Thursday, July 10, 2008

Pictures at a Revolution

I just finished Mark Harris’ “Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood.” It’s a solid read about the 5 movies that were nominated for the 1968 Best Picture Academy Award. It covers the transition from the production code era, where words and scenes and ideas were simply not allowed to be filmed, to the ratings system we have today, where anything goes, but with a label warning people about content. It was also the time period where bloated, road-show musicals gave way to movies that reflected contemporary social conditions.

In the last few weeks, I’ve watched (for the first time) In the Heat of the Night and Bonnie and Clyde, and also saw The Graduate for I think the 3rd time. I had seen Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner in the late 80’s, and after reading the book, skipped Dr. Dolittle, which was included only because of bloc-voting from the studio.

The Graduate was better than I remembered it, but I have to admit that I was unable to recreate in my loft (where I usually watch movies) the social, political and cultural context of 1967 that would have enabled me to truly appreciate why these movies are so good. I understand why Sidney Poiter slapping a white guy was so cathartic in 1967, but I just kept thinking that In the Heat of the Night looked a lot like a TV show from the 70s. Bonnie and Clyde may have been the first counter-cultural cool bad guy movie, but its spawn mastered the genre a lot better.

That’s the thing about new, groundbreaking films, books, music, art, ideas. They are usually not nearly as good technically as the best of what comes after them. It’s their originality that makes them important, and as they are copied, they will seem less original to later generations, when they become clichés. I can watch them, noting the scenes that are groundbreaking, and appreciate them intellectually, but it isn't the same as living through it.


brownie said...

I think you're selling Bonnie and Clyde short by dismissing it as 'only' "the first counter-cultural cool bad guy movie"

Indeed it is difficult to recreate anywhere (not just your loft) the stiffled, repressive feeling of pre-1967 Hollywood. But if you examine this film a bit closer you'd see that it's more a humanizing treatment of bad guys than just a cool bad guy movie. Bonnie and Clyde took us to "the dark side" and showed us that there were not just monsters there, but real people, as human as you or I, and in a very belivable 'there but for the grace of God go we' kind of way. It also reflected the socio-economic gap between the haves and have-nots of the '30s (we see on the rise again today) and the desperate measures people are willing to take in order to bridge that gap.

To slash Bonnie and Clyde (as you may have guessed, one of my all time favorite movies) with such a dull blade does it a disservice it does not deserve.

That, and it's just a darn good movie.

Dan S said...

I do understand why it was such an important movie for its time. It tapped into the counter-cultural, anti-establishment feelings of the late sixties in a way that no movie before it had done (The Graduate did as well, of course).

But, I enjoyed Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid and The Sting a lot more as films that humanize the "bad guys". Of course, I haven't seen either of them in decades either, so it may be that I'd think less of them if I saw them today.

For some reason, I want to compare Bonnie and Clyde to 3:10 to Yuma. I think 3:10 to Yuma (another movie with an interesting bad guy and what people are driven to by economics) is a far superior movie, but with 0 culural relevance to its day. Bonnie and Clyde is "better" because it was a good solid movie but even more because it was cultural bombshell. However if you compare plot, characters, production value, theme, acting, etc, 3:10 is a better movie.

Don't worry though, I'll get my payback. Some nosewipe 30 years from now will be claiming what a disspointment LOTR is to see 35 years later.

PG said...

Which 3:10 to Yuma are you talking about? 1957 or 2007?

Dan S said...

There's a 1957 version of 3:10?

Which one do you like better?

I have to admit that as annoying as Russel Crowe seems to be in real life, I've thoroughly enjoyed just about every character he has played.

PG said...

I just put a reserve on the 1957 version from the library. Glenn Ford and Van Heflin are in it. I don't remember it very well. I'd be interested on your comparative analysis of the two versions.