Pictures at a Revolution


Five Movies and the Birth
of the New Hollywood

Mark Harris


New York

Published by the Penguin Group
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First published in 2008 by The Penguin Press,
a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

Copyright © Mark Harris, 2008
All rights reserved

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Harris, Mark.
Pictures at a revolution: five movies and the birth of the new Hollywood/
Mark Harris.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN: 978-1-1012-0285-2
1. Motion pictures—United States—History. I. Title.
PN1993.5.U6H37 2008

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For my mom and dad,
in loving memory


When you talk about films, nobody agrees with anybody.

Guys get mad at each other and the air is full of screaming.

—David Newman and Robert Benton,
“The Movies Will Save Themselves,” 1968

few dozen reporters, wire-service men, studio publicity department employees, gossip columnists, and personal managers were gathered on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood outside the locked headquarters of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. It was the morning of February 20, 1968. At 10:00 a.m., the doors opened and the group was led inside and escorted to the Academy library, where each person was handed an unsealed, oversize manila envelope containing the names of the 1967 Oscar nominees.

The five films vying for Best Picture that year were
Bonnie and Clyde, Doctor Dolittle, The Graduate, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
, and
In the Heat of the Night.
Some Academy Awards competitions offer an almost irresistible temptation to imagine that the Best Picture nominees represent a collective statement—a five-snapshot collage of the American psyche as reflected in its popular culture. But that morning, all that was illuminated by the list of contenders was the movie industry's anxiety and bewilderment at a paroxysmal point in its own history.
Bonnie and Clyde
The Graduate
were game changers, movies that had originated far from Hollywood and had grown into critics' darlings and major popular phenomena;
In the Heat of the Night
, a drama about race, and
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
, a comedy about race, were middle-of-the-road hits that had, with varying degrees of success, extended a long tradition by addressing a significant social issue within the context of their chosen genres; and
Doctor Dolittle
was a universally dismissed children's musical that most observers felt had bought its way to the final five. Of such mixed bags have countless Academy Awards races been made.

That winter, the question of who was going to win had taken on more urgency than usual. Not who was going to win the Oscars, which would shortly be decided by the usual blend of caprice and conviction, but who was going to win ownership of the whole enterprise of contemporary moviemaking. The Best Picture lineup was more than diverse; it was almost self-contradictory. Half of the nominees seemed to be sneering at the other half: The father-knows-best values of
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
were wittily trashed by
The Graduate;
the hands-joined-in-brotherhood hopes expressed by
In the Heat of the Night
had little in common with the middle finger of insurrection extended by
Bonnie and Clyde.

What was an American film supposed to be? The men running the movie business used to have the answer; now, it had slipped just beyond their reach, and they couldn't understand how they had lost sight of it. In the last year, the rule book seemed to have been tossed out. Warren Beatty, who looked like a movie star, had become a producer. Dustin Hoffman, who looked like a producer, had become a movie star. And Sidney Poitier, who looked like no other movie star had ever looked, had become the biggest box office attraction in an industry that still had no idea what to do with, or about, his popularity. The biggest hit among the five nominees,
The Graduate
, had been turned down by every major studio and financed independently.
Bonnie and Clyde
had been financed by Warner Brothers but loathed by Jack Warner, who rued the day he put even a small amount of his company's money into it.
In the Heat of the Night
was made because United Artists ran the numbers and realized the film could be produced so cheaply that it would never have to play in the South at all and might still break even.
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
was green-lit only because Columbia Pictures owed its producer-director, Stanley Kramer, a movie. Together, the four films cost about $10 million. The fifth picture, 20th Century-Fox's
Doctor Dolittle
, cost more than twice as much to produce and promote as the other four combined; it was the only movie of the five that had been fueled by a studio's bottom-line goal to manufacture an immense popular hit, and the only one that flopped.

Los Angeles Times
looked at the list of nominees and called it a battle of the “dragons” against the “dragonflies.” The dragons were Stanley Kramer and Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy and Rex Harrison, the makers of
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
Doctor Dolittle
, and what the paper termed the “armies of greybeard” technicians who had been making movies their way since the dawn of the sound era. The dragonflies—“nervous, rootless, hip”—were Beatty and Hoffman, Faye Dunaway, Rod Steiger, Mike Nichols, Hal Ashby, Norman Jewison, and Arthur Penn, all newcomers, nontraditionalists, or outsiders. The divide was generational, but also aesthetic—these were people who were rejecting what movies had been in favor of what they could be—and the fight was unabating.

In Hollywood, by the time the 1967 Best Picture nominees were made public, it was increasingly clear that something was dying and something was being created, but the transition between old and new is never elegant or seamless. The dragons couldn't quite believe that they were running out of firepower, and the dragonflies, still excited to have buzzed their way across the moat and through the palace gates, would have been very surprised to hear that they were about to achieve a great deal more than that. As iconic as the images of Bonnie and Clyde in their dance of death or Mrs. Robinson interposing herself between Benjamin and the bedroom door or Sidney Poitier demolishing Rod Steiger with the line “They call me
Tibbs!” became the second they reached screens, they were still anomalies in a world that had just made
The Sound of Music
the highest-grossing film in history. What paid studio bills in the mid-1960s were James Bond extravaganzas, John Wayne westerns, Elvis Presley quickies, Dean Martin action comedies, and a long-standing willingness on the part of moviegoers to suspend disbelief. Now, suddenly, people also wanted
The Dirty Dozen
and Clint Eastwood's
Man with No Name
and Bob Dylan in
Don't Look Back
, a title that could have served as a rallying cry for a generation of moviegoers that had emerged faster and more forcefully than the studios could have imagined. The old and the new existed in uneasy proximity, eyeing each other across a red-carpeted aisle that was becoming easy to mistake for a battle line. A fight that began as a contest for a few small patches of Hollywood turf ended as the first shot in a revolution.

All movies are gambles; each one begins with a prayer that what seems like a brilliant idea to its writers and directors and producers and actors at the moment it is kindled will still have meaning after years of fights and compromises and reconceptions and struggles, when it comes alive on a screen. The five movies up for Best Picture did have one thing in common: They had all been imagined for the first time many years earlier, in a world that bore little resemblance to the one in which they arrived in 1967. This is the story of what happened to those movies, to the hopes and ambitions of their creators, and to American filmmaking in the five years between their conception and their birth.

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