Review to come. Yesterday I went into Book Soup, my favorite LA indie bookstore, somehow thriving after close to forty years.I found on a table a stack of copies of the book PICTURES AT A REVOLUTION, by Mark Harris Now, there aren t many necessary books about Hollywood this is one of them THE STUDIO, by John Gregory Dunne, is another Dunne reports on the inner working of 20th Century Fox at the same time Harris writes about in his book Dunne was there bad idea Joan Didion Writers are always selling somebody out Harris might as well have been there, as his writing is that vivid, events seeming to happen in front of him as he writes, capturing them with an artful simplicity that seems to let them speak for themselves And then there s PICTURE, by Lillian Ross, a long New Yorker piece from the early 50 s about the making of John Huston s THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE which I ve never seen, or read Hmmm But this book is in a class by itself Harris picks one year 1967 and picks that year s product specifically, the films upon which it, Hollywood , then as now idea than place chose to bestow Best Picture nominations as a lens to examine a seismic shift in American culture, in that extended moment when the fly infested, rheumatic lions of the past creakily tried to roar away the new pride that approached the gates and said Let us in The films are Doctor Doolittle, In the Heat of the Night, Guess Who s Coming to Dinner, The Graduate, and Bonnie and Clyde Old Hollywood began to die, and new Hollywood that would lead to the golden age of the 70 s began to blossom.Harris approaches this with the fervor of an investigative journalist, tirelessly trying to get to the bottom of things And he has a sense of humor there are hilarious tales of Hollywood here I ve never heard, and I ve heard a lot of them, including some I ve made up Someone recently quoted to me an insight of the late director Alan Pakula, who said actors are all the same person, in different bodies PICTURES AT A REVOLUTION casts its net wider than the actor pool, but the truth behind Pakula s remark applies to those drawn to work and live in Hollywood in general The book is set in 1967, but the dreams and dreamers and bloviated red faced vanity Harris writes about is somehow timeless, and I suspect always will be. Five movies were nominated for Best Picture that year BONNIE AND CLYDE, IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT, GUESS WHO S COMING TO DINNER, DR DOOLITTLE, and THE GRADUATE Each movie had something to say about how Old Hollywood was coping or not coping with the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam War, and the Sixties 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.This is the most wonderful, amazing, and insightful book on movies I ve read since EASY RIDERS, RAGING BULLS In fact it s almost a perfect prequel to that other work, since it shows how the success of early youth pictures like THE GRADUATE and BONNIE AND CLYDE gave an opening to young film makers who were waiting to break all the rules Mark Harris describes the making of all five movies in great detail, with amazingly candid quotes from the stars, the writers, the directors, and the leading movie critics of the day The book is a gold mine of fascinating personal anecdotes, everything from prim and starchy Katherine Hepburn s slavish, Geisha like submission to the cruel, drunken, derelict Spencer Tracy, to Warren Beatty s gelatinous, oozy charm being unleashed like a secret weapon against the world of the aging studio heads Even though I raced through this book in a matter of days, and even though I recommend it to anyone who enjoys exciting books about the movies, there were a few things that irritated me Mark Harris seems to take every single thing the BONNIE AND CLYDE people have to say about their movie at face value And the same applies to THE GRADUATE I understand that these movies seemed shocking and revolutionary at the time but I also think that after almost fifty years they haven t aged well Both movies have a smug, smirking, hipper than thou tone that is not justified by any real power in either the acting performances or the writing 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 I understand the real point of the book, though THE GODFATHER, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, and THE WILD BUNCH are all movies that went further than BONNIE AND CLYDE But BONNIE AND CLYDE got there first If you ignore COOL HAND LUKE. Over at the film nerd social network I belong to, Letterboxd.com, one of the tasks in this month s Movie Scavenger Hunt is to watch one of the films discussed in Mark Harris 2008 book Pictures at a Revolution and I thought this would give me a good excuse to finally read the book itself as well, which I ve been wanting to do ever since it came out An ingenious blend of Hollywood insider tale and legitimate history text, Harris