As much as you hear the mantra to ‘read as widely as possible’, the concept applies to non-fiction as well. Inspiration comes where you find it, often in places we least expect it. Peter Biskind’s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock ‘N’ Roll Generation Saved Hollywood may not be the first place you look for inspiration, but you don’t have to dig deep to find that examining the beginning, and end, of the massive change in Hollywood that occurred in the late 60’s through the early 80’s has much more to do with how we create and consume stories than we care to admit. The specific mantra for this book is ‘never give up, no matter how crazy they think you are’. The movers and shakers of this era, creatives that concocted some of the greatest films ever made, certainly never gave up, or gave an inch, in terms of sheer need to steer audiences in the directions they wanted.
Here we see the decline of studio controlled properties to a fundamental shift in directorial power and unbridled producer and writer muscle in an industry extremely resistant to change. Unfortunately, control has shifted back to the studios to some capacity. Considering how Hollywood is a business and has to be run as a business with millions of dollars at stake for each property, it’s a necessary evil. But from the era of Bonnie and Clyde to Star Wars, creators wielded more power than ever before. Speaking of Star Wars, the book takes a long hard look at the problems George Lucas had getting the film in the theaters. The original script was a mess and rejected multiple times. The execs at 20th Century Fox were scared of the film and hesitated to release it. Of course, it did hit the theaters, and turned into the juggernaut it is today.
Biskind dives deep into the creative and business side of Hollywood with the people that actually made the films as well as the studio decisions. Though many of the people profiled in the book later criticized Biskind for writing what they believed was a ‘hatchet job’, the overall perception is that there are multiple sides to every story, and Biskind is showing us the ‘warts and all’ version of the films that drove audiences from the Vietnam War era into the 80’s. Films covered in the book include: The Last Picture Show, Chinatown, Taxi Driver, The Godfather (I and II), The Exorcist, Jaws, and Star Wars among others. A 2003 documentary based on the book was directed by Kenneth Bowser and narrated by William H. Macy.
Those wanting a look behind one of the most interesting times in cinema, and the creation of some of the most influential films ever produced, should definitely check this book out. A key takeaway here is that no matter what field or medium you work in, there’s tons of adversity out there facing you at every turn. These creators, these mavericks, stared adversity down and refused to give up, despite the odds, and despite the dwindling budgets and overbearing studio execs breathing down their necks. They stuck their ground, and made their visions come to life, proving that nothing can beat sheer will and principle, definitely strong points every creative should have in their tool belt.
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