Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Pictures at a Revolution, Mark Harris


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PICTURES AT A REVOLUTION: FIVE MOVIES AND THE BIRTH OF A NEW HOLLYWOOD (Mark Harris) examined the five pictures nominated that year, the history of their production, the directors, actors and producers involved in the film, and the politics of the country and Hollywood at the time. Some of these movies were developed quickly and others, like Bonnie and Clyde took years to work their way onto the screen and the history of each is fascinating.


What made the five pictures especially interesting was how they harkened back to traditional Hollywood films from an earlier period with Doctor Doolittle and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (despite its interracial theme, it is in every way standard treatment of such, and stars two Hollywood stalwarts), looked forward to the seventies with The Graduate and Bonnie and Clyde, and marked time with In the Heat of the Night. Harris meticulously recounts each film’s history and how it reflected the ambivalence of Hollywood and America in the mid-sixties. The Vietnam War was in high gear and Americans are undecided on where their values and priorities lay. Having been there, I cannot describe how shocking the violence in Bonnie and Clyde was at the time. But also thrilling. And a romance between a twenty year old man and a forty year old woman was also a surprise in The Graduate. (Even if a mere five years or so separated the actors).


Especially interesting is the story of Sidney Portier, starring in two of the five films, Harris recounts his disgust over being repeatedly hired to play a black man that a white audience would not fell threatened by. He never was allowed to play a person of nuance—much less an out and out villain. Because of this, his performances seem more tepid than they might have had he been allowed to play a real person.


Of course, the film to triumph in 1967 was the one in the middle: In the Heat of the Night. I leave you to decide if that was the best choice.


This was a fascinating account I highly recommend for those who follow movie history.


(This first appeared on the website Crimespree Cinema).

21 comments:

Paul D. Brazill said...

It does look interesting. The obvious three are the ones I've liked all my life and am unlikeley to tire of...'dinner' gratedon me the last time I saw it...

Scott Parker said...

Here's a shocker: I've seen none of these films all the way through. However, your review of the book (which both of my local libraries have) has enticed me to do something fun: watch all five films and then read the book.

Anonymous said...

I just read about this in Nick Hornby's SHAKESPEARE WROTE FOR MONEY and it's on my "to read" list.

Jeff M.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Oh, I'll have to find the Hornsby book.
Scott-You might want to skip Dr. Doolittle. It is truly awful and he comes across poorly in the book as well.

Charles Gramlich said...

I'm getting even more where I watch 10 or 15 minutes of a movie and then go on to something else. Most are so dull.

kitty said...

Don't forget another 1967 film Poitier starred in, "To Sir, with Love."

...

Deb said...

I've always felt the spectre of Vietnam hangs over THE GRADUATE, all the more so because at no point anywhere in the movie does anyone make any reference to it. Ben doesn't worry about being drafted/sent to Vietnam; when the TV's on in the background, there are no news shows about the war; none of the middle-aged men who attend Ben's graduation party mention the war. It seems conspicuous by its absence.

We watched "Bonnie & Clyde" on TCM the other night. My kids were disturbed by Buck's and Blanche's injuries because it seemed more "real" than some of the other cartoony violence in the movie--and I'd never noticed before how the banjo music in the background gave a somewhat jaunty air to some of the violence. But their favorite moment was when they recognized Gene Wilder in a small role: "Hey, it's the guy from YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN!"

pattinase (abbott) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
pattinase (abbott) said...

To Kitty-That's a much better movie than Dinner-one of my favorites although again he plays a wholly good man. Also A Patch of Blue.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Deb has left a new comment on your post "Pictures at a Revolution, Mark Harris":

I've always felt the spectre of Vietnam hangs over THE GRADUATE, all the more so because at no point anywhere in the movie does anyone make any reference to it. Ben doesn't worry about being drafted/sent to Vietnam; when the TV's on in the background, there are no news shows about the war; none of the middle-aged men who attend Ben's graduation party mention the war. It seems conspicuous by its absence.

We watched "Bonnie & Clyde" on TCM the other night. My kids were disturbed by Buck's and Blanche's injuries because it seemed more "real" than some of the other cartoony violence in the movie--and I'd never noticed before how the banjo music in the background gave a somewhat jaunty air to some of the violence. But their favorite moment was when they recognized Gene Wilder in a small role: "Hey, it's the guy from YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN!"

Richard R. said...

I've seen them all, but none are things I'd be eager to see again.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I watch THE GRADUATE regularly. The first half especially.

Linda McLaughlin said...

The book sounds really interesting. I saw all of those movies, and the violence in Bonnie and Clyde was shocking at the time. They were all good movies, or at least seemed so then, but I was a lot younger. Great review.

Staci said...

Sounds like a very interesting book especially for those that are really into movies and the history behind them.

Terrie Farley Moran said...

I don't get this whole "birth of the new Hollywood."

Guess I'll have to read the book.

Of this group In the Heat of the Night gets my vote.

Terrie

pattinase (abbott) said...

Movies changed a lot around that time. The "code" began to fall away. You could use profanity, more violence and sex. Movies began to address political and societal concerns more openly. Just as society was changing, so too the movies. Seventies movies are much more direct than movies from an earlier era.

Sarah Laurence said...

It does sound like a really interesting book - great review! Movies mean more in their historical context. I'm especially interested on how views of race have changed over the decades and how this is revealed in books and movies. It's something I'm considering since I have a biracial couple in the YA novel I just wrote.

Keri Mikulski said...

Interesting.. I need to watch more movies. Great review.

Anonymous said...

BONNIE AND CLYDE was Gene Hackman's breakthrough role, and Estelle Parsons was great as well. I'm also a fan of THE GRADUATE, though I haven't watched it in many years. Rod Steiger was bitter about losing the Oscar for THE PAWNBROKER (he lost too Lee Marvin for CAT BALLOU) and felt his Oscar for HEAT was payback.

DINNER is just painful to watch, and Hepburn's niece was no actress. I've never seen DR. DOOLITTLE, nor do I wish to.

Jeff M.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Skipping Doolittle is a good choice.

Barrie said...

I'm embarrassed to say I've never seen In the Heat of the Night. This book sounds as though it would make a great gift for cinephile. I love it when there's at least one non-fiction review.