said of Napoleon, he was great as a man can be without virtue.
Because the fact of the matter is that although individual revolutionaries succeeded, the revolution failed.
The book had the potential to be awesome and interesting and really informative. A lot of amazing movies were made in the 1970's. A lot of interesting things happened in Hollywood as to how movies were made, and the balances of power. Picking up this book, that is what it alludes to be about. It will talk about the New Hollywood directors - Scorsese, Lucas, Spielberg, Coppola, etc etc, and what they did to movies, how they challenged the studio system, how they made some of their most famous movies.
When it's put like that, it sounds like a must read. A backstage look at Hollywood and it's going's on at the time that Easy Rider, The Godfather, Jaws and Star Wars were being made.
That's what the book sets itself up to be, but that is not what it is about at all. If you want to know how these movies got made, you probably need another book. It starts off with grand ambitions but quickly devolves into badly structured and poorly written tabloid fodder about who was doing the most coke (spoiler: everyone but Spielberg) or who was fucking people who weren't their significant others (spoiler: everyone). Now I'm all for a little gossip flavor, but that's literally all this book is. The matters of actual substance in terms of how these movies got made and how they affected the industry play second fiddle to the "drama" the author makes a big deal of revealing. He is so interested in the naughty activities of 1970's Hollywood that he seems to have forgotten what he set out to do and focuses all his attention on tattle-telling.
On top of the drivel he is producing in terms of material, the structure of the book is ridiculously atrocious. As in, the only way it could be worse is if sentences started in the middle of each other. It seems as if it might be intended as chronological order, but each chapter zips all around in time. A typical chapter starts off talking about one subject, jumps to talking about something else - which may or may not be happening at the same time, jumps back to the first subject, then to a third subject which may or may not be related to anything already mentioned in this chapter, jumps back to subject one, then subject three, then subject two, then three, then one, then an entirely new subject which goes on until the end of the chapter. Trying to follow the author's train of thought is like trying to follow a dog's train of thought in a park full of squirrels. Between the abrupt subject changes, and the tabloid take on the era, it's hard to pick up the actual information about the movies.
Since I'm sure there have to be better written books about the same subject matter, I wouldn't recommend this to anyone. Unless you happen to have masochistic tendencies.
É um trabalho de pesquisa e entrevista colossal, mas o autor tem um tom bem limitado quando resolve comentar as coisas com sua opinião pessoal, especialmente se tratando da qualidade dos filmes citados, em que diabos de zona além da imaginação ele vive para negar que Apocalypse Now seja uma obra-prima absoluta?!? Ou ainda compactuar com a ideia de Heaven's Gate foi mesmo um fracasso inclusive artístico quando na realidade é uma das grandes obras do Cimino? Apesar de seus conceitos equivocados sobre qualidade fílmica e tom mais preocupado em obter fofocas sensacionalistas para incrementar seu livro, não deixa de ser um puta livro interessante de ler, mas que pouco trata de cinema afinal.
My thoughts on Easy Riders, Raging Bulls can be summarized by two comparisons:
1. Game Change: Both books let gossip get in the way of solid storytelling. Game Change would give paragraphs of great accounts of political strategy (which is right in my wheelhouse) then get sidetracked with anecdotes of how Elizabeth Edwards is a bitch, John Edwards is a dandy, and what Hilary Clinton wore at a particular campaign event. Not all of it was completely useless, and some of it was quite fun, but it cheapened the value of the work in my mind.
Biskind's use of gossip is a bit more justifiable. One of the main themes of the book is the hubristic rise and fall of a generation of filmakers that rose to prominence in the '70s. Tales of personal degradation fit into this. And after all, it is Hollywood. And if you want to read a tabloid-like account of Tinsel Town in the '70s, I can recommend this. But I was expecting, and Biskind tries to deliver, something different. Which brings us to the second comparison....
2. Pictures at a Revolution: This comparison is unfair, Pictures is one of the best nonfiction books I've ever read, but the comparison begs to be made. The two books cover many of the same themes and feature many of the same figures and films. And Pictures at a Revolution is better in every single way. Pictures isn't just about how movies changed, its about how very root understandings of American culture changed and the effect the two revolutions had on each other. It's a great story and a hella good read.
Mark Harris gives well-known celebrities like Warren Beatty, Sidney Poitier, Mike Nichols and Rex Harrison into complex, and (sometimes) sympathetic characters. In contrast, Biskind's portraits resemble stereotypical caricatures. Beatty likes to fuck alot. Gee, that Altman guy sure is surely. Wow, Francis Ford Coppola is a prima donna. Who would've thought George Lucas was so antisocial?
Like Game Change this information can be intriguing and often fun.But it gets in the way of the movies. Biskind doesn't do a great job of providing film analysis. I think good writing about film should be like a great commentary track on DVDs. Yeah, I like amusing anecdotes, but I want to hear about the film. Harris writes about the movies, Biskind writes about people who makes the movies and the fucked up shit they do.
