Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Peter Biskind: Easy Riders, Raging Bulls

The '70s were a unique time in American moviemaking, but there are probably as many explanations for this as there are people who care about such matters. Starting with Bonnie And Clyde, Easy Rider, and The Graduate in the late '60s, Hollywood studios began regularly releasing challenging films by young, talented filmmakers—works that were embraced by the general public to a surprising degree. How did it happen? One convincing, complicated explanation is offered in Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, a look at the era by former Premiere editor Peter Biskind. Featuring a large and diverse cast, the book focuses on the careers of a handful of talented filmmakers—including Martin Scorsese, Hal Ashby, Robert Altman, Steven Spielberg, Peter Bogdanovich, George Lucas, William Friedkin, Francis Ford Coppola, and Paul Schrader—who dominated the decade by capitalizing on the hobbled Hollywood system's confusion in the face of '60s youth culture. Biskind's book is structured like an intricate 19th-century novel, with dozens of fascinating subplots combining to form a complete portrait of a time. Of course, novelistic works need focal points, and Biskind's is Coppola, a character who evolves dramatically through the course of Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, and whose metamorphoses mirror those of his surroundings. Coppola began as a maverick working within the system while trying to escape it; Though his efforts were frequently rewarded, according to Biskind, he always found a way to blow his chance. Coppola's final, hubris-induced defeat in the early '80s nicely corresponds with the disappearance of most of the previous decade's brightest talents beneath a blanket of cocaine and Flashdance posters. Of course, even intricate accounts aren't always accurate, and parenthetical disclaimers like, "According to Rafelson, they did not have an affair," and "Dunaway, when asked about her urinary habits, said she has 'no recollection' of such behavior" run through the work like a leitmotif. But even if every minute detail can't be trusted—and even if Biskind's habit of interpreting most films in terms of their directors' struggles with the studios rings false—the author has created an engrossing, warts-forward, rise-and-fall-style history of a time when "mainstream" wasn't synonymous with "homogenized."

Share This Story

Get our newsletter