Easy Riders, Raging Bulls
Simon & Schuster, $25
Review by Tom Faucett
April 29, 1998
Web posted at: 4:15 p.m. EDT (1615 GMT)
(CNN) -- Peter Biskind's "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How The Sex, Drugs and Rock-'n-Roll Generation Saved Hollywood" chronicles the rebellious, turbulent and heady times of "The New Hollywood," a term coined to describe the golden era of filmmaking from the late 60s to the early 80s.
Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Martin
Scorsese, and Robert Altman were among the new breed of young and ambitious directors who made powerful, personal films, trying to emulate their European heroes -- Truffaut, Fellini, and Bergman.
Unlike their predecessors such as Howard Hawks and John Ford, who complained of being "hired hands," these young directors were auteurs who wanted to control the mood and vision of their films. The goal of each was artistic and financial independence from the studios. To maintain their vision, the directors often waged battles with the studios, ranging anywhere from casting choices to budget overruns. These battles are commonly referred to as a film's "backstory." Biskind recounts the backstories of many of the period's biggest films, "Bonnie and Clyde", "The Godfather", "Mean Streets", "Jaws", "Star Wars", and "Apocalypse Now" among them.
At the height of the "golden era," the auteurs celebrated enormous wealth and fame, but it came with a price. Each was plagued with constant self-doubt, bouts of depression, and enormous egos. Drug abuse, especially cocaine, resulted in broken marriages and financial ruin for many.
The early 80s ushered in a shift in power from the director to the "super producers," as box office receipts replaced artistic merit as a gauge for a film's success. The "super producers" began to hire unknown directors that they could control, directors who were not as expensive, independent, or powerful as the auteurs.
Clearly, Biskind has done his homework. His extensive research and exhaustive interviews of not only the directors, but also the producers, screenwriters, film critics, and actors of the time results in an insider's
view of what really happened. Biskind does not merely regurgitate facts, textbook style. He expertly weaves humorous anecdotes (the image of actress Joanne Woodward knitting in a chair during wild Hollywood parties, and she and Paul Newman leaving the instant drugs are brought out, is priceless), the personal and professional lives of the directors (Actor-director Dennis Hopper is portrayed as a drug-crazed psychopath), details of the cultural landscape of the times in which the films were produced (Vietnam, Watergate, and the Manson murders created a paranoia and distrust in the government which affected the auteurs and their films) and the hurdles that the directors had to overcome to make their personal films, results in an irresistible piece of nonfiction.
At more than 400 pages, "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls" is a bit too lengthy. Some judicious editing (about a hundred pages) would trim the excess. But then again, it's really a book about excess.
For casual moviegoers, "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls" may not be worth the investment, but for the true film lover, it is money well spent. Either way, it is likely to make you want to check out your video store's classics section, and rent one of the landmark films from the period.
Biskind proves that the story of the journey to make the film, is infinitely more compelling than the finished product.
Tom Faucett is a freelance writer who lives in Atlanta.
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