A wide-angle take on a major watershed period in American filmmaking.
Perceptive moviegoers knew that something was afoot in the late 1960s when 2001: A Space Odyssey, with its elliptical plot, mesmerizing images and ambiguous symbols, became one of the most attended and discussed films of the moment. Harris, who covers pop culture for Entertainment Weekly and other publications, chronicles what was going on. In his compelling narrative, the major “characters” become the five films nominated for the 1967 Best Picture Oscar: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Bonnie and Clyde, In the Heat of the Night, The Graduate and Doctor Doolittle. Harris demonstrates how these films bespoke Hollywood’s past and future. Doctor Doolittle, a big-budget musical, and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, essentially a Spencer Tracy–Katharine Hepburn romantic comedy, despite a plot about interracial marriage, were traditional studio-era films. The Graduate, Bonnie and Clyde and, to some extent, In the Heat of the Night, introduced new cinematic techniques and structures, many imported from the works of European New Wave directors like François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Goddard. The groundbreaking films also dealt more directly than ever before with themes of violence, sexuality and racism. Harris vividly details the production histories, reaching back several years in some cases to examine how a cast of fascinating characters—inspired writers, determined actors, emerging directors—got these films going. With keen cultural perspective, Harris also shows how Bonnie, Clyde and Benjamin Braddock caught the tenor of the revolutionary ’60s and established, perhaps for the first time on these shores, a vital film culture.
As entertaining and sweeping as an engrossing Hollywood epic, and a promising source for a great documentary.