Scenes from a Revolution, by Mark Harris

Are American films any worse now than they used to be? It's tempting to name a year and suggest that, before this point, movies were better, but is the idea of Transformers being nominated for an Oscar any crazier than Dr Dolittle making the Best Picture list four decades earlier? There have been key periods, though, when Hollywood has experienced a sea change. In 1981, after Raiders of the Lost Ark won Best Picture, there was a shift away from films with a demanding European aesthetic, towards merchandisable matinee popcorn. In 1967, Mark Harris argues, there was another pivotal moment, as studio-generated epics gave way to smaller films that reflected the countercultural thirst for change.

It's a good hook and one that serves the author well. After all, as well as Dr Dolittle, the four other Best Picture nominees that year were Bonnie & Clyde, The Graduate, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and the winner, In the Heat of the Night. Two of these reflected changing attitudes to race: Dinner was a plea for tolerance and acceptance in the form of an old-fashioned suburban comedy, the idea being that the world's most famous couple, Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn, invite the world's most famous black actor, Sidney Poitier, to become part of their family. It seemed condescending and schematic even at the time of its release. In the Heat of the Night, also starring Poitier, was set in the deep South and appropriately angrier. It mirrored the growing refusal of young blacks to remain complacent in the face of endemic racism. Not that this stopped more militant African-Americans from accusing Poitier of showcasing himself as a "good nigger" to appeal to a prevailing white sense of superiority.

The Graduate took advantage of changing censorship laws to examine sexual issues with a new level of sophistication and frankness. During production the script seemed mystifying and bleak, even to the cast. Mike Nichols, the director, announced "I'm thinking of using these two kids for the music – one tall and one small." Simon and Garfunkel focused attention on the hypersensitive young lead Dustin Hoffman, and the movie suddenly revealed a logical core. One wonders how The Graduate would have fared if it had been required to supply a soundtrack based on the contractual obligations of modern studios.

In Texas, the stars of Bonnie & Clyde listened to the stories of those who remembered the outlaws, and though the film turned Clyde heterosexual, it kept the sense of grievance felt by ordinary citizens who were foreclosed by the banks and who supported the robbers. It was a modest domestic hit, but European fans followed its fashions.

The odd film out – the one which reflected nothing at all of the changing world – was Dr Dolittle, a painful whimsy representative of a last-ditch attempt by studios to foist bloated "event" musicals on the public in the wake of The Sound of Music's success. The production was scuppered by Rex Harrison's capricious behaviour and the difficulty of working with live animals, and it had a horrible score that failed to spawn a single hit. Nevertheless, after a prolonged marketing campaign it went on to win two Academy Awards, and compared to Eddie Murphy's later lavatorial versions of the Hugh Lofting books, it seems a minor masterpiece.

Scenes from a Revolution weaves the development of these five films together, from script-stage through casting and production to the aftermaths of their releases, and contains enough tantrums, firings and exposed star insecurities to thrill the most jaded Hollywood-watcher. Peter Biskind's Easy Riders, Raging Bulls described how independent films revitalised a moribund industry by putting it back in touch with its grass-roots audience. Mark Harris is a less vitriolic chronicler, and is more intent on describing the difficulties of keeping an idea in place when so many unexpected elements derail good intentions.

It's a terrifically enjoyable read, but I kept wondering, was 1967 really such a pivotal year for Hollywood? Change takes time, and the following year two musicals, two historical dramas and an art film were nominated for Best Picture. By 1969, Costa-Gavras's political thriller Z and Midnight Cowboy were still vying against a western, a musical and a royal epic. However, that was also the year in which Easy Rider appeared, confounding the studios and creating panic among executives who no longer knew what audiences wanted. By 1970 the new, cynical mood of the nation brought forth a phenomenal number of hard-edged protest and civil rights movies – but that's another story.

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary charm: Clive Owen and Keira Knightley in 2004’s ‘King Arthur’
FilmGuy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle the legend
Arts and Entertainment
Corporate affair: The sitcom has become a satire of corporate culture in general

TV review

Broadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: There are some impressive performances by Claire Skinner and Lorraine Ashbourne in Inside No. 9, Nana's Party spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Glastonbury's pyramid stage

Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair

Arts and Entertainment
Ewan McGregor looks set to play Lumiere in the Beauty and the Beast live action remake

Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere

Arts and Entertainment
Charlie feels the lack of food on The Island with Bear Grylls

TV

The Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Arts and Entertainment
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch, in a scene from Avengers: Age Of Ultron
filmReview: A great cast with truly spectacular special effects - but is Ultron a worthy adversaries for our superheroes? spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Ince performing in 2006
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Beth (played by Jo Joyner) in BBC1's Ordinary Lies
tvReview: There’s bound to be a second series, but it needs to be braver spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, the presenters of The Great Comic Relief Bake Off 2015

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Harold Ramis' original Groundhog Day film, released in 1993

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence