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on 1 April 1999
It's hard not to enjoy a book chock full of nasty gossip about famous people, but by the time you reach the end of Biskind's book, you may be as tired of the author as you are of the self-indulgent directors he profiles.
The book is undeniably fun to read -- after all, who doesn't enjoy watching smug hippies with more pretension than talent self-destruct? But Biskind's writing is slap-dash at best. He often changes from last to first names even when referring to minor figures, causing the reader to return to earlier paragraphs to figure out exactly who is taking drugs with whom. Or who is sleeping with whom. Or backstabbing. Or stealing writing credits. Or attending Ho Chi Minh rallies. Etc.
Biskind is almost as bad a film critic as he is a writer. He can't seem to tell the difference between truly dreadful films like Easy Rider and Shampoo (which deserve to be remembered, if at all, as cultural artifacts) from genuine achievements like The Last Picture Show or McCabe and Mrs. Miller. He simply loves them all.
All except Star Wars and Jaws, that is. In fact, Spielberg and Lucas come in for lots of gratuitous criticism simply for being more interested in telling stories than deconstructing genre -- or experimenting with drugs or smuggling Huey Newton into Cuba.
In the end, Biskind never does resolve his fervor for the sex, drugs and rock-and-roll generation's work and politics from the undeniable evidence that their self-indulgence was ultimately ruinous. But there are so few books about film and the film industry that make for good popular reading, you simply have to make the best of what you get. We'll just have to wait for a book where the skill of the author is up to the fascinating subject.
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on 20 August 1999
"...But it should have been perfect [but] in the end, we f***ed it all up. It should have been so sweet too, but it turned out to be the last time that street guys like us were ever given something that f***in' valuable again".
-Nicky Santoro in the film, "Casino".
A common thread in some of Martin Scorsese's films is the "loss of paradise" theme. How cool was the gangster world of "Goodfellas" before Henry Hill screwed it up by dealing with drugs? Or how cool was Saul Rothstein's world in Vegas before he screwed it up by marrying a scam artist?
In both of these films the chararacters were given the world and in the end the messed it all up. Have you ever wondered why Mr. Scorsese might have gravitated towards these themes? Well, after reading Peter Biskind's "Easy Riders, Raging Bull", I think you might find the answer.
It's a fascinating read about how, for a brief moment, Hollywood went loopy and handed over it's power to the street guys, the directors. Scorsese, Hopper, Beatty, Lucas, Spielberg, Coppola, Friedkin, etc. They became the town's "White Knights" and saved Hollywood from literally going senile.
Now, I don't know how many of the book's stories are actually true, but what the hell! It's a fun - lurid read! The only drawback is the depressing ending, which, of course, is how the young innovative directors scewed up and were never given something so valuable, as running Hollywood, again.
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on 9 June 1999
Biskind presents us, in typical Hollywood fashion, with two, boiled-down, over-the-top stereotypical faces of movie-makers, a fork in the road as it were for the coming years of American cinema: Dennis Hopper, who I'm convinced after reading this book is as a vile a sack of flesh to ever walk the earth--save for Robert Altman--and the Godfearing, uptight, clean-cut, corporate guy like Spielberg. Frankly, neither offer me very much reason to ever want to see a movie again, much less one of theirs. (Anyone who saw "Saving Private Ryan" and didn't think it was as facist, flag-waving, propagandaist a piece of movie-making as there ever was is fooling themselves)
Distaste, awe, and feeling like a rubbernecker at a traffic accident is the culmative effect that book creates. Biskind shows the reader warts and all and spends most of the time showing how the warts are some of the most fascinating parts of this rather indistinguishable crew. (All of whom, except for, like, Mr. Love Machine Warren Beatty, come from quite similar backgrounds: outcasts, scrawny, imaginative, no good with women, went to movies a lot, wanted to make their own films, couldn't deal with human beings the way the rest of us Joe Schmoes do, and instead of learning people skills that might make them better humans, they only threw themselves further into the maw of the Hollywood machine.) Why else, then, does Biskind mention, for example, that Polly Platt didn't wear underwear or that Bogdonavich carried reviews of his movies around with him, except to provide the salacious details that together work to tear down the gods of the 70's? That is his intention. And after he's done tearing them down, what's left in their place...what?
Some would argue that these people's behavior served a means to an ends. Disgraceful, harmful, destructive behavior should never be rewarded, encouraged, or condoned no matter how much money a movie made or how exciting the car chase in "The French Connection" was. But that is not the case in Hollywood as Biskind's text demonstrates. These people are lauded, and perversely, are still talked about to this day for their over-the-top excesses. In fact their excesses far outshone their talent. (For some reason, Dennis Hopper's name comes to mind.) Tragically, or fortunately, everyone gets his or her comeuppance in some way, thanks by in large to their own breakdowns and to the cut-throat 'win at all costs' world they live in. These men who would be king were just men, who burned bridges and ruined lives and behaved like apes. No, wait, that's an insult to apes.
Sadder, still to me, is the success bestowed on the ones sober enough, willing to massage the system enough to turn out the pap the movie machine needs to keep feeding the masses. (See also "The Phantom Menace") As we learn, some of the rebels shot themselves in the foot, (in some of their cases, they should have aimed a lot higher) while the others accumulated power so that the system commodified their talents and made them the bar by which other films are, I think, unfairly judged. (In Hopper's case, he just lived long enough so that everyone forgot what he'd done and by then his whole "crazy guy from the sixties" act was his shtick and landed him "Speed" et al.)
What seemed neglected in all of Biskind's wart exploration was the new way the distribution channels and release schedules were discovered with the success of "The Godfather" and "Jaws". Suddenly the studios have a new way of getting more money. That, to me, seems to be as much of the cause for the blockbuster mindset of these men (and, yes, they're mostly men, I'm afraid) that run the movie business. By today, movies, the end product, is basically just product, no more personal than a can of soup. Much the way it was before the 70's began.
To those critics of this book who think "Easy Riders'..." is confusing or hard to read, I would say that they should think of this book as a book version of "Nashville"--Lots of different people, all talking at once, all moving in different directions intersecting, occasionally, long enough to hate one another's guts--or make a good movie. Like Altman's movies, this book, then, is the hero, or as Biskind is quick to point out, the director become the star. In this way, Biskind is emulating the form that was to be so popular during this heyday.
On a final note, the person whom I was most disappointed in was Pauline Kael. I once thought of her as the be-all end-all, untouchable of critics. Pauline, we learn, is more or less another tool. Pauline, if you're reading this (yeah, right) count one of your fans heartbroken. Read this book and weep.
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on 8 February 2006
A very interesting book, especially if you're into film gossip. But the best thing about it is the "Cast of Characters" at the end of the book - a vital edition as the amount of names mentioned in the book is staggering. I was so confused about who was being talked about as about three thousand different people were mentioned each chapter. Although the content is very amusing and the stories told are great bits of background knowledge to the films mentioned, it is extremely biased towards certain characters. Biskind absolutely hates Lucas and Spielberg it seems, and he pretty much blames them solely for the state of Hollywood after the golden age of the 70s. Still as long as you are taking drugs and experimenting with your mind and films you are fine in this book, despite the fact that many of the 'great' films reminisced about are actually crap.
Despite my criticisms it's an enjoyable read, especially for film fans (and gossips). But beware the author's biase.
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on 8 April 1999
This book doesn't know whether it wants to be the best book ever written on 1970s filmmaking, or just the nastiest, so it winds up being both.
Biskind knows this territory so well, and his behind the scenes looks at "Easy Rider," "Bonnie and Clyde," "McCabe and Mrs. Miller" and "Jaws" are simply invaluable; the picture of a paranoid, coked-out Dennis Hopper trying to keep his first film afloat will stay with me forever.
It is unfortunate, then, that Biskind's very obvious insider knowledge is compromised by his sheer lack of discretion. There are brutally nasty personal details here that I would gladly trade for more insight about the movies themselves. Biskind's attention to the minutiae of sex lives is strange; it goes past good reportage into downright hatefulness.
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on 22 June 1999
For some strange reason, I never thought much of the films of the '70s except Star Wars and the Godfather series. I grew up on John Hughes and ET. Biskind's book, shows me just how wrong I was. This extraordinary book is a must read for any film fan. Tons of gossip and some fairly insightful film comments. This book inspired me to dive deep into the films of the period and has expanded my film horizons immensely. While Biskind at times seems to be more in love with his own turn of phrase than his subject, that is a minor quibble. The book is amazing. Read it. Take it as film history and an object lesson. You'll never look at Hollywood the same way again.
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on 4 April 1999
A fascinating look at the business behind some of the biggest movies of all time, as well as lots of stories, both funny and sad, about the people involved in making them. From Bonny and Clyde and The Godfather, to Jaws and Taxi Driver, to Star Wars and Heaven's Gate, "Raging Bulls" is full of behind the scenes info on the 70s up and comers who are 90s legends. Particularily interesting is how the auther takes us through the transition of Hollywood, from the studio system of "Old Hollywood" to the auteur sensibilities of "New Hollywood", as the world's views and values changed, and the movie industry tried to keep up.
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on 5 April 1999
Biskind captures the air of hollywood like no one i have ever read before. THe loose morals and people's uncanny ability to forget who they are and what their loyalties were is incredible. The lure of the blockbuster and the doom of over blown egos is well demonstrated with plenty of first hand accounts and examples from sources. The author was able to get these people to speak like no one I have seen before, maybe he should have been interogating Clinton.
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on 19 June 1999
beware of taking this book's anecdotes and details too literally. i know a few of the people biskind discusses in the book, and they all say he gets many things flat-out wrong. my take on the book is: he's generally right (sex, drugs, ego), he's gratuitously nasty (ok, they were all egomaniac jerks, but they did make some good movies), and he could have used a good fact-checker.
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on 18 May 1999
Every page was explosive and full of energy. This man knows how to write about one of the most creative, over the edge times in film history. He doesn't leave anything out! READ IT!
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