But this is supposed to be a review of Easy Rider, Raging Bull, so back on topic. Two things in it's defense in light of the comparison: (1) Biskind doesn't share identical goals with Mark Harris; and (2) and Easy Rider, Ring Bull's scope is (kinda) broader than Pictures.' Biskind succeeds at certain levels. He tells an entertaining story about a group of young, extremely creative people whoe were given the power to create and how they eventually self-imploded. But he doesn't saying much of any significance about the films of the '70s, which is why I picked up the book in the first place.
Casts a wide enough net to get a general sense of the era but it's a house of cards built on a lot of he said she said. Hard to take anything at face value. The main thing that sticks with me is that Biskind spends a lot of time setting this era as some grand tragedy that these talented directors and writers and producers were too self-involved and self-destructive to take down the Hollywood establishment. Then within the last five pages he asks himself: "Could another group of directors have done it differently, broken the back of studio power, created little islands of self-sufficiency that would have supported them in the work they wanted to do? Could a hundred flowers ever have bloomed? Probably not." What was the point of all that hand-wringing then? They found themselves entering the industry when Hollywood was at a weak point largely because of the growing popularity of television. They enjoyed their freedom for a few years, but the studios took it back. It seems myopic to implicate individual films like Jaws or Star Wars—which Biskind does—for issues that are obviously structural. The establishment was always going to find a way to wrest back control. It probably didn't matter all that much whether individual films went over-budget or tanked or succeeded with audiences or with critics. The studios have always been able to kill any movie to justify whatever whim they feel like. It's as simple as refusing to spend enough on marketing to manufacture a "failed" film. What counter has any individual filmmaker ever had to that? Not much.
Be prepared to laugh your azz off at this roller coaster ride through Hollywood's last golden decade, 1967-1977. A personal note: I met one of the key players in this decade of decadence, Bert Schneider, who co-produced such masterpieces as EASY RIDER, THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, and FIVE EASY PIECES and whose obituary called him "a drug-fueled egomaniac" (not with me, he wasn't). All the juicy details are here: from Marty Scorcese chartering a plane to bring him cocaine in France to Bert lamenting the 1992 LA riots had left his house untouched. These weirdoes, freaks and hairies made the greatest films of my generation.
Biskind's book disappointed me tremendously. The author dwelled on bad behavior instead of providing key insights into film making. It lacked social and historical context (just passing mentions of Vietnam and the Manson killings, etc.), despite the fact that the author must have done a tremendous amount of research. Granted, a good portion of the players here are not admirable on a personal level, and some may even be irredeemable … but the book never demonstrated, for me, a respect for the artistic process that resulted in ground breaking cinema.
Sort of an overrated genre, but it was interesting reading about Rafelson and Schneider. Also, plenty of good anecdotes about the interactions of all the others in the New Hollywood. Could have gone into more detail about Beatty and Fonda. It didn't even mention Lilith, for example.
One of the more curious quotes in Easy Riders, Raging Bulls comes from Terry Southern, the principal screenwriter of Easy Rider: “In my mind, the ending (of Easy Rider) was to be an indictment of blue-collar America, the people I thought were responsible for the Vietnam War.”*
O.K.—hold on. That’s a nutty thing to say, Terry. It wasn’t “blue-collar America” that was running the military-industrial Cold War economy, conspiring to invade and destroy Vietnam and injure Americans in body and soul.
Terry, are you saying blue-collar Americans are to blame because they were drafted to fight in Uncle Sam’s war and followed orders and committed atrocities? Are you suggesting they should have instead marched against the invasion and burned down the White House—and because they didn’t, they’re “responsible” for the war?
Terry, are you proposing that the murders of drug-dealing hippies and their drunk ACLU lawyer friend by poor redneck slobs, as shown in Easy Rider, is somehow a metaphor for the Vietnam War?
Blue-collar Americans were responsible for their actions in Vietnam—but they were pawns in the rich man’s obscene military-industrial con. They were no more responsible for the war than you were, Terry Southern, sitting it out with your rich and famous celeb pals in Hollywood and New York. Hell, Terry, your crony-capitalist whoring bunch was far more responsible for the war than “blue-collar America.” Hey, Terry—why you wanna blame the victim?
Easy Rider director and actor Dennis Hopper is quoted: “When we were making the movie, we could feel the whole country burning up—Negroes, hippies, students. . . . At the start of the movie, Peter [Fonda] and I do a very American thing—we commit a crime, we go for the easy money. That’s one of the big problems with the country right now: everybody’s going for the easy money. Not just obvious simple crimes, but big corporations committing corporate crimes.”
Hold on just a minute, Dennis Hopper—are you saying you used nominally antiwar, peace-loving hippies as surrogates for the big, evil corporations? What? Am I understanding that correctly? Well, that just blows my mind.
Easy Rider, obviously, did no favors for hippies and the antiwar movement with its portrayal of dope-running, dope-taking, numbskull hippies draping themselves in the stars-n-stripes and roaring around on flashy motorcycles, acting all arrogant and jackassy. And the movie’s portrayal of “ordinary American rednecks” set a gold standard for making such folk seem ignorant, idiotic and sinister—a mass media tradition that hit another peak in Deliverance and has only matured over the decades.
