Cannonball Read 6, Book 35: Easy Riders, Raging Bulls by Peter Biskind

15060I have a film degree and yet it took a friend buying me this book for my birthday to get me to read it. Shameful. What’s even more shameful, is I haven’t seen quite a few films that are discussed here, but the films are really secondary to the tales of how they were made and the changes they wrought on the film industry. If you’re even remotely interested in how some of the modern classics made it from page to screen and exactly what impact their arrival there had, this is the book for you.

I did actually know some of the history of a few films. The making of Jaws and The Exorcist and of course Star Wars are the stuff of legend and rightly so. Where Biskind really excels is how much depth he goes into, the amount of people he speaks to and the really truly no holds barred account he manages to capture. I found it all endlessly fascinating, from the rigid old fashioned studios rejecting the down and dirty subculture that was making its way onto the screen and into the industry, to the depiction of some of the most outrageous and egotistical behaviour you could possibly imagine. Francis Ford Coppola and William Friedkin between caused my jaw to drop more times than I care to count.

I also found myself wondering how so many of them are still alive. The amount of drugs consumed throughout the course of this book is enough to bankrupt a small country. How they managed to function on any level, let alone produce some of the greatest modern American cinema has to offer is truly mystifying. Martin Scorcese comes out of that particular side of it the worst. Not only is he a bundle of neuroses and allergies, but he had a coke habit which would have felled an ox. And somehow, with all of that going on, he made Raging Bull. On every page, Biskind finds something to fascinate, intrigue, and be appalled by. Sometimes all at once.

I did have some issues with the structure, as it does jump about a bit. It’s told chronologically, but the focus switches from film to film and back again, which I found a little distracting. And the subtitle of the book might be How The Sex ‘N’ Drugs ‘N’ Rock ‘N’ Roll Generation Saved Hollywood, a further addition could fairly be And Then Fucked It Up Again. The final chapter is titled “We Blew It”, a line from Easy Rider, which arguably kicked down the Old Hollywood’s doors and shat all over its carpet. It details exactly how the likes of Star Wars helped to change the focus of the industry and how it operates, and barely any of it has ended up doing it any good. If you mourn the current slate of summer blockbusters and want to know whose door to lay the blame at, look no further. Biskind has put together an endlessly fascinating book. Why on earth did it take me so long to read it?

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