I bring up the Oscars because the book Pictures at a Revolution by Mark Harris culminates at the 1968 Oscar ceremony. Anyone with a modicum of curiosity and energy can google the particulars and quickly discover that Norman Jewison's high-minded film In the Heat of the Night won the Best Picture award that year. Harris suggests that the film was a sort of compromise victorysplitting the difference between the nascent adventurism of New Hollywood, exemplified by co-nominees Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate, and the musty traditionalism of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and Doctor Doolitte. He brings it up but fails to really address it, so you'll end up remembering the rumor without any idea if it's plausible or even where it originated.) Despite its minor failingsthe author worked for Entertainment Weekly (sniff) so what can you expect?I can't recommend Pictures at a Revolution strongly enough for readers interested in film history.
But BONNIE AND CLYDE and THE GRADUATE in particular were movies that suggested a New Hollywood was being born among the ashes of the old. Mark Harris seems to take every single thing the BONNIE AND CLYDE people have to say about their movie at face value. Mark Harris never explains why a tough prison drama like COOL HAND LUKE, which is just as dark and just as complex as BONNIE AND CLYDE, and was nominated in the same year for a number of Academy Awards (George Kennedy won Best Supporting Actor for his bigger-than-life portrayal of Dragline) just doesn't pass the official hipness test.
(Bonnie & Clyde, for example, took three years just to find a financier, because no one in Hollywood thought this bizarre little story full of sex and violence would ever get theatrical distribution, much less past the censors in the Hays Code office; Dr. Dolittle, on the other hand, a desperate last attempt by Hollywood's old guard to have another hit on the level of the recent My Fair Lady, was warmly embraced by the studios from day one, even as its budget eventually swelled to today's equivalent of half a billion dollars, at the same time that test audiences were giving every indication that it would become the massive disaster that it eventually turned out to be.) By stringing all these stories together, then, and especially interspersing their development details based on the chronological order of all five, Harris almost accidentally tells a much grander story about the changing nature of the American arts in general during these years, enfolding a series of related moments that were happening at the same time that helped turn this particular year in film history into a watershed moment that we now know as the birth of "New Hollywood." (In the same years as these movies were being made 1964 to 1967, counting the development periods, Walt Disney also died, the last of the active Warner Brothers retired, the Hays Code was officially abandoned, interracial marriage was decriminalized, the first Hollywood studio was sold to a multinational non-filmmaking corporation, and Esquire published its famous "The New Sophistication" article, which for the first time codified the '60s into THE SIXTIES...not by coincidence written by David Newman and Robert Benton, who also wrote the Bonnie & Clyde screenplay, under the stated goal of making "America's very first French New Wave film.") I had already known a bit about how the New Hollywood paradigm came about in these years; but Pictures of a Revolution lays out the story in all its messy, fascinating detail, all the more remarkable for Harris taking an "inside-out" approach in actually telling the story, painting a much bigger and more sweeping picture merely through the act of describing how these five particular films actually got made.
Thats part of the story that Mark Harris tells in his richly fascinating book, Pictures at a Revolution, which focuses on the five nominees for best picture in 1968 the other two were Guess Whos Coming to Dinner and Doctor Dolittle. Poitier figures in the stories of three of the movies "In the Heat of the Night" and "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," in which he acted, and "Doctor Dolittle," in which he was cast in a featured role until its chaotic filming led to his being written out of the script. Harris, a writer and former editor for Entertainment Weekly, not only demonstrates how the filmmakers responded to social and political change, but he also has a working knowledge of the film industry that allows him to elaborate on how a colossal flop like Doctor Dolittle came about (and how it could be nominated for a best picture Oscar over better-received movies such as In Cold Blood, Cool Hand Luke and Two for the Road). Historically, Harris comments, the only event more disruptive to the industrys ecosystem than an unexpected flop is an unexpected smash, and, caught off guard by the sudden arrival of more revenue than they thought their movies could ever bring in, the major studios resorted to three old habits: imitation, frenzied speculation, and panic. You want Harris to go on, to talk about how the success of Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate also caused the studios to resort to their old habits of imitation, frenzied speculation, and panic. Kramer also won Oscars for its writer and director, Robert Benton, one of the writers of Bonnie and Clyde, and for Dustin Hoffman, who had become a movie star in The Graduate.
Luckily, I really enjoy books about production history, I was already familar with all of the films... So, I came into the book knowing that I would love it. In a way, reading the book with IMDB was a bit like skipping to the end and seeing spoilers... If someone was even moderately interested in film history, they would love this.
This book is journalism at its absolute best; impeccable research and a wonderful story.
are all well represented in our home), and most years we even try to see all the films nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. My favorite actor of all time is probably Paul Newman, and he was nominated for Best Actor in one of my favorite movies ever, Cool Hand Luke in the year 1967, and The Dirty Dozen is another of my favorites released that year. Ive never actually seen The Graduate, In the Heat of the Night, Bonnie and Clyde, or the original versions of Dr. Dolittle or Guess Whos Coming to Dinner in their entireties. Likewise, I know who Mr. Tibbs is, and Ive seen the remake of Dr. Dolittle and probably watched most of Guess Whos Coming to Dinner in various intervals while my moms had it on tv. The end result is the biggest negative I can say about this book is that by limiting it to the best picture nominated films, I was left wanting to hear more about the Cool Hand Luke, The Dirty Dozen, Camelot and other productions that were referenced as taking place.
Other highlights in polite company include a drunk handstand in a skirt while wearing no underwear and the all time, best reason Liz Taylor and Richard Burton thought "don't invite them to any more parties, I don't care if we have stuff in common and it's Italy and we don't know that many people" : she barked like a dog (of course!) in the middle of a party, then got down on the floor and began to masturbate a beagle.
As for the films in question: THE GRADUATE > BONNIE AND CLYDE > IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT > GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER (I couldn't bring myself to watch DOCTOR DOLITTLE, and I'm convinced by Harris's account that I don't need to.)
Mark Harriss first book, Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood, was published this year.