Well—it’s interesting, isn’t it? One suspects that Southern and Hopper are perhaps giving away too much of the “hidden hand” plan. “Coincidence researchers” are likely to regard Easy Rider as just one piece of a much broader setup: Easy Rider was still in theaters, reverberating through American culture, when the Charlie Manson murder case exploded across the world’s media in August 1969, shortly before the Woodstock Music & Art Fair.
From the viewpoint of the gangsters who rule America and the rest of the world, something had to be done to kill off, once and for all, the antiwar movement and any other resistance to their way of running things. What better way than to transform hippies from flower-hugging antiwar protesters into arrogant, murderous, Nazi dopeheads? If you wanted to further drive a wedge between already traumatized Americans, this would be a good way to do it.
(Another insight into the operation is this quote from Nixon confidante and top Watergate henchman John Erlichman, quoted in Harper’s magazine in 2016: “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”)
The summer before, at the 1968 Democratic Party Convention, police fought antiwar protesters in the streets, leaving hundreds injured. And in the months before that, the nation had seen two of its major “left” leaders, Martin Luther King and Senator Robert Kennedy, gunned down in suspicious circumstances, to say the least. Those assassinations followed the murders of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and Malcolm X in 1965. By the time the shooting was over, four of the leading “left” American leaders had been removed from the scene in less than five years. All four of those famous murders, of course, are still unsolved. The authorities have never seemed too interested in getting to the bottom of what really happened. Odd to see that—in America of all places, the valiant do-gooding nation attacked for no reason on 9/11/2001—the greatest democracy that ever existed!
And, lest we forget—during the same era, there’s good evidence the CIA was behind the marketing and distribution of LSD to young people, to damage their brains and cause general chaos amongst their families and friends. And federal agents were busy conducting the government’s COINTELPRO program to infiltrate, surveil and disrupt antiwar and other antiauthority groups (a program that no doubt continues to this day under some other name).
Assassinations, cultural domination, drugging, spying, provocation: Talk about taking the fight to your opponents—the American people—and crippling them for generations! Kerpow, suckers!
With the war-protesting hippies successfully neutralized, demonized and suspected by a substantial proportion of Americans, the Hollywood psychological operation moved on to films that would drive the country toward “trickle-down economics,” dumb it down further, and deepen public support for the military-industrial complex. Anybody with eyes can see that this “psy-op” has been a wild success. It continues to manufacture consent for the funneling of billions of public funds to military-surveillance budgets, enabling military-industrial profits to soar to new levels of all-time grotesqueness.
Biskind on The Godfather: “Despite Coppola’s school boy Marxism (he always equated the mob with capitalism), The Godfatherlooked forward to the conservative family values of the Reagan era. . . . In its emphasis on generational reconciliation, on ethnicity, and on the Mafia as, in effect, a privatized government of organized vigilantes that performs functions the government can’t or won’t, it foreshadows the Reagan right’s attack on the Washington establishment in the next decade.”
Screenwriter Robert Towne, who did uncredited work on The Godfather: “Here was this role model of a family that stuck together, who’d die for one another. . . . It was really kind of reactionary in that sense—a perverse expression of a desirable and lost cultural tradition.”
Former U.S. Information Agency contractor George Lucas on American Graffiti: “Before American Graffiti, I was working on basically negative movies—Apocalypse Now and THX, both very angry. We all know, as every movie in the last ten years has pointed out, how terrible we are, how wrong we were in Vietnam, how we have ruined the world, what schmucks we are and how rotten everything is. It had become depressing to go to the movies. I decided it was time to make a movie where people felt better coming out of the theater than when they went in. I became really aware of the fact that the kids were really lost. . . . I wanted to preserve what a certain generation of Americans thought being a teenager was really about—from about 1945 to 1962.”
Biskind on The Exorcist (written by William Peter Blatty, former head of the Policy Branch of the U.S. Air Force’s Psychological Warfare Division): “It presents a male nightmare of female puberty. Emergent female sexuality is equated with demonic possession, and the men in the picture – almost all celibate priests – unite to abuse and torture Regan . . . in their efforts to return her to a presexual innocence. . . . The Exorcist turned its back on the liberal therapeutic framework of the postwar period. (The psychiatrist in the movie is just befuddled, clearly inadequate to the task, and Burstyn has no choice but to call on the Church.) . . . Like The Godfather, The Exorcist looked ahead to the coming Manichean revolution of the right, to Reagan nattering about the godless Evil Empire. Satan is the bad dad who takes up residence in the household of the divorced MacNeil in the stead of the absent father-husband. Families who pray together and stay together don’t have unseemly encounters with the devil.”
Biskind on Jaws: “Although Jaws deftly uses the Us/Them formula deployed by films like Bonnie and Clyde, Easy Rider, and M*A*S*H, ‘Us’ is no longer narrowly and tendentiously defined as the hip counterculture, but is expansive and inclusive, a new community comprised of just about everyone—all food, so far as the shark is concerned. It transcended the political and demographic divisions between the Easy Rider counterculture audience and Nixon’s Towering Inferno middle-Americans.”