takes the five movies nominated for the 1967 Best Picture Oscar Bonnie Clyde, The Graduate, In The Heat of the Night, Guess Who s Coming to Dinner and Dr Dolittle then simply recounts the stories of how all five got made in the years previous, showing the sometimes very different circuitous routes based on what kind of production it was 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 SIXTIESnot 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 remarkable for Harris taking an inside out approach in actually telling the story, painting a much bigger and sweeping picture merely through the act of describing how these five particular films actually got made Full of literally hundreds of anecdotes that are just begging to be retold at dinner parties to impress your friends, this is an astute, insightful, yet highly entertaining read, a 400 page tome that I blew through in just a day and a half because I literally couldn t put it down It comes strongly recommended not just to film buffs but to anyone who s interested in learning about how the countercultural era came about in the first place. Explores The Epic Human Drama Behind The Making Of The Five Movies Nominated For Best Picture In Guess Who S Coming To Dinner, The Graduate, In The Heat Of The Night, Doctor Doolittle, And Bonnie And Clyde And Through Them, The Larger Story Of The Cultural Revolution That Transformed Hollywood, And America, Forever Outstanding study of the five films nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award of 1967 The year was of particular significance as it was a critical turning point in Hollywood film production with the old studio system gradually giving way to the New Hollywood of maverick filmmakers and a new vision of movie making.Mark Harris has brilliantly told the story of this dynamic period through five films Bonnie and Clyde Doctor Dolittle The Graduate Guess Who s Coming to Dinner and In the Heat of the Night but this is only just the seed to a superb overall analysis of American filmmaking of the period.Entertaining and enlightening, impeccably researched and written by a film historian who knows his stuff, this book is unreservedly, one of the finest books I have ever read on the cinema A master work and essential reading for anyone interested in film and social history of the time. Oscar plays it safe You can trust the Academy to pick a Forrest Gump over a Pulp Fiction, an Ordinary People over a Raging Bull, or a Kramer vs Kramer over an Apocalypse Now Or a well made, socially conscious melodrama like In the Heat of the Night over groundbreaking movies like Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate That s 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 Who s Coming to Dinner and Doctor Dolittle The conventional way of writing about five movies would be to devote a section of the book to each But Harris does something difficult and far illuminating He weaves together the stories of how each movie was conceived, crafted, released, critiqued and received He writes about the five or six years in which the filmmakers, some of them old pros and some of them rank novices, struggled with a studio system in collapse, an audience whose tastes and enthusiasms seemed wildly unpredictable, and a culture being transformed by volatile social and political forces.A few figures dominate Harris narrative writers Robert Benton, David Newman and Robert Towne actor producer Warren Beatty producers Lawrence Turman, Stanley Kramer and Arthur P Jacobs studio heads Jack Warner and Richard Zanuck directors Mike Nichols, Norman Jewison and Arthur Penn actors Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Dustin Hoffman, Rod Steiger, Rex Harrison and Sidney Poitier The book has what Hollywood publicists used to brag about a cast of thousands.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 He had become an unexpected star in 1967, Harris tells us, Box Office magazine rated Poitier as the fifth biggest star in Hollywood, ahead of Sean Connery and Steve McQueen His drawing power was a shock to an industry that had, until recently, treated his employment in movies as something akin to an act of charity But at the same time, a rift had grown between Poitier and a younger, militant black cultural intelligentsia that mocked him as an Uncle Tom The author of one of these denunciations, Clifford Mason, now admits that he jumped all over Sidney because I wanted him to be Humphrey Bogart when he was really Cary Grant, but he persists in his criticism of the role that Sidney always played the black person with dignity who worries about the white people s problems you don t play that part over and over unless you re comfortable with that kind of suffering Racial tensions and the protest against the war in Vietnam played a large role in shaping these movies 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 Its producers were inspired by the smash success