Wednesday, February 6, 2008


Peter Biskind's fast, juicy, gossipy, readable blockbuster of an inside Hollywood book, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, forces me to consider the reactionary nature of many of the great films of the 70's. It seems that the only genuine maverick among the 'generation of '71' is Altman. With all of his complexities and contradictions, Altman is the guy who made the most deeply radical films (and paid a price for it--not in personal wealth but in creative freedom). By turning a deconstructive eye to genres, by making an Altman detective film (The Long Goodbye), an Altman war movie (MASH), an Altman gangster movie (Thieves Like Us), an Altman western (McCabe and Mrs. Miller), etc., etc., he also incidentally (and perhaps malgre lui) criticized the ideologies that constructed and informed the conventions of those genres (capitalism, patriarchy, authoritarianism, militarism). This is the way in which Bob Altman, by no means an intellectual, becomes the Derridean anarchist of American cinema, while Billy Friedkin, old friend of Studs Terkel, becomes a creator of reactionary corporate product disguised as transgression--French Connection, Exorcist, etc. ad nauseum.

Biskind's book convinces me that great movies are like laws and sausages (and novels): you don't want to see them being made. By pulling back the curtain on The Godfather, Chinatown, Apocalypse Now, and showing us what contingent, jerry-built, cut-and-paste jobs these (and all) movies are, and by showing us the necessary collaboration involved in moviemaking, with its inherent tensions and confusion of creditation, Biskind is really telling me much more than I needed to know. Fortunately (or unfortunately), it's a compulsively interesting book. I only wish he'd concentrated as much on the aesthetic as on the economic side of things. But, as this book constantly reminds me, they don't call it the movie business for nothing.

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