Sunday, October 24, 2010

GODS AND MONSTERS by Peter Biskind

The articles collected in Gods and Monsters are a excellent complement to Peter Biskind's definitive history of 1970s Hollywood, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls. While that book focused largely on the personalities and business of film and gave short shrift to art and interpretation, the best pieces here display a highly impressive and politically engaged critical intelligence. Whether he's writing about images of the working class in Seventies films like Saturday Night Fever or Rocky or Paul Schrader's now-forgotten Blue Collar, or angrily slamming The Deer Hunter and the miniseries Holocaust (he scores solid points against both, but his rhetoric is at least a bit over the top), Biskind writes and thinks well enough to demand our consideration even when we may be inclined to harshly disagree. (That's the sign of a damn good critic.) Perhaps the best piece in the book is "The Last Crusade." Originally published in a relatively obscure 1990 book edited by Mark Crispin Miller, this is an extended consideration of the first Star Wars trilogy and the Indiana Jones movies. Biskind's reading is endlessly provocative, arguing persuasively about the powerfully reactionary (infantilizing, anti-sexual, militaristic) nature of these films, the way reactionary meanings are inscribed into the filmic text despite (or, more radically, because of) the political liberalism of the filmmakers. It's a very impressive piece, and all left-liberal fans of these movies should read it and argue with it. Also of note is a Thin Red Line-era profile of director Terence Malick (who of course refused to cooperate in any way) and an interesting review of Woody Allen's Zelig. It occurs to me that Allen is the only American director to emerge during the Seventies who made most of his best films during the Eighties (Zelig, Purple Rose of Cairo, Hannah and Her Sisters, Radio Days, Crimes and Misdemeanors), thus bucking the downward career trend charted for the other great 70s directors in Biskind's Easy Riders, Raging Bulls. (In my opinion, Coppola returned impressively to form in Godfather Part Three and Dracula, two wonderfully operatic films; Scorsese never really declined; nor did Altman, as evidenced by his brilliant Secret Honor and his string of great 1990s and 2000s works: Vincent and Theo, The Player, Short Cuts [my candidate for the best film of the Nineties], Cookie's Fortune, Gosford Park.)

There's one more thing that must be said: this book is plagued with annoying typographical errors (at least in the edition I read), a sign of poor quality control at Nation Books.

1 comment:

Joe Miller said...

Thanks for the recommendation; I had always wondered why I felt condescended to when viewing Star Wars, and Biskind's analysis verified my misgivings. I'll be sure to share this title with all of my friends!