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Thursday, January 10, 2013

"Easy Riders, Raging Bulls", 70s' movies, drugs & egos

Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock 'N' Roll Generation Saved Hollywood- Peter Biskind

"I did a lot of drugs because I wanted to do a lot, I wanted to push all the way to the very very end, and see if I could die." Martin Scorsese

"The cocaine problem in the United States is really because of me. There was no cocaine before Easy Rider on the street. After Easy Rider, it was everywhere." Dennis Hopper

"Popcorn pictures have always ruled. Why do people go see them? Why is the public so stupid? That's not my fault." George Lucas (on Star Wars)

These are true sentences, said by some of the most well-known directors-actors on cinema history. These are only three little excerpts taken from "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls" a book that is so full of this sort of ... well, let's say statements, you'll need a couple of weeks (at least) to start reading something else after finishing this book. They also serve to summarise what you are going to find inside this absorbing encyclopedia of the movies that were done on the 70s, the so-called "New Hollywood" and the people behind them. But if I had to choose just one expression to define what this book shows it would be "a monster parade". The most scary I ever read about. Because they were and are real people.

I assume the new directors arising on late 60s really had artistic aims, even a revolutionary spirit to bring substance and interest back to cinema, to integrate movies with the counterculture of that age, a period were Hollywood was agonising and ideas severely lacking. It's depressing to realise that's where we are exactly nowadays. And after reading Biskind's book is even more appalling to find out our current "creative desert" has its origins on the failure of  the exciting "New Hollywood".

Don't want to make this review very long, because in my opinion, every person who loves cinema should read this book, but "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls" is a ridiculously detailed account of the work of talented young filmmakers like Scorsese, Coppola, Robert Altman, Hal Ashby, William Friedkin, Roman Polanski or Peter Bogdanovich. But while explaining how those films were made Biskind reveals much more. Basically that it was a horrible and constant battle of egos, a dangerous wild ride of people living out of control, with little rules and even less humanity, and a genuine miracle that some of the movies became the masterpieces that now we venerate. Being honest, even personal heroes like Scorsese, Altman, De Niro, or Ashby doesn't look very well in this picture. Guys like Spielberg or George Lucas confirmed my suspicions: just a couple of egomaniacs (add Coppola here) with an unbelievable greedy mind.

I have read some reviews that salute Biskind's book as "a unabashed celebration of the 70s". I couldn't disagree more. This is an overwhelming work on the worst of mankind. Some people believing and behaving as if they were some sort of Almighty God just because they had a successful movie. Others forcing the people who surrounded them (wives, girlfriends, brothers, long-time friends, etc) to share their miseries and frustrations. Sex, alcohol, drug abuse to impossible limits, delusions of grandeur and surreal situations abound on the book, all related with accurate and puzzling precision. I'm mesmerized by the amount of information gathered by Biskind, but also why his freedom to paint such an ugly picture of a decade. Worse than that. The epilogue is a devastating summary of what legacy Hollywood's last golden age left us.

Please don't miss this book, but also proceed with care with what you're going to read.

SCORE: 8,5/10

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