White noise is a random signal (or process) with a flat power spectral density. In other words, the signal's power spectral density has equal power in any band, at any center frequency, having a given bandwidth. White noise is considered analogous to white light which contains all frequencies.

Who am I?

Neo-hippie cinephile. Follower of the great Jim Morrison who once said "If the doors of perception are cleansed, everything would appear to man as it truly is, infinite."

Monday, February 09, 2009

A Silver Sliver of Emulsion

Since time immemorial, I have always been a fan of History. The only instances of our armed conflict were the eve of my History exams, back in school, but academic interest aside, we have always been more than friends. So, it shouldn't be a surprise that I fell in love with "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls" since it combines her and the pretty object of my current passion - Film. This biography of Hollywood of the late 60's - early 80's by Peter Biskind talks about the birth of what we can look back today and call "independent cinema".

The book starts off chronologically with "Bonnie and Clyde" and how along with other films like "The Graduate", it ushered in a decade and a half of measured studio independence, thus producing some classics, that literally, as the full title of the book suggests, "saved Hollywood" . It transitions into an introduction of the cinematic enigma - Warren Beatty and sets the tone of the book - an ensemble cast of the up and coming directors at the time, much like a film. Peter Fonda's life before "Easy Rider" is also chronicled. Biskind talks about Pauline Kael, a hippie movie reviewer, who had a huge hand in the revolution, encouraging these new age films.

Biskind establishes the bravado of my all time favorite American director - Francis Ford Coppola early. He was a born leader and a role model for other directors like George Lucas and Spielberg. He had already directed a feature by the time he was in his late 20's (as he had vowed to do before he hit 30) and was no less than a demi-God for the fresh crop of film school graduates. Coppola wanted to move away from the studios to San Francisco and empower his later to be made Zoetrope Studio as the alternate umbrella for the artists (filmmakers) everywhere. His laissez-faire attitude is evident in films that he later produced for his friends, like Lucas' "American Graffiti".

Before Biskind talks about Easy Rider, he introduces BBS - a brainchild of Bob Rafelson, Bert Schneider and Steve Blauner, a bunch of rich hippies, which was born within Warner Brothers and allowed to operate autocratically, as long as the movies it was producing cost less than a million. Dennis Hopper is also talked about, as a sort of long flash in the pan. The colorful anecdotes in the book involving Hopper paint a very eccentric genius, who was ahead of his time, and horrible to work with.

Robert Altman is profiled, as a man who did TV for ten years and then translated that into film, successfully initially. Peter Bogdanovich's film nerdy character, that someone like me would identify with, is exposed through his wide eyes as he arrives in Hollywood and meets his boyhood heroes like Howard Hawkes and Orson Welles. It is interesting to note how accessible Hollywood was back then. I cannot even imagine getting probably close to Coppola's outer entourage today.

Coppola's struggles with the studios is mentioned as he made "The Godfather", while Roman Polanski, Jack Nicholson and Robert Towne worked on "Chinatown" at around the same time. Not many people know this, but Nicholson initially came to Hollywood to make it as a writer, but not seeing much success, he switched over to acting. The "character" with whom I identify the most in this book is Hal Ashby - a benign, passive aggressive, workaholic hippie editor, who started directing and won some actors and actresses their Oscars with his direction, and more significantly, crisp editing. His personal life, like that of most of his peers, was in shambles and unfortunately, he died by the late 80's.

Billy Friedkin and Gene Hackman are introduced - the former, sadly staying a two-hit wonder and the latter, one of the most underrated actors of all time, who got into it late. Friedkin was from Chicago and shared Bogdanovich's Hollywood awe, but as his films show, his dark side refused to acknowledge it. Collaboration was very prevalent with filmmakers roping in their peers who were friends, on a project and awarding them small percentages of the amount the film eventually made. "The Director's Company" was founded on the same principle by Coppola, Bogdanovich and Friedkin, but failed to stand the test of its founders' individual successes.

The book then glides into its next segment. It is the mid-70's. The hippie movement is dying out. The Vietnam War is long over. Some people are tired of intellectual cinema and want to see something entertaining again. This segment is dominated by the talented circle of friends - Spielberg, Scorcese, De Palma, Lucas and Coppola. Coppola was the daredevil leader, De Palma the intellectual, Lucas the nerd. Scorcese was the dark paranoid and Spielberg was the entertainer. Each one was different. Each one was successful, and yet, each other had personal demons. Coppola wanted to be an auteur like some of the European directors, and wondered if he would have had success had he not agreed to do Mario Puzo's celebrated novel. De Palma made the thinking man's movies, but most of them weren't commercial successes. Spielberg was the blue eyed boy of the studios and the exact opposite of De Palma. Lucas was similar to Spielberg, but hated working with actors. Also, his life was modeled on Coppola, the father figure he badly needed. Scorcese missed home in NYC initially and as a result, was too caught up in drugs to enjoy most of his early success.

Scorcese met a writer - Paul Schrader, an even more dark individual with a violent upbringing, and the results were the DeNiro starrers "Taxi Driver" and "Raging Bull". Almost an entire chapter is dedicated to my all-time favorite movie "Apocalypse Now" and the trials of the shoot and how Coppola, Brando and Martin Sheen came back as different men from the Philippines. This really kicked off the end of the era, coupled with the box office bombing of "Raging Bull" and increasing drugs in Hollywood.

The last chapter is aptly titled "We Blew It" - uttered by Captain America (Peter Fonda) to Billy (Dennis Hopper) towards the end of "Easy Rider". The sequel to Chinatown (without Polanski from the outset) was shelved after crew and cast showed up on set on the first day of shooting. Spielberg and Lucas initially wanted to make blockbusters so that they could nurture and produce the independent work of their more intellectual peers, but the inertia of success is a terrible thing. The book ends on a whimpering note - the death of Hal Ashby. At the end of the day, it was too much sex, too much drugs and too much arrogance, coupled with some commercial failures and ensuing insecurities.

An interesting parallel that I took from the book is how similar the late 60's in Hollywood are to today's Indian cinema. I think it will take ten more years for the talent to be fully realized, for more sensible producers to sit up and take note. I believe we are at the cusp of Indian cinematic history. The ball has been set in motion by some directors. I just hope, like Hollywood, we don't blow it.

2 comments:

What's In A Name ? said...

I feel almost proud that I know most of the names you mentioned in this post and leaving one or two have seen many of their films.

'The momentum of success' is heady indeed and it becomes very difficult for a film-maker to come out of that fame-trap in Hollywood and go back to making meaningful cinema again. One feels Spielberg is one of the notable "successes" of his era who could have made many more films for the discerning connoisseur than the moolah-raking mass-entertainers he is known for. About Coppola, I think few films can ever hope to surpass the cult appeal of 'The Godfather'. Scorcese was one of the mavericks of his time but with 'The Departed' he has shown that he has at last learnt his 'How to win a Oscar' lesson well.
Also, contrary to a popular notion among "film buffs" of our generation I find the old-school Hollywood full of charming 'good cinema' - entertainers which had a message in them. Likes of Billy Wilder, William Wyler, Frank Capra and George Cukor come to the mind. Can't have enough of them.

And before i ramble more I thank you for such a informative post on the history of Hollywood.

ArSENik said...

Lol. The pre-70's names that you mentioned like Capra and Wilder etc. were far and few in a sea of Ed Wood type "filmmakers". I guess these guys slowly but surely and with baby steps, started the revolution by the late 50's and 60's, only for it to be taken to a crescendo by the next generation.

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