There are pivotal moments in history when "things change." Sometimes this change is apparent at the time, but most often the magnitude of the change is unrecognized. In 1967 and 1968 Hollywood knew something was in the air, but they were more attuned to (what they saw as) the seismic impact of the success of The Sound of Music. Upstart movies like Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate were more an annoyance than an event for "Old Hollywood" but as Harris makes clear, these movies represented a new sensibility, an assault on the culture by men and women (most men) who believed that entertainment and meaning could co-exist in film. Harris tells the story of this revolution by tracing the making of Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate, In the Heat of the Night, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and Dr. Doolittle. In doing so, Harris also tells the story of Broadway's impact on Hollywood, the suffocating success of Sidney Poitier, the rise of the American-style auteur and the actor/producer, and the death of "Issues" picture.
All this might sound somewhat dull and ponderous, it isn't. Pictures at a Revolution is the best feet-up, good-time read I've enjoyed in a long time. It's as fun as it is thought-provoking. I knew Harris succeeded when the book made me want to see all five movies (and several others he covers) again - I didn't think there was a force on earth that could make me want to sit through Dr Doolittle EVER again.
This book has also broken the EW curse. Usually the news that the author used to write for Entertainment Weekly bodes ill. That atomically stupid book about a guy reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica and then acting like he was delivering huge news with tidbits like the fact that Greenland is covered with ice being Exhibit #1. Mark Harris knows how to write and how to write about something other than himself. Not once does he resort to telling the reader how much any of these movies meant to him. He deserves a Pulitizer for that alone these days when every topic is an excuse for the author to drone on about their feelings. Just turn it into fiction and publish it as a memoir like everyone else already.
The only downside is that I'm now hoping that Mark Harris will take it into his head to write a book on every batch of Best Picture nominees.