Biskind on Taxi Driver: “By darkening and deglamorizing Bonnie and Clyde, by putting Bickle and Betsy into a sleazy, contemporary, urban environment and frustrating the love affair altogether, Scorsese and Schrader stripped the Depression-era outlaws of their aura of populist romance and turned their story into one of simple brutality redeemed only by Schrader’s Calvinist fascination with the cleansing violence of the Manson figure. Taxi Driver was a picture completely in keeping with the new centrist administration of Jimmy Carter, who turned his back on the left wing of his party, the McGovernites. . . . The only part of Bonnie and Clyde that survived was the violence.”
Biskind reports that Brian De Palma savaged an early screening of Star Wars like a “crazed dog,” saying the film was a disaster. De Palma is quoted: “You gotta drop the Jedi Bendu shit, nobody’s gonna know what you’re talking about.” Only Spielberg seemed to understand the genius of Star Wars, saying “George, it’s great. It’s gonna make $100 million.”
To sum up: Add in Dirty Harry, Rocky and Apocalypse Now, and the floodgates had been opened by the end of the 1970s for an endless stream of puerile, inane, hyper-violent, rah-rah movies like Top Gun, Commando, Aliens, the Mad Max, Rambo, Death Wish and Lethal Weapon series, De Palma’s Scarface, Die Hard, Stripes and many others (according to Wikipedia, the Stripes filmmakers “were involved in a detailed negotiation with the Department of Defense to make the film conducive to the recruiting needs of the military, in exchange for subsidies in the form of free labor and location and equipment access.”)
Biskind gives George Lucas an opportunity to rebut charges that “Star Wars ruined American movies” by ushering in an era of simplistic “blockbuster” conservative propaganda films that rarely challenged the viewer and usually offered generous support for the status quo and military spending/recruitment.
Lucas: “Popcorn pictures have always ruled. Why do people go see these popcorn pictures when they’re not good? Why is the public so stupid? That’s not my fault. I just understood what people like to go see, and Steven [Spielberg] has too.” Lucas goes on to argue that blockbusters subsidize serious smaller films. He makes the curious claim that theater owners built multiplexes to show “art films.”
Indeed, Lucas credits himself with helping pave the way to a “really thriving American art film industry,” saying: “So in a way, I did destroy the Hollywood film industry, only I destroyed it by making films more intelligent, not by making film infantile.”
This is rejected by almost everybody who claims to know something about Hollywood movies.
Scorsese: “They’re not subsidizing everything else. They (blockbusters) are it. That’s all. The person who has something to say in a movie has got to make a picture for $50. They’re smothering everything.”
Director Robert Altman: “It’s become one big amusement park. It’s the death of film.”
Easy Riders, Raging Bulls draws to close with director John Boorman’s tale of going to see Brandon Tartikoff, the head of Paramount. Boorman says Tartikoff told him: “Tell me what the 30-second TV commercial is (for the proposed film).” When Boorman said his idea couldn’t be boiled down in that way, Tartikoff replied, “Then I can’t make the picture. How am I going to sell it?”
Other gems in the book include Dennis Hopper’s claim that he simply waltzed into the courthouse in L.A. and spoke to Charles Manson, who wanted Hopper to play him in a movie (exactly—because anyone can just walk into supposedly heavily guarded courthouse and have a chat with an accused mass murdering cult leader. Or is Hopper just underlining that something continues to smell horrendously fishy about the whole Manson tale?)
Biskind makes the case that the artistic sensibility of cinematographer Gordon Willis was at least as responsible as Coppola for the success of The Godfather. He also shows how editor Verna Fields rescued Jaws from the cock-up that the young Steven Spielberg was making of that ultimately tremendous film.
Biskind reports that George Lucas was out of his depth and losing control of the crew during the production of Star Wars. The crew reportedly openly made fun of Lucas’ taciturn demeanor and the story, with a cameraman calling Chewbacca a “dawg.” Lucas reportedly gave points to uncredited Star Wars writers Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz, stars Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill, and sound man Ben Burtt to ensure their support for completing the movie.
Biskind also delivers a full-body tarring and feathering of Exorcist director William Friedkin, who is portrayed as a dictatorial figure who abused actors, was quick to go on a rant, and prevailed on his girlfriends to get multiple abortions. Actress Ellen Burstyn claims to have had chronic back trouble after she was jerked to the floor by a rig tied around her midriff during the filming of The Exorcist. Friedkin moved in his camera to capture her very real pain. Friedkin also used a real priest, Father William O’Malley, for the scene in which Father Karras receives absolution. When O’Malley, who was not a professional actor, failed to provide the drama required by Friedkin, the director “belted him across the face with his open hand.” O’Malley said: “When I did the next take, my hand was shaking. Sheer adrenalin.” Friedkin put it up on the silver screen.
Roger Corman supposedly offered Scorsese $150,000 to make Mean Streets a blaxploitation movie in the mold of Shaft. Scorsese is portrayed as an insecure, petulant, frightened addict man-child, “popping ‘ludes and drinking Dom Perignon in the cutting room.”
Taxi Driver writer Paul Schrader is depicted dressing up in combat boots and an army surplus jacket (like Travis Bickle in the film), and writing with a handgun on the table next to his typewriter. Biskind lets loose with tales about Schrader going fashionably gay, becoming a cokehead, and having an affair with Nastassja Kinski on the set of Cat People. After Kinski (who’s quoted as saying, “I always fuck my directors”) dumped him, a “furious” Schrader refused to speak to her and, on at least one occasion, “directed her by proxy from his limousine.”
