Sunday, November 22, 2009

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

I have a rather macabre fascination with Hollywood, actors and the motion picture industry in general, so when I saw the title, Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood, which was written by Mark Harris, I jumped on it faster than a toad on a June bug. For some ridiculous reason I had a counter-intuitive need to understand what gave Mr. Harris license to write about motion pictures – as if anything about that industry even implies truth or reality, but when I went to the Mark Harris page at, it was pretty blank, this evidently being his only book. But critics who know what their talking about (unlike moi) seem to think his observations in Pictures at a Revolution are pretty credible, so I’ll just leave that be and move on to the meat.  

Pictures at a Revolution was very informative, in a gossip rag sort of way. Harris parts the Kimono of movie making to show the good, the bad and the ugly and although such an expose could probably be done for just about any era in the industry, this one, 1967, was particularly enthralling because that was a big transition year for me. I’d just graduated from high school, gotten married, started college and was living for the first time in the big city (Dallas) – moving from a very small world to a dizzyingly large one. 

Pictures at a Revolution dissects the five nominees for the best picture Oscar of 1967, Doctor Dolittle, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, In the Heat of the Night, Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate. OK, I guess I have your attention now. Obviously, Doctor Dolittle is a throw-a-way (it was a stinker of a movie, but the story behind the story is fun and funny), but the rest certainly did a number on my head at the time. Here’s the down and dirty. Spoiler Alert! If you don't want to find out some of the juicy details before reading the book - stop here!

Rex Harris and Spencer Tracey were both raging alcoholics and complete and total asses. I could have cared less about Rex Harris, although I’ll never watch My Fair Lady again, one of my favorites, without fighting the urge to punt Harris into the Thames. However, I was devastated about Spencer Tracey. I was even willing to overlook his indiscretions with Katherine Hepburn, but he’s not my grandfather figure anymore – not since I heard that he was a mean drunk, regularly verbally abusing Katherine in front of everyone.

Sydney Poitier was the black pawn in the industry, resentfully walking a delicate tightrope of credibility and “knowing his place.” The dynamics of his career, as discussed in association with In the Heat of the Night and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,  are predictably provocative and made me want to read his biography, Measure of a Man.

I couldn’t wait to read about Mike Nichols, Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft and the making of The Graduate, and it was all good stuff, but what really shocked me out of my shoes was finding out what a witch Anne Bancroft was. I love/loved Anne Bancroft! She was married to Mel Brooks, and I love Mel Brooks. I’m just devastated about that one. Well, maybe that’s why Mel Brooks was so funny – he was married to a hussy.

Believe it or not though Harris’s twines about Bonnie and Clyde steal the book. There was so much going on there I was riveted. I gained a new sort of perverse respect for Warren Beatty (read the book and you’ll see why), and learned a lot more nuances about the movie that my little hick mind never deduced way back when. I need to rent Bonnie and Clyde and watch it again with new eyes. Let me just say that the observations about Faye Dunaway were pretty droll.

If you give two hoots and a holler about movies or movie stars give Pictures at a Revolution a spin. It’s a fun read.

1 comment:

  1. Sue Ann, love this post; however, Diane is Dixie's middle name. Mine is Colleen. Remember? And as I recall, there was a small liquor store in that closet. Love ya!