Craig Werner's Reviews > Easy Riders, Raging Bulls

Easy Riders, Raging Bulls by Peter Biskind
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Jul 04, 2011

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Read from March 14 to 25, 2014

Like the 70s and the film that helped define it, this book is a slightly incoherent, somewhat frustrating, and for all of that engrossing mess. The book's part industry insider-style summary of wheeling and dealing; part tawdry gossip sheet--I really don't want to know any more about who slept or didn't sleep (according to the obligary "X denies that she slept with Y" addendum) with whom; and part overview of some of the most interesting films ever made in the US. The thesis is clear enough: the young directors who blew away the Old Hollywood system in the late 60s blew their chance at creating a lasting alternative cinema in the 70s. The culprits were drugs--lots and lots and lots of drugs--sexual indulgence, creative self-indulgence, and a collective failure to live up to the communal ideas they'd started out with. Biskind's not really a very good writer; the style is pedestrian, the approach to evidence utterly non-critical; if he heard a story, that's good enough for him. And there's just about no insight into the films. He evaluates the success of movies primarily on whether they made a lot of money. I was a bit surprised to hear him referring to movies like The Last Picture Show, Raging Bull, and The King of Comedy, all of which I either love or have a deep respect for, as failures because they didn't make the investors a zillion dollars. I can't remember a single moment that gave me new insight into the films. Nonetheless, the stories have a kind of "car wreck" fascination; Dennis Hopper is, to use the vernacular of the time, a trip and a half. Most of the protagonists come off as jerks--Coppola, Bogdanovich, Spielberg, Ashby, etc. You definitely wouldn't want to have been a woman around any of them. But, for all that, they were interesting jerks and if you want to know about them, this is the best book I know of.
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