I’m a sucker for books about movies. No surprise there, I know. So I guess whenever I read a good one, I’ll let you all know in case any of you share my fondness for decent cinema-reading. And I really can’t recommend this one enough. Pictures at a Revolution by Mark Harris takes an in-depth look at the making of the five movies nominated for Best Picture at the 1967 Academy Awards – Bonnie & Clyde, The Graduate, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, In the Heat of the Night, and Doctor Doolittle.

It might seem odd to just grab some random year and write about its Best Picture nominees, but Harris’ point is that this WASN’T just some random year. In fact, 1967 is arguably one of the most important years in movie history, as the first four films listed above signaled the birth of the “new Hollywood” – that is, director-driven movies that dealt with real-life issues and felt more realistic in tone, while at the same time the big-budget bomb Doctor Doolittle was the last desperate gasp of a Hollywood obsessed with lavish epics, colorful musicals (like Doolittle) and Westerns.

The book makes it clear that there were a lot of “old guard” types in Hollywood that were both perplexed and outright worried about the emergence of these new, grittier, European-influenced films. They just didn’t seem to get that audience’s tastes WERE changing, and films like The Graduate and Bonnie & Clyde represented a shift that HAD to happen, lest Hollywood slide into eternal mediocrity and irrelevance.

The “revolution” aspect of it is interesting enough, but what really makes this book so memorable is the countless great stories and anecdotes about the making of these films and the personalities involved. There’s a lot of fascinating info on just how hard it was to work and get along with My Fair Lady and Doctor Doolittle star Rex Harrison, who by this point was a full-blown alcoholic and racist. The chapters on Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy shed a whole new (not always flattering) light on their “it’s-sort-of-a-secret-but-everyone-knows-about-it-but-we-won’t-say-anything-about-it” relationship are great, as well, especially the info on just how hard it was for a severely ill Tracy to even film Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (he died only 17 days after finishing work on the movie).

But by far the most intriguing stuff is about Sidney Poitier, who you just can’t help but feel for while reading the book. The first black superstar actor, Poitier is presented as a man who simply wanted to be an actor, only to hesitantly find himself elevated to position of black icon and advocate, and THEN to have many prominent figures in the black and liberal communities turn on him for playing characters that weren’t “black enough.” I’ve always liked Poitier’s work, and always knew he must have had a rough time of it, but man…I had no idea.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading about cinema, even if none of these movies are your favorites, or you’re not too familiar with the time period. Harris does a great job moving the narrative along with enough interesting info to keep anyone involved, and you’ll definitely gain a new appreciation for these films, the people who made them, and just how important this shift in film-making attitudes was to the future of American cinema. I’ve read a lot of “movie books,” and I’d easily say this is one of the best.

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