In what’s got to be some kind ultimate diva behavior, Biskind reports that during the filming of Chinatown Faye Dunaway refused to flush her trailer toilet, instead calling in a teamster to do it for her. Dunaway is also said to have thrown a cup of pee in Roman Polanski’s face after the director refused to take a break in filming to let her use the toilet. Polanski: “You cunt, that’s piss!” Dunaway: “Yes, you little putz.”
This is a satisfyingly dark, nasty and illuminating book. It matters little what Biskind “got right” or “got wrong” in terms of the blur of coke, violence and blowjobs (and he’s been called a “lying, conniving bastard who tried to make me look bad,” or variations thereof, by some of the big-timers profiled in this book). It offers a glimpse of the monsters and madmen whose visions continue to pollute and enliven our collective dreams and nightmares. It’s juicy, gripping entertainment in its own right. Biskind has mined a load of diamonds that dazzle and disgust.
* Biskind says Southern said this to him in 1994, shortly before Southern’s death.
It stunned me to realise that it’s over twenty years since this was published. I have the original hardback, which means it’s over twenty years since I read it. That makes me feel old. As if I should already be staggering around the garden, entertaining grandchildren with pieces of orange in my mouth.
This charge through the world of New Hollywood of the 1970s remains a compulsive read. Starting with bad behaviour on the set of EASY RIDER (well, actually a bit before that, with the suggestion that WHAT’S UP PUSSYCAT is inadvertently one of the most influential films of the era), before proceeding to coked out gloom by the time we get to RAGING BULL.
The reputations of these men had declined in the years before the book was published – and many of them are has-beens now (only Scorsese and Spielberg still have active careers). The book does it best to puff up the reputations of then still jobbing directors, William Friedken and Francis Ford Coppola. But more importantly, does sterling work in trying to rebuild the reputation of Hal Ashby – director of HAROLD & MAUDE, COMING HOME, SHAMPOO and BEING THERE – who isn’t often referenced in this company – but the book is right, that is one hell of a run of films.
However – if you didn’t know that the author later became his biographer – you’d find it hard to believe that there’s so much Warren Beatty in this. Yes, he helps kick it all off and was winning an Oscar for Best Director at the start of the Eighties, but for him to be such a prominent, uncriticised voice feels somewhat unbalanced. Throughout the author writes about how charming Beatty is, and it does feel like he got charmed.
It’s a very male book (and filled with male sociopaths) and reading it again, in light of Me Too did makes me wonder how it would be written now. To be fair, a lot of male bad behaviour to women – be it adultery or outright abuse – is called out. But written again, one can’t help but feel that the perceived unhinged, aggressive sexuality of Margot Kidder, or the manipulativeness of Amy Irving would have been treated a differently.
Ultimately though, the best tribute I can give to this book is that like a lot of the films it covers, this is epic, frequently brilliant, if flawed, and crammed full of fascinated characters.
Peter Biskind is a yenta! The book is hefty with gossip of all kinds, which is too bad because he's talking about the revolution in films in the 60's to early 80's. When he does talk about how the movies changed, both in cinematography, plot development, in every way, Biskind is insightful and intelligent, but he doesn't dwell on such matters for very long.
Worse, you're reading along about one topic and suddenly there is a paragraph about another time or other people which you may vaguely recall his talking about elsewhere. It seems as if he cuts and pastes (as we all do), but when he cuts, he doesn't get all the paragraphs and leaves one behind. Add to that his breezy habit of talking about Bob or whomever,but unfortunately, there are several Bobs and after the first 50 pages, when he mentions "Bob" you don't always know which one he meant. Also, in the early pages, he says that Bob or someone married (or lived with) Toby or Polly or whomever. He doesn't mention her name for 100 pages, and suddenly we are hearing about Toby or Polly or whomever doing something and we don't know who she is or whom she is with. Has this guy ever heard about appositive clauses in subsequent mentions, you know, "Bob, the one who funded X in 1969..." or "Polly, who was still married to...." I hate reading books that are like one big puzzle and you keep having to flip backwards to figure what in Hell is going on. It's especially annoying when it's a subject I'm especially interested in.
Unfortunately this is less of the untold story of the birth of the Auteur directors of 70's (you know the ones...Coppola, Scorsese, DE Palma, ect.) and more a gossipy, vindictive, and mean spirited expose of how terrible all those people where at all times...the whole book seems petty and dishonest. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I believe that these people are saints that should be above all criticism, it's that the writing and the editing of this book is so focused on telling you how drug addicted and crazy and two faced everyone was that it barely has time to make the case for any of the classic movies they produced, let alone say at least one nice thing about them.
It's funny that the documentary that was produced based on this book managed to do such a better job in at least trying to find a balance between the very real dirt and the passion that drove them all to create art. Watch the doc, skip the book.
