four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
34-May-June-2008
By: 
Mark Harris
user_rating: 
0

A-Pictures at a RevolutionOscar night, April 10, 1968. And the nominees for Best Picture are … In the Heat of the Night, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, The Graduate, Bonnie and Clyde, and Doctor Doolittle. The nod went to In the Heat of the Night, starring Sidney Poitier—the first black winner of the Best Actor award and a talent more marketable and famous at the time than Sean Connery and Steve McQueen—and signaled a sea change in the way Hollywood did business. It was a filmmaking revolution, a moving away from the studio system that had dominated the industry for decades. Recounting in vivid detail the genesis of each film—the four that challenged entrenched notions of what film should be (and had been) as well as Doctor Doolittle, entrenched notions that came to symbolize an outmoded Hollywood on its last legs—Mark Harris holds a mirror to a culture in transition.
Penguin. 496 pages. $27.95. ISBN: 1594201528

Boston Globe 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Previous books have covered Hollywood’s high-profile identity crisis, most notably Ethan Mordden’s 1990 study, Medium Cool: The Movies of the 1960s. … Pictures at a Revolution is a superb achievement, and one can only hope that some aspiring, wild-eyed auteur reads it and storms the studio gates." Mark Griffin

Washington Post 4.5 of 5 Stars
"[The author] 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. … 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." Charles Matthews

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"It is Harris’ pleasure to recount the dramas attendant upon these films. … I don’t know of another book that is so rich a compendium of Hollywood moviemaking lore, so amusing, so appalling, so palpably true." Richard Schickel

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"You can’t build a book like this without interviews, and Harris seems to have talked to virtually everyone who’s still around, and to great effect. … American film in 1967 was heading into an unrivaled, if all too short, golden age, and Mark Harris’s legwork and intelligence transport us gratefully back to that exhilarating moment when it was all still about to occur." Jim Shepard

Critical Summary

Mark Harris, a former editor for Entertainment Weekly, combines his remarkable knowledge of film history with interviews and research that capture the Zeitgeist of the late 1960s, particularly the cloistered, changing world of Hollywood. The films that challenged the industry’s expectations were, Harris writes, "game changers, movies that had originated far from Hollywood and had grown into critics’ darlings and major popular phenomena." In the manner of Otto Friedrich’s City of Nets, Peter Biskind’s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, and Ethan Mordden’s Medium Cool, the author does an admirable job of bringing that "revolution" to life. Drawing on his deep knowledge and a sly sense of humor (and irony) about Hollywood’s quirkier side (witness an account of Jane Fonda’s Fourth of July party in 1965), he crafts what Charles Matthews deems "likely to be one of the classics of popular film history."