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I've been listening to a number of movie podcasts on my walks this summer--You Must Remember This; The Rewatchables; & The Big Picture--so I was in the mood for a big read on the business and Mark Harris's Pictures at a Revolution fit the bill. In it he tells the story of the making of the five Best Picture contenders for 1968: In the Heat of the Night; The Graduate; Guess Who's Coming to Dinner; Bonnie and Clyde; and, Doctor Doolittle. No, that last isn't a misprint, which makes up part of the story. The studio system in 1967 found itself caught between the way it had done things--like pitching a big musical because The Sound of Music had done so well or the saccharine tale of inter-racial love starring two box office legends--and the new wave of younger artists bent on imitating European cinema and breaking old rules about sin, profanity, sex and violence that were still being enforced by the Code. Heat of the Night was uncomfortably caught in the middle, with Sidney Poitier allowed to show some anger about racism but only as he taught Rod Steiger's character a lesson about humanity.

Mr. Harris portrays these tensions well, but the real meat and potatoes of the book is his deliciously gossipy account of the disordered lives of the stars, directors, writers and studio heads who made the five films and even the critics who wrote about them. Perhaps no one comes out of the narrative worse than Rex Harrison and his wife, but Spencer Tracy gives them a run for their money and nearly everyone else is addicted, egomaniacal, debilitatingly neurotic and otherwise troubled too. Between the podcasts and the book the main conclusion I've come to is that it's a miracle any movie ever gets made that isn't horrible.

Intellectual property is bought by folks who don't really understand what made it popular. Directors and screenwriters are attached to projects for reasons having little to do with suitability. Actors and actresses are cast because they hot or affordable or they know somebody or whatever. Budgets escape control and force compromises regardless of the damage to quality. And in a mysterious process in a back room somewhere, an editor tries to cut the finished material into something at least resembling a coherent film.

Maybe my favorite illustration of how haphazard the process is even when it works concerns the casting of Benjamin the The Graduate. The character is obviously supposed to be a young WASP alienated from his surfer-blonde California family and their friends, so Robert Redford was interested. But, as Mike Nichols relates:
"we were friends, we had done Barefoot, I was playing pool with him and I said, "I'm really sad, but you can't do it. You can't play a loser,'" says Nichols. "He said, 'Of course I can play a loser!' I said, "You can't! Look at you! How many times have you ever struck out with a woman?' And he said, I swear to you. 'What do you mean?' He didn't even understand the concept.
Fair enough. But then there's a whole casting drama that stumps Nichols until he finally "discovers" Dustin Hoffman, which clearly stacks the deck for the story because he's so obviously Jewish that his distance from his family is as much visual as anything. Yet, Nichols says, and we have to assume honestly, that he didn't even realize what he'd done until later. Really? It's a visual medium and he didn't get that much?* And this was a successful flail. You can imagine how horrifying the stories get when it comes to the maneuvers that don't succeed. Of course, those are the most enjoyable bits of the book.

The only real weakness is that after immersing us so deeply in the filmmaking and the politics around the "Revolution," Mr. Harris doesn't step back and over full assessments of the actual movies. It would have been nice to hear what he thinks of the finished product that ended up on our screens.

(*) We might merely note that there was no similar confusion about the respective roles of Woodward and Bernstein when it came to casting All the President's Men


(Reviewed:)

Grade: (A-)


Websites:

See also:

