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Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and…

Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood

by Mark Harris

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4452334,171 (4.19)43
  1. 10
    Medium Cool: The Movies of the 1960s by Ethan Mordden (ABVR)
    ABVR: Harris does an in-depth look at the production of five movies from the very end of the Sixties; Mordden gives a broad survey of the changes in Hollywood that led up to them.
  2. 00
    Easy riders, raging bulls : how the sex-drugs-and-rock 'n' roll generation saved Hollywood by Peter Biskind (sanddancer)

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I completed a book that has been on the shelves for a while - Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of New Hollywood by Mark Harris. This is interesting stuff, as it not only tells the history of how the movies came to be made but also of how their cast came to be assembled. The five movies are: Bonnie and Clyde, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, The Graduate, In the Heat of the Night and Doctor Dolittle. Fascinating in particular to me as the movies are all from 1967, which was my birth year. There is a bit of serendipity at work, too, since I recently read John Lewis' March trilogy - so again I read about how Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier traveled to Greenville, Mississippi "just days after the murder of three civil rights workers, to meet with Stokely Carmichael and members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) at a small dance hall. The two performers were followed the entire time they were there by the Ku Klux Klan." In fact, these incidents scared Poitier so badly that he insisted that In the Heat of the Night be filmed above the Mason Dixon Line, which is why the movie was shot in Sparta, Illinois and not in Mississippi. Only the cotton field scenes were shot in the South (in Tennessee), and that experience was a very scary one for all involved, so they cut their time there short.

The book follows the films all the way up through the 1968 Oscars, which were delayed that year because of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The five movies were each nominated for Best Picture of 1967 - In the Heat of the Night won. I liked that in the epilogue, the author provided the rest of the story for each of the key players in the book - just a brief overview of the rest of their careers. As further research, the kids and I have been watching the movies - a few nights ago we watched In the Heat of the Night, which we all really liked (the book is very good, too), and last night we watched The Graduate - the girls had not seen it before, and they loved it. Looking forward to viewing the rest of the films together - although probably not Dr. Doolittle, as it turns out Rex Harrison was a complete ass. ( )
  Crazymamie | Mar 10, 2018 |
[This was also published at my website, the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography.]

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 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.

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 more about how the countercultural era came about in the first place. ( )
  jasonpettus | Aug 8, 2017 |
Fun behind-the-scenes history of the five films nominated for the Best Picture Oscar in 1967. Stray observations: Rex Harrison seems like a prick. Poor Sidney Poitier. Dustin Hoffman is the bomb. Bonnie and Clyde ftw (not literally). ( )
  jalbacutler | Jan 10, 2017 |
"As in the case with most Academy Awards ceremonies, there was less symbolism to be extracted from the evening than morning-after analysts might have imagined, and even that applied only to the Academy's taste in movies, not to the country's."
-- Mark Harris, "Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood"

The above quotation, found near the end of "Pictures at a Revolution," a fascinating 2008 book about the five movies nominated for best picture in 1968, seems like an odd thing for Mark Harris to say, given that his entire book focuses on the symbolism of those five movies and the 1968 Academy Awards. His thesis is that what he calls New Hollywood began to take over from Old Hollywood that year. All five movies nominated -- "In the Heat of the Night," "The Graduate," "Bonnie and Clyde," "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" and "Doctor Doolittle" -- were American-made, following a long period of British dominance at awards ceremonies. Younger, liberal, independent film makers, greatly influenced by European directors, began to replace older, conservative studio heads.

The ceremony in 1968, which was delayed by the death of Martin Luther King, reflected the struggle of the two camps, according to Harris. "The Graduate" and "Bonnie and Clyde" very much represented New Hollywood, while "Doctor Doolittle," the only one of the five films to never break even, represented Old Hollywood. "In the Heat of the Night," which won the award for best picture that year, and "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," were mostly Old Hollywood, but they both starred Sidney Poitier and both dealt with race relations, a timely topic even if the latter film was considered out of date by the time of its release.

Harris goes into exhaustive detail about the making of all five of those movies. Much of his information may be gathered from other sources, yet much of it is also based on his interviews with those involved in the productions. Among the tidbits he shares:

-- French directors Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard both considered directing "Bonnie and Clyde." Instead Arthur Penn made the movie and got a nomination for his efforts. It may be a good thing Godard didn't take the job because he wanted to make the movie, set in Texas and surrounding states, in New Jersey in January.

-- Among actresses considered for the part of Mrs. Robinson in "The Graduate" were Doris Day, Jeanne Moreau, Patricia Neal and Ava Gardner. Anne Bancroft ultimately got the part. And the Simon and Garfunkel song "Here's to You Mrs. Robinson" was originally written to mention Mrs. Roosevelt.

-- Spencer Tracy's monologue at the end of "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" took six days to shoot. Tracy was so ill at at the time he could work just a few hours each day. He died before the movie was released.

--Bosley Crowther, the longtime New York Times movie critic, lost his job because he panned "Bonnie and Clyde" again and again and again. He loved "Cleopatra." Meanwhile, Pauline Kael got her job as film critic at The New Yorker because of an article she wrote praising "Bonnie and Clyde."

"Oliver!," made in Great Britain, won the Academy Award for best picture the following year, but it was the last British film to win until 1982 ("Chariots of Fire"). New Hollywood had taken over. ( )
  hardlyhardy | Nov 21, 2014 |
This history of the change in the movie and film industry focused around the Best Picture nominees for 1967. As a fan of film, I found the stories behind the stories fascinating. It reads like story that brings the facts to life. ( )
  lindap69 | Apr 5, 2013 |
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Harris’s research allows him to raise the ante on just how stupefyingly timid and hidebound the industry had become. The pilot for the sitcom “Bewitched” languished for more than a year because of complaints by ABC’s Southern stations that its adman-loves-witch premise was “a veiled argument for racial intermarriage.” The book is full of these sorts of “Who’d have imagined?” pleasures. Had you known that Doris Day and Ronald Reagan were the early choices to play Mr. and Mrs. Robinson? That “What’s new, pussycat?” was one of Warren Beatty’s signature seduction lines? That Artie Shaw compared reading the script of “Bonnie and Clyde” to “looking in a sewer”?

Harris’s decision to track the projects year by year, alternating among them, allows us to so fully engage the filmmakers’ dogged will in the face of setbacks that we find ourselves rooting hard for even “Doctor Dolittle” to work out. “Bonnie and Clyde” may furnish the zippiest narrative: from its conception as a gangster film about, in Robert Benton’s words, “all the things they didn’t show you in a gangster film,” including the way rollicking good fun could turn instantly lethal; to its composition, with Benton and his screenwriting partner, David Newman, working while Flatt and Scruggs played “at full volume on the phonograph”; to its memorable and successful ad campaign. (“They’re Young. They’re in Love. And They Kill People.”)
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A few dozen reporters, wire-service men, studio publicity department employees, gossip columnists, and personal managers were gathered on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood outside the locked headquarters of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. It was the morning of February 20, 1968.
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[Explores] the epic human drama behind the making of the five movies nominated for Best Picture in 1967-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.--From publisher description.… (more)

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Canongate Books

2 editions of this book were published by Canongate Books.

Editions: 1847671020, 1847671217

Tantor Media

An edition of this book was published by Tantor Media.

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