Reading Mark Harris’ potent provocation of a book, Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood, got me thinking of what’s needed to kick Hollywood in the ass. The book focuses on 1967 and the five films Oscar nominated for Best Picture: Two groundbreakers (Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate) versus a tired old Hollywood musical (Dr. Dolittle) and a pair of films about race relations (Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, In the Heat of the Night). Harris uses those films, and the process to develop them that stretched back to 1963, to show us Hollywood at a crossroads. It was a time of rule breaking — you can feel director Mike Nichols cracking through youth formula in The Graduate and director Arthur Penn and producer Warren Beatty reinventing the gangster genre by investing techniques of the New Wave into Bonnie and Clyde. The eventual Oscar winner, In the Heat of the Night, was a safer choice, but the change in the air was undeniable and you can feel it whipping through the pages of this witty, wizardly book.
Harris, a columnist at Entertainment Weekly, brings a reporter’s rigor and an advovate’s passion to the possibilities of film. He blows the dust off film history, leaving us with a living portrait of a rebel generation. There’s a scrappy dare in his words that speaks to the right now and makes Pictures that rare book on film that deserves to be called indispensable.
Pictures at a Revolution offers all of us a challenge. Change was everywhere in 1967 — it was the year Rolling Stone first published and dedicated itself not just to music but the things and attitudes that the music embraces. For a generation raised on rock, rebel movies have the same juice: youth, defiance, danger, fun and the promise of rule-busting experimentation that might just point the way ahead.
Which leads to my question: Who’ve we got now? Let’s jump ahead 40 years, and identify the new revolutionaries, who are changing the way films are made, seen and discussed. I’ll let it rip with my top three. Feel free to shout me down and start your own list.
Paul Thomas Anderson
Anderson’s There Will Be Blood occupied the Bonnie and Clyde slot in the 2007 Oscar contest for Best Picture. It changed the way we look at movies. Anderson, 37, is the maverick incarnate. His films, Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love, follow no formula. And Anderson himself cares little for who he might piss off on the road to creating his own forms.
Joel and Ethan Coen
No Country for Old Men brought them their first Best Picture and Best Directing Oscars. But if you’ve watched from Blood Simple through the brilliant likes of The Big Lebowski, Raising Arizona, Miller’s Crossing, Barton Fink and Fargo, you know they could start their own revolution double-handed.
The painter and conceptual artist showed how he could do the impossible in film as well with The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, about a man who learned to communicate by blinking his left eyelid. In only his third feature, after Basquiat and Before Night Falls, Schnabel brings a fresh vision to cinema and makes you eager for his next move.