Monday, June 26, 2006

I'm ready for my close-up

Following up on Tripp's post on books about the movies (and doing it as a post rather than a comment because I am too dumb to link to a comment), anyone with even the slightest interest in 1970s-era film-making should pick up Peter Biskind's Easy Riders & Raging Bulls. Biskind covers Hollywood in the 70s with the expected assortment of vile, horrible, immensely entertaining misbehavior. Dennis Hopper and Peter Bogdanovich stand out in their (quite disparate) awfulness, from which neither has ever quite recovered (Bogdanovich is probably best known now for playing Julie Melfi's creepy shrink in The Sopranos).

What saves the book from being a mere chronicle of excess (as entertaining as that would be) is the quality of the films themselves and Biskind's obvious love for them and for the tortured people who managed great work in spite of themselves. The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, The Exorcist, Nashville, Taxi Driver, Days of Heaven, Five Easy Pieces, Bonnie & Clyde, The Last Picture Show, The Deer Hunter - the list could go on quite a bit longer (although I confess that I've always thought Easy Rider was crap). Add in the birth of the blockbuster movie (Biskind makes a pretty good case that Spielberg invented the form and Lucas - however briefly - perfected it) and it is quite a story.

The last thing that recommends ER&RB is something that I find missing from many books on film. The fact that Biskind's focus starts in 1968 or so means that most, if not all, of the films he writes about are available and, more important, accessible if you want to go back for another look. I'm sure Fritz Lang's Metropolis and Marlene Dietrich's Blue Angel are important advances in film, but have you ever tried to watch that stuff? Zzzzzzzzzzz.


Tripp said...

Does he go into the paranoid mid-70s stuff like the Parallax View, the Conversation and Three Days of the Condor? I love those movies.

Steve said...

I don't recall. He tends to focus on the more obvious big name movies with some digressions into really bad choices that suddenly successful directors tend to make. Billy Friedkin followed up on The Exorcist with Sorceror, which killed his career deader than Mark Hamill's. Same thing with Bogdanovich's Daisy Miller (in which he cast Cybill Shepherd - about whom Biskind has NOTHING nice to say - and accomplished a rare double by killing her career, too).

Tripp said...

Speaking of Sorceror, which was unfortunate, if you haven't seen Wages of Fear, on which it was based, do so soon. It is great. If you look for it, find the Criterion edition. There was a US edition that was edited for various political/social reasons.