A handful of mavericks dream of breaking the studios' stranglehold, of making Art that will be screened across the world, but they are beguiled by mountains of cash and their own megalomania and by the time Star Wars hits, they're finished. Roll credits. It's hard to warm to anyone in this book - the hubris of Coppola, the wife-beating Hopper, Lucas the nerdy bore, Scorsese the paranoid brat, or Spielberg the money-grabbing sellout. You'd think such decadence would be an interesting read but for the most part it is inexplicably dull. The Schrader brothers' upbringing was an eye-opener though, and there were a few vignettes (Dunaway won't flush) that were entertaining. A molehill posing as a mountain.
There's no worse career move in Hollywood than dying.
Easy Riders, Raging Bulls is an account of Hollywood in the 60s and 70s and, to be honest, I think it deserves 5 stars simply owing to the sheer amount of research and information that is crammed into the 440 pages of the book (the last 70 pages are just the index/references). It took me a good 5 months to slowly make my way through it not because it's difficult to read but because I wanted to prolong the journey and to digest it all properly.
As a film student, I'd like to pretend that this book counts as "studying" for me when, in fact, the purpose it serves is in making me feel much better about myself by showing just how clueless all of today's famous directors were when they were starting out and just how many of these acclaimed masterpieces (The Godfather, Jaws, etc.) had completely disaster sets due to the fact that nobody knew what they were doing. I cannot explain the joy it gave me to read that Steven Spielberg was, actually, a complete mess while shooting Jaws. Also, they had to bring in someone to sleep with him to help him cope with the stress which brings me to my second note which is that I knew old Hollywood was super sexist and horrible but to see it all written down like that as though it's completely normal was ... illuminating.
However, I'm not sure how interesting this would be to someone unfamiliar with these films and these characters. Personally, I'm a sucker for success stories and films/books about making films and so I was genuinely tearing up at times whenever the writer "foreshadowed" Star Wars or used phrases like "the man who would be king" (Francis Ford Coppola). If you're not a fan of these things, then you probably don't want to read something that is literally overflowing with information about two whole decades' worth of films and the countless different people associate with them (the index alone is 23 pages).
I really enjoyed it though and I think I'll be reading the writer's other books on the 50s and the 80s as well. The book is filled with crazy stories and, to wrap this up, I'll leave you with my favorite anecdote and the fact that, during the filming of Apocalypse Now, there was no expense Coppola would say no to, which is why the Italian cinematographer Vittorio Storaro and his camera crew would have pasta flown in from Italy to the Philippines all throughout the long film shoot. Yes, in a story filled with drugs and murder, this pasta story is my favorite fun fact, thank you very much.
I always wonder how this book ever got published, because I don't think there's anything good in it about any of the directors and actors highlighted therein. Not Coppola, not Bogdanovich, not Ashby or Lucas or Spielberg or Scorse. To a man, they are portrayed as selfish, ruthless, megalomaniacal, self-destructive. I almost wonder just how accurate this book - surely they can't all be this nuts?
Leaving aside the salacious details, and boy, are there some, this is a quite fascinating look at how the 'New Hollywood' directors set out to overturn the old studio system, to bring back power to the independents, to create their own system; and how they almost all self-destructed or ended up only reinforcing that which they aimed to destroy, largely as a result of their own over-the-top, out-of-control behaviours and attitudes.
The studios are even more powerful now than they ever were; there's precious little space in the cinemas these days for indie, independent or arthouse films - and the movies that make big-bucks are all pre-fab, much of a muchness: explosions and sex and violence and plots that can be summed up in ten words or less. Only George Lucas ended up with the financial clout to create his own movie empire, and even he is enslaved to Star Wars.
Fantastic portrait of the best dozen years of American film and the insane circumstances that created them. Essential reading for any aspiring film dork. One part cultural anthropology, one part film criticism, one part gossip rag. Sample Dennis Hopper shenanigans (in the early 80s):
"Still convinced the mob was on his tail, he pulled a 'geographic,' ending up in L.A. shooting coke and heroin, and then on to Mexico, where he had an acting gig. Suffering from DTs and hallucinations, he stripped off his clothes and disappeared into the jungle. After he punched a Mexican detective, the film company put him on a flight back to the States. As he was boarding, however, he became convinced that two of his former directors, Coppola and Wim Wenders, were filming him from the plane. Somehow he crawled out onto the wing while the plane was still on the ground..."