Mark Harris (2 books reviewed)
Art
Mark Harris Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Mark Harris (journalist)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Mark Harris (IMDB)
    -TWITTER: @MarkHarrisNYC
    -BOOK SITE: Pictures at a Revolution (Penguin Random House)
    -WIKIPEDIA: Five Came Back (TV series)
    -NETFLIX: Five Came Back
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Five Came Back (IMDB)
    -STUDY GUIDE: Pictures at a Revolution (eNotes)
    -VIDEO INTERVIEW: Journalist and Author Mark Harris (Media Mayhem, Jan 5, 2012, TheLipTV)
    -VIDEO INTERVIEW: Mark Harris, Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War (The New York Society Library, Mar 25, 2014)
    -INTERVIEW: Mark Harris Talks About His Book "Five Came Back" and the way World War II changed Frank Capra, John Ford, John Huston, George Stevens and William Wyler (Matt Zoller Seitz, March 26, 2014, RogerEbert.com)
    -VIDEO INTERVIEW: The Best Picture Race of 1967: Movie Geeks United speaks with critic Mark Harris, whose book 'Pictures at a Revolution' examines the incredible Best Picture Oscar race of 1967 (Movie Geeks United!, May 31, 2012)
    -INTERVIEW: A Conversation on Story with Journalist and Film Historian Mark Harris (Travis Maiuro, December 19, 2018, Screencraft)
    -PODCAST: Mark Harris on Turning His World War II Book Five Came Back Into a Netflix Documentary Series (Matt Zoller Seitz, 03/29/17, Vulture)
    -INTERVIEW: Ask Mark Harris about Oscar-worthy films, 40 years ago and today (Amy Ryan, August 03, 2020, EW)
    -PODCAST: Mark Harris — Film Journalist, Writer, Biographer (To Live & Dialogue in LA, DEC 13, 2018)
    -PODCAST: 1967 Best Picture Nominees Forecast a Revolution in Hollywood (Tom Fudge, February 19, 2008, KPBS Public Broadcasting)
    -PODCAST: Pictures at a Revolution (Jack Beatty, February 22, 2008, WBUR On Point)
    -PODCAST: Episode 125: A Splinter In Your Mind: Journalist Mark Harris tells us how “The Matrix” redefined our relationship with reality. (Wisconsin Public Radio, 5/25/19)
    -PODCAST: The Graduate (feat. Mark Harris) (AND THE RUNNER-UP IS, May 8, 2019)
    -PODCAST: Mark Harris: What do Dr. Doolittle, The Graduate, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Bonnie and Clyde and In the Heat of the Night all have in common? All play a prominent role in movie history, as Mark Harris (Entertainment Weekly) notes in his new book, Pictures at a Revolution. It's history with a surprise ending. (Elvis Mitchell Mar. 26, 2008, The Treatment)
    -PODCAST: Ep. 14 -- Mark Harris's Bowl of Frosted Flakes with Blueberries (Lunch Therapy, 11/4/2019)
    -INTERVIEW: Hollywood in Wartime: Mark Harris (Wendy Smith, Jan 24, 2014, Publishers Weekly)
    -INTERVIEW: ‘Five Came Back’ Creator Mark Harris Says the Increasingly Complicated Awards Landscape For Documentaries ‘Doesn’t Matter A Bit To Consumers’ (Scott Porch, Apr 25, 2017, Decider)
    -INTERVIEW: FEATURESInterview: Mark Harris Talks Five Came Back : Journalist Mark Harris discusses Five Came Back and Hollywood’s past and present. (Chuck Bowen, 3/30/17, Slant)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: During World War II, Even Filmmakers Reported For Duty (Terry Gross, March 3, 2014, Fresh Air)
    -INTERVIEW: 'Five Came Back' author talks about adapting his book for Netflix series (MICHAEL PHILLIPS, MAR 30, 2017, Chicago Tribune)
    -INTERVIEW: ‘Five Came Back’: How the Story of Hollywood Directors In World War II Became a Great Netflix Series: Documentarian Laurent Bouzereau and writer Mark Harris matched up 5 contemporary directors with 5 top auteurs who documented the war. (Anne Thompson, Apr 3, 2017, Indie Wire)
    -INTERVIEW: Why Five of Hollywood's Great Auteurs Went to War: Five Came Back writer Mark Harris explains why the biggest directors in the movie business went to battle in World War II. (Corey Atad, Mar 31, 2017, Esquire)
    -INTERVIEW: Mark Harris on films to watch after 5 Came Back (Matt Singer, 3/27/17, Screen Crush)
    -PODCAST: Mark Harris: Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War (Hosted by Elvis Mitchell, Nov. 16, 2018, The Treatment)
    -VIDEO DISCUSSION: Mark Harris And Laurent Bouzereau Discuss "Five Came Back" (Mar 28, 2017, BUILD)
    -VIDEO LECTURE: Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War,/a> (Mark Harris, Nov 5, 2014, US National Archives)
   
