Pictures At A Revolution by Mark Harris

Yes, you’re in the right place. We are actually reviewing a book…

I have wanted to read Pictures At a Revolution for a few years, it was released 2008. I used to be a subscriber to Entertainment Weekly at the time and the author wrote for them. My interest was sparked again while talking with Brian about films that are in their anniversary year. This book perfectly captured Hollywood from 50 years ago, and goes in depth to tell you about the making of the 5 best picture nominees for 1967.

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Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Doctor Dolittle, and In the Heat of the Night. 5 films with very different story lines, that pushed the boundaries of dealing with sex, violence and race that had never been seen before on film.

Mark Harris doesn’t just focus on the making of these films though. He frames the films brilliantly with the political climate of the times. Our country was involved in Vietnam, there were Civil Rights issues being decided, as well as high profile assassinations. These films were in some ways the product of the times, a generational shift, and they also heavily influenced Hollywood’s future.

The ratings codes was already in flux at the time they were made. Hollywood was still transitioning to color and dealing with pressure from television’s popularity. There was also a big influence from European filmmakers, and the effects of big productions that had bombed like Cleopatra, or newer musicals that were big successes like My Fair Lady, Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music.

Harris uses interviews from people who were involved, to tell great behind the scenes stories. You get to hear about all the production issues on Doctor Dolittle, including issues with the ego of star Rex Harrison, the budget being blown out of proportion, and issues with all the animals trained to be used for the film. This film’s inclusion in the list of nominees was only because the studio bribed voters, as it is historically considered a failure.

He also focuses on the rise and fall of certain famous people of the time. Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman were basically unknown, their involvement in these films launched their careers. While Audrey Hepburn, and Anne Bancroft were near the end of their careers. Spencer Tracy was near death during the entire filming of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Which caused many production delays and this became his last film before his death. Sidney Poitier was a rising star at that time and was redefining what Hollywood thought a star looked like.

I don’t want to give too much more away, but let me tell you I was totally sucked into this book. If you are into film history at all, it is a fascinating read. It’s amazing to look back on how times were changing then and how far we have come since. I have seen 4 out of the 5 films, but just hearing the stories and learning about the behind the scenes issues, makes me want to rewatch them all. Please check out this book if you get a chance, or at least go back and check these films out again.

To know where we are headed, we need to learn where we’ve been.

–Tony

 

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