Truly the best era of Hollywood for films. It’s good to know the best films ever made were directed by egomaniacal degenerate drug addicts. I’d say the book is interesting but like if you don’t have an interest in it then it won’t be. It’s kind of like if you don’t like something you probably won’t like it. If you can get your head around that statement without losing considerable IQ. Not that iq means everything though it really doesn’t. Knowledge is a burden or something there’s probably some quote like that. You may say this took me far too long to read but I swear the writing is smaller than the fine print on a chocolate bar. I had to use a magnifying glass for the book. They don’t mention that in the blurb but it’s the sad truth. I think the publishers partnered with magnifying glass companies to preform an elaborate scam and boost sales. Of course I cannot prove it but I know it’s true. I’ll find proof or go crazy trying. I think we know which one will happen. Although the very thought of trying such a thing does prove I’m already insane. Can someone get more insane? I wonder like where’s the threshold when you pass for insane because it’s hardly a reliable science. It kind of is but you can’t check inside someone’s skull and see a number which tells you a persons sanity. So you never really know tbh. There’s probably an exact definition of insanity that makes me sounds stupid for saying this stuff. I’m very sane though. i promise. Anyway back to the book (got a little sidetracked there sorry) the book is good a lot of details which can be a small bit boring but it does really immerse you in what the time was like. I’m not talking about describing the colour and texture of pizza I mean like of small things happening. The best thing to come out of this book is a long list of films I need to watch. I also say films now because I’m a snob. Soon I’ll just call them “pictures” and when that happens I’ll have truly lost all hope. I will no longer be myself, it’ll be someone else, a fragment of who I once was. Please kill this person as I do not want to live without control of myself. The doctors say I could start saying pictures anytime within the next 2 weeks. So yes. If you’ve read all of this I’m really in awe. Your patience for my rambling is truly amazing. Here’s a key for a reward 🔑 It means absolutely nothing idk what I’m doing you can’t even take it. It’s literally just pixels on a screen however you are meant to feel accomplished upon receiving this key although you have significantly wasted your time reading all of this. I like how I’m talking as if anyone will possibly read any of this. Ok that’s it I’m done. Done as eggs made by a chef who can’t smell them burning. Overdone, that’s how done I am with this review. Im sorry 👋
Raucous, kaleidoscopic portrait of New Hollywood in the ‘70s, when a fresh generation of ambitious young directors obliterated the studio system. Biskind’s narrative is familiar to any film buff: in his telling, the young auteurs (Francis Ford Coppola, Peter Bogdanovich, Martin Scorsese, Bob Rafelson, Robert Altman etc.) that took over Hollywood were heroes, eschewing conventional tastes, embracing artistic techniques more commonly found in European art cinema than Hollywood programmers and following their own outsized egos. Their collective talents produced an endless string of masterpieces (The Godfather, The Last Picture Show, Taxi Driver, Five Easy Pieces, Nashville, etc. etc. etc.), propelling movies to a height never before reached and never again matched. That is, until their own excesses (drugs, sex, greed and rampant megalomania) caught up with them, while Steven Spielberg and George Lucas whetted the public’s appetite for mindless blockbusters with Jaws and Star Wars. By the early ‘80s, the Golden Age of Film passed, replaced with an endless parade of bloated schlock and focus-grouped mediocrities worse than what came before. “We are the children of Lucas,” Biskind sadly concludes, “not Coppola.”
It’s amazingly readable, absorbing in its portraiture of the Sixties generation as an army of megalomaniacs fighting each other to make their marks. Like a high school gossip, Biskind relishes the era’s lurid details: Dennis Hopper’s psychotic behavior, from threatening Rip Torn with a knife to shooting at his romantic partners; Robert Evans, the mob-friendly producer devoured by drugs and self-doubt; Warren Beatty, the egotistical star shepherding his films through doubting producers and meddling directors; screenwriter Robert Towne, who penned masterpieces like The Last Detail and Chinatown while burning through cash, pills (both as a user and a hypochondriac) and studio good will; John Milius and Paul Schrader bonding over their shared gun fetish; Francis Ford Coppola’s descent into madness making Apocalypse Now; Faye Dunaway splashing urine on Roman Polanski while filming Chinatown; the antics of critic-arbiter Pauline Kael; and so on. Few appear sympathetic: most take drugs, publicly misbehave, and mistreat their wives, girlfriends and stars; many flirt with radical politics (producer Bert Schneider helps Huey Newton escape to Cuba and reads a telegram from the North Vietnamese government at the 1975 Oscars); all, it seems, double-cross each other over failed projects, bad business deals, romantic rivalries or simple spite. A good many self-destruct through overproduced flops, reducing them to hackwork or retirement.
For all its tabloid splashiness and arresting detail, Biskind’s book is more mythology than history. Many of those chronicled, unsurprisingly, have objected to his portrayal; New Hollywood seems like a gallery of inhuman monsters redeemed only by talent (though, in fairness, it’s hard to spin the behavior of Hopper, or Roman Polanski, or others positively). Still, the increased freedom of ‘70s Hollywood, and the gulf between Before and After, are grossly overstated. Why is The Godfather high art when Jaws is merely well-crafted trash, when both are adaptations of trashy bestsellers elevated by their director’s talent? And for every Nashville or The Conversation, there's a Billy Jack or King of Marvin Gardens, where auteurism curdled into inscrutable self-indulgence. Biskind’s implication that New Hollywood burned out isn’t universally true: Spielberg, of course, emerged from unscathed; Dennis Hopper worked steadily until his death, albeit as an actor rather than director; Robert Altman enjoyed a long career while Martin Scorsese continues to make acclaimed films, forty years after Raging Bull. And old-fashioned studio films continued through the ‘70s, as the success of Airport, The Towering Inferno and similar monstrosities demonstrated. Biskind relates anecdotes but rarely stops to breathe, passes judgments but almost never analyzes. The result is a book that’s great fun to read, but often hard to take seriously.