-INTERVIEW: Mark Harris explores when filmmakers went to war with "Five Came Back" (NED EHRBAR, MARCH 31, 2017, CBS NEWS)
    -PODCAST: PN 43: Laurent Bouzereau & Mark Harris on “Five Came Back” (Pure Non-Fiction)
    -REVIEW: The Birdcage: How Hollywood’s toxic (and worsening) addiction to franchises changed movies forever in 2014 (Mark Harris, DECEMBER 16, 2014, Grantland)
    -ESSAY: The Irishman and Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood Tackle the Twilight of the Alpha Male: Scorsese’s and Tarantino’s movies have subtle things to say about how much we should mourn the kind of men onscreen. Will it be enough to win one of them best picture? (Mark Harris, NOVEMBER 26, 2019, Vanity Fair)
    -FILM REVIEW SERIES: Cinema ’67 Revisited (Mark Harris, Film Comment)
    -FILM REVIEW: Cinema ’67 Revisited: The Honey Pot (Mark Harris, May 17, 2017, Film Comment)
    -FILM REVIEW: Being There: American Cipher (Mark Harris, MAR 24, 2017, Criterion)
    -FILM REVIEW: Midnight Cowboy: On the Fringe (Mark Harris, MAY 29, 2018, Criterion)
    -FILM REVIEW: Klute: Trying to See Her (Mark Harris, JUL 16, 2019, Criterion)
    -FILM REVIEW: Wildlife: What Is and What Isn’t (Mark Harris, MAY 26, 2020, Criterion)
    -ESSAY: By the way, we're gay: ...and it's truly no big deal. Or is it? How Hollywood's stars have created a new, quiet — and incredibly effective — way to come out (Mark Harris, July 02, 2012, Entertainment Weekly)
    -PROFILE: Love Stories: Tony Kushner and Mark Harris: If there’s one man who is essential to the gay brain trust, it’s Tony Kushner. His towering, Pulitzer Prize–winning drama Angels in America galvanized Americans to make a deeper political and emotional commitment to the value of a gay life. Kushner found that same commitment with author and columnist Mark Harris (ANNE STOCKWELL, OCTOBER 08 2008, Advocate)
    -ESSAY: Checkout Time at the Asylum (Mark Harris, 11/14/08, New York)
    -ESSAY: The Day the Movies Died: No, Hollywood films aren't going to get better anytime soon. Mark Harris on the (potential) death of the great American art form (MARK HARRIS, February 10, 2011, GQ)
    -ESSAY: Trump Thinks Journalists Should Act Like Publicists and Ghostwriters (Mark Harris, JAN. 25, 2017, New York)
    -PROFILE: Love Stories: Tony Kushner and Mark Harris: If there’s one man who is essential to the gay brain trust, it’s Tony Kushner. His towering, Pulitzer Prize–winning drama Angels in America galvanized Americans to make a deeper political and emotional commitment to the value of a gay life. Kushner found that same commitment with author and columnist Mark Harris (ANNE STOCKWELL, OCTOBER 08 2008, Advocate)
    -ANNOUNCEMENT: WEDDINGS/CELEBRATIONS: VOWS; Mark Harris and Tony Kushner (Lois Smith Brady, May 4, 2003, NY Times)
    -PROFILE: Tony Kushner & Mark Harris (Elisa, Jul. 16th, 2013, My reviews and Ramblings)
    -ESSAY: Truth, art & propaganda: Lessons from Mark Harris’s WWII epic for Netflix (Shelley Hepworth, MARCH 31, 2017, CJR)
    -ARTICLE: Marina Zenovich to Make Documentary Based on Mark Harris’ Book PICTURES AT A REVOLUTION (MATT GOLDBERG, MAY 16, 2010, Collider)
    -ARCHIVES: Mark Harris (Vanity Fair)
    -ARCHIVES: Mark Harris (Film Comment)
    -ARCHIVES: Mark Harris (Grantland)
    -ARCHIVES: Mark Harris (Wisconsin Public Radio)
    -ARCHIVES: Mark Harris (Criterion)
    -ARCHIVES: Mark Harris (Slate)
    -ARCHIVES: Mark Harris (C-SPAN)
    -ARCHIVES: Mark Harris (New York)
    -ARCHIVES: Mark Harris (GQ)
    -ARCHIVES: Mark Harris (New York)
    -ARCHIVES: Mark Harris (Entertainment Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Pictures at a Revolution by Mark Harris (Jim Shephard, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Pictures at a Revolution (Anthony Giardina, NPR)
    -REVIEW: of Pictures at a Revolution (Ryan Michael Williams, Pop Matters)
    -REVIEW: of Pictures at a Revolution (Zack Handlen, AV Club)
    -REVIEW: of Pictures at a Revolution (Sarah Kerr, Slate)
    -REVIEW: of Pictures at a Revolution (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of Pictures at a Revolution (Matthew Kennedy, Bright Lights Film Journal)
    -REVIEW: of Pictures at a Revolution (Peter McAlevey, The Wrap)
    -REVIEW: of Pictures at a Revolution (Pat Broeske, Book Page)
    -REVIEW: of Pictures at a Revolution (Steven Rosen, City Beat)
    -REVIEW: of Pictures at a Revolution (K. Jones, Academia)
    -REVIEW: of Pictures at a Revolution (Jim Welsh, Journal of American Culture)
    -REVIEW: of Pictures at a Revolution (Wendy Smith, Chicago Tribune)
    -REVIEW: of Pictures at a Revolution (Todd Leopold, CNN)
    -REVIEW: of Pictures at a Revolution (Chris Petit, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Pictures at a Revolution (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Pictures at a Revolution (Christopher Fowler, Independent)
    -REVIEW: of Pictures at a Revolution (Thomas Doherty, Cinéaste)
    -REVIEW: of Pictures at a Revolution (Aliya Whiteley, Den of Geek)
    -REVIEW: of Pictures at a Revolution (Anna Collier, Cannonball Read)
    -REVIEW: of Pictures at a Revolution (Take Too)
    -REVIEW: of Pictures at a Revolution (Supposedly Fun)
    -REVIEW: of Pictures at a Revolution (Steven Rosen, The Denver Post)
    -REVIEW: of Pictures at a Revolution (Sarah Vilkomerson, NY Observer)
    -REVIEW: of Pictures at a Revolution (Janet Maslin, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Pictures at a Revolution (Simon Weaving, Senses of Cinema)
    -REVIEW: of Pictures at a Revolution (The Man from Porlock)
    -REVIEW: of Pictures at a Revolution (Mary Kaye Schilling, LA Times)
    -REVIEW: of Pictures at a Revolution (Nigel Andrews, Financial Times)
    -REVIEW: of Five Came Back by Mark Harris (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of Five Came Back (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Five Came Back (Aisha Harris, Slate)
    -REVIEW: of Five Came Back (David Sterritt, Film Quarterly)
    -REVIEW: of Five Came Back (Paul Cantor, WSJ)
    -REVIEW: of Five Came Back (Carl Caton, Watermark Books)
    -REVIEW: of Five Came Back (Philip Marchand, National Post)
    -REVIEW: of Five Came Back (Ben Travers, Indie Wire)
    -REVIEW: of Five Came Back (John Bailey, American Cinematographer)
    -REVIEW: of Five Came Back (LA Times)
    -REVIEW: of Five Came Back (Thomas Docherty, The Scotsman)
    -REVIEW: of Five Came Back (Danielle Solzman, Solzy at the Movies)
    -TV REVIEW: Five Came Back (Brian Tallerico, RogerEbert.com)
    -TV REVIEW: Five Came Back (Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian)
    -TV REVIEW: Five Came Back (Paraag Shukla, History Net)
    -TV REVIEW: Five Came Back (David Sims, The Atlantic)
    -TV REVIEW: Five Came Back (Douglas A. Cunningham, Journal of American History)
    -TV REVIEW: Five Came Back (Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter)
    -TV REVIEW: Five Came Back (Steven Mears, Film Comment)
    -TV REVIEW: Five Came Back (Joanne Laurier, World Socialist Website)
    -TV REVIEW: Five Came Back (Ashley Fetters, GQ)
    -TV REVIEW: Five Came Back (Peter Travers, Rolling Stone)
    -TV REVIEW: Five Came Back (Jill Serjeant, Reuters)
    -TV REVIEW: Five Came Back (Emily VanDerWerff, Vox)
    -TV REVIEW: Five Came Back (STEPHANIE ZACHAREK, TIME)
    -TV REVIEW: Five Came Back (

