Thursday 12 June 2014

Book Review: Easy Riders, Raging Bulls

Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock 'N' Roll Generation Saved Hollywood is an amazing book. It deals with the late 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s: heady days, when a youthful, energetic, free-thinking generation of film directors rose up, seized the reins of Hollywood, and attempted a revolution. Arthur Penn, Dennis Hopper, John Schlesinger, Robert Altman, Bob Rafelson, Peter Bogdanovich, William Friedkin, Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, Robert Towne, Martin Scorsese, Warren Beatty, Robert Benton, George Lucas, Hal Ashby, Roman Polanski, Brian De Palma, Jonathan Demme, John Milius and Paul Schrader are just a few of the characters who stalk the pages of this book.

We know them by the films they made: Bonnie and Clyde (1967), Easy Rider (1969), Midnight Cowboy (1969), MASH (1970), Five Easy Pieces (1970), The Last Picture Show (1971), The French Connection (1971), The Godfather (1972), The Last Detail (1973), Dillinger (1973), Chinatown (1974), Jaws (1975), Crazy Mama (1975), Taxi Driver (1976), Carrie (1976), Star Wars (1977), Heaven Can Wait (1978), Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), American Gigolo (1980), and Personal Best (1982).

For those of us a distance away from Hollywood, who watched the films and enjoyed them, it was easy to assume these people had been gifted a charmed life; their obvious talent had opened doors and enabled them to make the movies they wanted, to enjoy the process and reap the rewards. The truth was not that simple. For the most part they were driven, tortured souls, who plotted, schemed and bluffed their way to their opportunities. Most of those who enjoyed blockbuster success were crushed by that success. All of them paid a high price.

"We had the notion that it was the equipment which would give us the means of production," said Coppola. "Of course, we learned much later that it wasn't the equipment, it was the money." Because the fact of the matter is that although individual revolutionaries succeeded, the revolution failed. The New Hollywood directors were like free-range chickens; they were let out of the coop to run around the barnyard and imagined they were free. But when they ceased laying those eggs, they were slaughtered. p.434

With success came money, and the money brought in cocaine... by the truckloads. The drugs and money fueled jealousy, paranoia, arrogance and greed. Friendships splintered. AIDS, madness, suicide and murder thinned the ranks. It's a remarkable cautionary tale. I wasn't there; I can't testify to the truth of every detail, but I can tell you that it is a riveting read. Highly recommended.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Amazing how drugs can affect a whole generation. I've just been reading about how England was awash with gin from 1720 to 1750. In the early 1800s people took laudanum (opiated alcohol) and morphine, in the early 1900s it was cocaine, and now it's heroin and crack cocaine. Apparently we as a society need to discover just how badly a drug affects us as a group before we do anything about it.