To my shame, I am a great lover of celebrity gossip. This book allowed me to indulge in that passion whilst still retaining literary respectability on the bus. Basically it's several hundred pages of celebrity gossip from the late Sixties to the mid Eighties in the context of how it shaped the New Hollywood movement in the film industry. The New Hollywood movement being when directors and writers like Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader started making 'difficult' films, films with drugs and violence and unhappy endings, films that critics and film students now love to gush over. The book tells the story of how Taxi Driver, Bonnie and Clyde, Easy Rider, The Godfather and their ilk were made, and how they changed both Hollywood and the world outside of it. To be honest, I don't really like any of the films covered in Easy Riders except for Star Wars (and Lucas and Spielberg are covered here as the exceptions rather than the rule), I'm more of a Hollywood's Golden Era kind of gal. But I do find the film industry and the people in it fascinating so it didn't really impede my enjoyment. Actually, since most the people involved with New Hollywood sound awful maybe its better their films don't hold a special place in my heart. The book seems to be largely pulled together from extensive interviews Biskind has done with actors, producers, writers and directors so it does come across as very authoritative and it's pretty hilarious that many of them having conflicting accounts of what went on (there are quite a lot of instances of 'X says this never happened' after a quote from Y). One thing that niggled was that although there are copious references to drug taking and bad behaviour, there's probably a lot of sexual assault stuff that got left out (James Toback's name pops up now and then and we all know what people are saying about him now) so it's not entirely warts and all. Still, I do think it's an absolute must-read for anyone mad on films.
There are some really amazing stories of some of the best films made in the seventies and the people that made them. Of course I expected sex and drugs to be a big part of the book, its on the cover. And if everything in this book is to be believed then filmmakers are some of the worst people there are and they are all lucky to have lived past the age of 40. They are extremely lucky AIDS wasn't much of a thing until the 80's. But I honestly got a little bored with the sex/drugs/gossip TMZ-of-the-70's like aspects of this book. I think thats the reason I thought it was altogether too long.
I found it interesting that the two guys featured here who were the squeaky clean family oriented ones (Lucas and Spielberg) who the author berated for ruining Hollywood, ended up making the more commercially successful films.
When you get passed all the stories of tipping waitresses with lines of cocaine, there are a lot of really great inside stories of great films. Every movie discussed (Bonnie & Clyde, The Godfather, The Exorcist, Jaws, Star Wars, Shampoo to name a few) is fascinating and fun to read about how those came to be, changed, were financed, kept people up at night, and were received by those who made them. That was worth it, I just wished the author would've cut the fat a little.
An incredible book from beginning to end. Peter Biskind turns what could have been a didactic and academic look at cinema of the 1970s into a terrific work of non-fiction that reads like a novel. You get to know all the key players of the era, how that decade had so many great classics, and how everything and everyone was doomed to fail if they didn't embrace the mainstream. It demystifies many of these figures, humanizing actors, directors, and producers in a way that is funny, enlightening, disturbing, and ultimately depressing. One of the finest books about cinema that I have read, about my favorite decade for the art form.
An interesting read, however it was different book than I was expecting. It has been a few years since I have read "Down & Dirty Pictures," by Biskind, and forgot about my gripes with that book, which is really all my fault.
The worst parts of the book read like TMZ from the seventies, in which you find out who banged who, who did what drug, and why this person is an asshole. I understand the fascination of that, but I was hoping to read more about the actual films that were created. When this occurs, I found myself really loving the book, because I never knew the weird history of "Easy Rider," (or to that extent, the history of BBS despite owning the boxset of their films), or that George Lucas could have directed Apocalypse Now!, just to name two examples.
Also, Woody Allen is curiously absent from this book. I understand why he wasn't a focus, mostly because he doesn't really fit into the narrative that Biskind was trying to create (New Hollywood ate itself, and only a few directors survived once they learned to play nice with the studios), but he would have been a great counterpoint to New Hollywood.
While it's a damn entertaining read, Biskind gets some of his facts wrong, making most of this book suspect as a work chronicling the history of the generation of movie brats that revolutionized Hollywood in the late sixties through the early eighties. Biskind also gets lost reporting lurid details of decadence among the Hollywood hippies during this time, which have a sleazy appeal but ultimately adds up to dated gossip. However, I do appreciate how Biskind refuses to coddle and praise this generation the way most authors and documentarians do. Rather than just blaming Michael Cimino the way everyone seems to do, he points out the shortcomings of these filmmakers, and how most of them inadvertantly brought on the doom of this creative period themselves, which is something to be commended.
Most movie books are about the actors we see on-screen; this one paints a detailed picture of the up-and-coming directors from the late 1960s to the mid-1980s. Some of those who survived and are still around to reminisce on those heady, druggy days include Francis Ford Coppola (Apocalypse Now), Steven Spielberg (Jaws), George Lucas (Star Wars), Martin Scorsese (Raging Bull), William Friedkin (The Exorcist), Peter Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show), and Warren Beatty (Bonnie and Clyde). This tome is a no-holds-barred, tell-all expose on the failures, successes, and excesses of those involved, as the "New Hollywood" directors negotiated studio politics, created amazing cinema, made millions - and sometimes lost it again. It's hilarious, outrageous, and sometimes tragic - but guaranteed never boring. Highly recommended to all movie fans.