FILMS:


    -FILMOGRAPHY: In the Heat of the Night (IMDB)
    -WIKIPEDIA: In the Heat of the Night (IMDB)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Norman Jewison (IMDB)
    -WIKIPEDIA: Norman Jewison
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Sidney Poitier (IMDB)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Rod Steiger (IMDB)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Stirling Siliphant (IMDB)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Doctor Doolittle (IMDB)
    -WIKIPEDIA: Doctor Dolittle (1967 film)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Richard Fleischer (IMDB)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Rex Harrison (IMDB)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: The Graduate (IMDB)
    -WIKIPEDIA: The Graduate
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Mike Nichols (IMDB)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Buck Henry
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Dustin Hoffman
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Anne Bancroft (IMDB)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (IMDB)
    -WIKIPEDIA: Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Stanley Kramer
    -FILMOGRAPHY: William Rose
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Katharine Hepburn (IMDB)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Spencer Tracy (IMDB)
    -FILM REVIEW: Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (Roger Ebert)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Bonnie and Clyde (IMDB)
    -WIKIPEDIA: Bonnie and Clyde
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Arthur Penn (IMDB)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: David Newman (IMDB)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Robert Benton (IMDB)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Warren Beatty (IMDB)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Faye Dunaway (IMDB)
    -FILM REVIEW: Bonnie & Clyde (Roger Ebert)
    -FILM REVIEW: Bonnie & Clyde (Pauline Kael, The New Yorker)
    -ESSAY: THE NEW SENTIMENTALITY (DAVID NEWMAN, ROBERT BENTON, JULY 1, 1964, Esquire)
    -
   
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Book-related and General Links:

   
-ESSAY: A Film Executive Wants to Know: Why Do Most Movies Suck?: And Yet, Ted Hope Remains Optimistic (Ted Hope, August 17, 2020, LitHub)
    -ESSAY: Doctor Dolittle’s Talking Animals Still Have Much to Say: Hugh Lofting was a genius of children’s literature. But he was also a product of the British Empire, and his work is marred by racist imagery and language (James Traub, Sept. 9, 2020, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: Was The Graduate Inspired by a Brontë Family Scandal?: Finola Austin on Benjamin Braddock, Branwell Brontë, and the Two Mrs. Robinsons. (Finola Austin, August 26, 2020, LitHub)