Sunday, March 8, 2009
The Revolution Was Kinda Sorta Televised
Dig the scene at the Santa Monica Auditorium on April 10 1968, the night of that year’s Academy celebration: Julie Andrews announcing the five Best Picture nominees, Bonnie and Clyde, Doctor Doolittle, The Graduate, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, In the Heat of the Night, more than likely followed by a huge brain-cracking pause before the applause if any audience member at all pondered the implausibility of such a thoroughly disparate bunching of movie nominations The strange brew consisted of a of highly self-aware crime story, a mummified musical, a politicized coming-of-age tale starring a weird looking unknown, a cake-and-frosting version of civil rights, and a lean and mean melodrama poking into more civil rights issues featuring the same star, Sidney Poitier, as actor star that somehow wasn’t nominated for either of his box-office-boffo role. In short, it was a night illustrative of a careening industry, a Hollywood splitting apart at the seams, a studio system in its death throes.
Mark Harris has written a wonderfully detailed book about Hollywood in upheaval, Pictures at a Revolution (Penguin, 2008, 490 pp., $17.00 paperback), wherein he takes each of the five movies from inception through execution onto post production into actual theatrical release. The inside stories abound, old schoolers thundering against shifting social and moral parameters, upstarts veering uncharted territory, age-old rules and expectations mutating with the turbulent times. A few books and even some documentaries have ventured into the same intriguing territory—after all there is nothing more fascinating for a student of Hollywood movie-making to peer inside the brick-by-brick demolition of a system so simultaneously despised and venerated—yet by honing in on the cause and effect of just five pictures Harris brings the blinkering state of the commercial movie arts during that pivotal period into true deep focus. Simply a must read for those pining for the stardust of Hollywood bygone or blissfully remembering the bountiful easy rider-raging bull era that sprung from the slow dissolve of the studio system.