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GODS AND MONSTERS by Peter Biskind Kirkus Star

GODS AND MONSTERS

Thirty Years of Writing on Film and Culture from One of America’s Most Incisive Writers

By Peter Biskind

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2005
ISBN: 1-56025-545-5
Publisher: Nation Books/Perseus

The probably inevitable rarities and B-sides compilation from the ex-editor of Premiere.

Previously, Biskind (Down and Dirty Pictures, 2004; Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, 1998) made a niche for himself as the slightly left-of-mainstream scold of the American cinematic scene in whose eyes the sellouts are many and the artists of vision rare. Here are three decades’ worth of Biskind’s past writings that show, besides his undisputable eye for critiquing the form, the evolution of a writer from starchy ideologue to celebrity profiler. What’s most striking in the pieces from the ’70s and ’80s is the uncompromising nature of their political conviction. A Film Quarterly story about On the Waterfront becomes a decent encapsulated history of American liberalism and labor in the postwar era. Biskind’s cant has a tendency toward old lefty revisionism, as when he thrashes the PBS documentary Vietnam and The Deer Hunter for daring to suggest that the North Vietnamese may not have been populist angels, and castigates the NBC miniseries Holocaust for not critiquing Zionism. As he slouches into the ’90s and his problematic editorship of Premiere—where, it must be said, for years Biskind fought the good fight for the idea that you could have a smart but popular film magazine—his writing comes to consist more of profiles of filmmakers, both the creatives and the suits, and the spark goes out. His piece on Clint Eastwood is fraught with uncharacteristic pandering, and one on Robert Redford and Sundance is heavily laden with Vanity Fair Hollywood powerbroker gossip. That said, his 1998 story on the lengthy gestation of The Thin Red Line and the perverse mania of director Terrence Malick is out-and-out masterful.

An impressive appreciation of cinema’s highs and lows, but you’ll still wish Biskind could simply go back to writing about movies again instead of indulging in all this glossy gossip.