#50BookPledge – 5: Easy Riders, Raging Bulls

February 14, 2012 — 6 Comments

Such a disappointment. I’d heard this book pimped by so many cinephiles, including the guys on Filmspotting. How could it possibly not live up? Easy Riders, Raging Bulls is Peter Biskind‘s book about the New Hollywood of the late-60s and 70s. It promised to run through everything. All the little details. A journalistic look at how the era came about and eventually faltered. Unfortunately I wasn’t told that the journalism was less New Yorker, more People Magazine.

Sure, half the book is about the creation of those great 70s movies and the directors who made them, but the other half is all about who did what drugs and which directors slept with which women. It’s gossipy drivel and that completely overshadows any good insight into the actual films the books is supposed to be about.

And the gossip isn’t just limited to sex and drugs. Biskind got tons quotes from many of the players involved, but most of the quotes deal with how everyone backstabbed everyone. It’s somewhat interesting, but the amount of space given to this stuff turns it into boring crap. I was totally with the book for the first 100 or so pages, hoping it would dig deeper as it went. It never dug deeper. Biskind just isn’t interested in the substance.

And worst of all is how Biskind tries to draw conclusions about what this particular era in Hollywood meant and how and why it didn’t last. He seems to put a lot of blame on Spielberg and Lucas, as though they were directors who lacked any serious artistic integrity. His comments about the quality of their movies come down to personal opinions and bias, without any serious examination of what actually happened. But then that makes sense. Biskind was clearly more enthralled by all the fucking and snorting of the “auteurs” than he was by the squeaky clean and smart decisions of the people who made the blockbusters. Even with Coppola he feels the need to describe Apocalypse Now as something of a failure because he doesn’t happen to like the third act.

It’s bad criticism. It’s bad journalism. It’s a dumb book and I can’t believe it has come so highly recommended by most people.

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6 responses to #50BookPledge – 5: Easy Riders, Raging Bulls

  1. 

    I have two recommendations that perhaps you’ve already seen/read/heard of.

    Have you ever seen Ted Demme and Richard LaGravenese’s doc A Decade Under the Influence? Demme’s last film that LaGravenese finished after his death. It covers a lot of what Biskind covered as well as skimmed over in a bit more depth and perspective than Biskind initially provided. Sounds like something more your speed/style.

    Also, Pictures at a Revolution by Mark Harris. It chronicles the beginning of the Hollywood Renaissance/New Hollywood by taking a look at the making of and release of the five films nominated for Best Picture from 1967. Sort of a out with the old and in with the new kind of story.

    Aside from being interesting and talking about some troubles and success had by all, it shows how you have two movies that pushed boundaries (Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate), two traditional movies that didn’t (Dr. Doolittle and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?- which yes, is about an interracial couple that in retrospect is perfect and all the problems are solved at Spencer Tracy’s house), and the film that wins which sort of straddles the middle (In the Heat of the Night- not completely pushing the boundary, not completely playing it safe). Really cool book.

  2. 

    I read parts of the book a few years ago and found myself to be very disappointed. I wanted more about the films of that era and how it all fell apart. I agree that the Ted Demme/Richard LaGravenese doc did a better job.

    I was just disappointed by that book since I wanted more about how things sort of fell apart in the late 70s as well as an idea of the creative process. I wouldn’t recommend this book either nor the doc of the same name that was made some years ago. The Demme/LaGravenese doc is the way to go.

  3. 

    I never read this book because I was disappointed with the doc based on it, which I saw after watching the superb A Decade Under the Influence. Yeah, I assumed, based on the movie, this would be mostly a gossip piece. Looks like I was right.

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