Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Mark Harris: Pictures At A Revolution

A naked woman paces the floor of her bedroom, desperate for something just outside her window. A young man comes home after finishing college, terrified but too polite to tell anyone. A black detective waits at a train station in the deep South, soon to be a murder suspect because of the color of his skin. An aging couple gets unexpected news from their daughter, forcing them to confront prejudices they built their lives on not having. And a man in a top hat sings a love song to a seal before tossing it over a cliff.


From such beginnings came the Best Picture nominees of the 1967 Academy Awards: Bonnie And Clyde, The Graduate, In The Heat Of The Night, Guess Who's Coming To Dinner, and the ill-fated Dr. Dolittle. In Pictures At A Revolution: Five Movies And The Birth Of The New Hollywood, Entertainment Weekly writer-editor Mark Harris details the history of each film, and through them explores a Hollywood in transition. From directors inspired by French New Wave auteurs like François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard to studio moguls desperate to ape the success of big-budget musicals like My Fair Lady, it was a period of contradiction, when Bob Hope could crack bad jokes about race relations while the country's biggest box-office draw, Sidney Poitier, squirmed in the audience. Change was inevitable; the only question was whose back would hit the wall first.

Books about the movies generally fall into two camps: Either filmmaking is the most fun a person can have without bubblegum, or else it's such a debilitating process that it's amazing anything worth watching ever gets made. Harris has it both ways. Instead of focusing on the movies individually, he wisely chooses to document all five at once, mixing the inspirations for Bonnie's screenplay with Rex Harrison's drunken antics on the set of Dolittle, and the final shooting days of Spencer Tracy. The result is a seamless history of an industry caught between the conservatism of the old and the jittery frustration of the new. It's a terrific read that provides context without settling for easy answers; like the best movies, it tells the truth, and leaves interpretation to the audience.