of My Fair Lady, Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music Historically, Harris comments, the only event disruptive to the industry s ecosystem than an unexpected flop is an unexpected smash, and, caught off guard by the sudden arrival of revenue than they thought their movies could ever bring in, the major studios resorted to three old habits imitation, frenzied speculation, and panic Imitation was the first impetus behind Doctor Dolittle Alan Jay Lerner, Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews were the talents the producers sought for the film, but they wound up with only one of them The panic came later a good deal, but not all, of it caused by the irascible and demanding Harrison, whom Harris presents as a man filled with anger and paranoia Among other things, Harrison was an anti Semite, which led to confrontations with his co star Anthony Newley, whom he disparaged sometimes to his face, as a Jewish comic or a cockney Jew Harris has created what seems likely to be one of the classics of popular film history, useful to dedicated students of film and cultural historians, and also to trivia buffs Did you know that Beatty s original choices to play Bonnie and Clyde were his sister, Shirley MacLaine, and Bob Dylan Harris writes with a wit that s sly, not show offy He can encapsulate the woes of shooting Doctor Dolittle in four words The rhinoceros got pneumonia And he can slip in a bit of insider humor with a reference to Newley s then wife, Joan Collins, who reentered the Hollywood social scene she loved with the vigor of an Olympic athlete the syntax leaving it up to the reader to decide whether the prepositional phrase modifies reentered or loved Indeed, almost the only complaint about Pictures at a Revolution is that, except for an Epilogue that briefly sums up the later careers of the major figures, it ends at the Oscar ceremony 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 And there were other consequences Kramer vs Kramer now seems like little than a well made domestic drama, while the film that it defeated for the best picture in 1979, Francis Ford Coppola s audacious mess of a movie, Apocalypse Now, is regarded as a classic Kramer vs 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 In eleven years, Benton and Hoffman had gone from being icons of a film revolution to pillars of the establishment That s the way things work in Hollywood If you can t beat em, assimilate em. Review to come. This book was a honking huge volume Luckily, I really enjoy books about production history, I was already familar with all of the films and we had talked a little bit about the birth of New Hollywood in several of my critical studies film classes at USC So, I came into the book knowing that I would love it Oh, boy, did I ever.Mark Harris really delves into a detailed history of each movie, from conception to pitching to production to marketing to the actual Academy Awards ceremony I loved it He used a very strict chronological timeframe, so his descriptions of projects often bled into each other if things happened at the same time I couldn t really differentiate chapters and couldn t actually understand the point of the divisions in the structure of the book Despite that little construction issue, I really loved the included pictures, the funny little anecdotes, and the cultural background that Harris included As someone who wasn t around during the 1960s, I appreciated Harris descriptions of influential films and political events that shaped a lot of the decisions of the major players I had never imagined how incestuous Hollywood was at that time Sidney Poitier starred in two of the films nominated for Best Picture in 1968 Guess Who s Coming to Dinner and In the Heat of the Night He was also supposed to be involved in Dr Doolittle Even the sections about Bonnie and Clyde and the Graduate mentioned him in passing Harris doesn t refrain from being a bit gossipy in his prose, either I got to hear stories about Rex Harrison and his drunken lush of a wife Katherine Hepburn and her amazingly enigmatic relationship with Spencer Tracy Sidney Poitier s inner turmoil at being the token black actor of Hollywood Dustin Hoffman s reluctance about being a film actor I really read this book with IMDB at my side I looked up almost every figure to see what they ve done recently, what they did before In a way, reading the book with IMDB was a bit like skipping to the end and seeing spoilers but I do that anyway This was an amazing work 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 The best histories are not just about their own subject, but give you a whole feel for the time and place Harris has got into every part of this story he s spoken to everyone, and read everything, but most of all he can really tell a great story One of the best film books I ve read, and I ve read many This is up there with Steven Bach s Final Cut for me.