February 2008

A screen gem for Oscar season

By Mark Harris
By Mary McNamara
By Gary David Goldberg
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Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood examines the years leading up to the pivotal 1968 Academy Awards, when the then-edgy Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate duked it out with the socially conscious In the Heat of the Night and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? and the old-school Doctor Dolittle. As Oscar buffs know, In the Heat of the Night took top honors. And its star, Rod Steiger, was named Best Actor. But what really won out were new attitudes—including new permissiveness, as well as redefined notions of what makes a star. Written by Mark Harris, a former editor at Entertainment Weekly, Pictures at a Revolution is the '60s companion to Peter Biskind's '70s-era study, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock 'N' Roll Generation Saved Hollywood—though Harris' book is more clearly written and better organized. (Full disclosure: I wrote for Biskind when he was editor of Premiere, and for Harris at Entertainment Weekly.)

Harris charts a complex journey that begins when young Hollywood filmmakers become enamored with the French New Wave. He goes on to take us through the tangle of all five nominated films' convoluted histories. At one time Francois Truffaut wanted to helm Bonnie and Clyde. Once the property was acquired by Warren Beatty, whom Time magazine called "an on-again, off-again actor who moonlighted as a global escort," Beatty considered Bob Dylan(!) for the role of Clyde. Natalie Wood, Sharon Tate, Ann-Margret and Tuesday Weld were contenders for Bonnie. The winner: ingenue Faye Dunaway, who'd once been told she "didn't have the face for movies." Bolstered by Harris' access to most of the principals involved in the five nominated films, and by the audacity of the very decade it examines, Pictures at a Revolution reminds us that hard-fought battles can result in cinematic victories, with or without an Oscar statuette.

A fictional look at the contemporary Oscar scene, the chick-lit entry Oscar Season merges swag bags and murder. The first novel from Los Angeles Times entertainment reporter Mary McNamara follows posh PR maven Juliette Greyson, who's up to her neck in damage control following the discovery of a body in a hotel pool. Ah, but the Pinnacle isn't just any hotel; it's become "the hub" of Oscar season, site of industry parties and press junkets and a home away from home for celebs.

Real-life actors (ranging from household names to the obscure) move in and out of the book's pages, alongside fictional Hollywood players, as Greyson sets out to discover who done it while having to deal with her hotelier boss, her estranged husband and the upcoming Oscar show. Not the most plausible of tales, the book is at its clever best when delivering Oscar-y details that underscore McNamara's many years working behind the scenes.

Gary David Goldberg has never won an Oscar, but he knows all about Emmys. The two-time winner, who created "Family Ties," ruminates on his industry climb and his own family ties in the breezy memoir Sit, Ubu, Sit: How I Went from Brooklyn to Hollywood with the Same Woman, the Same Dog, and a Lot Less Hair. About that title: Ubu was a beloved Labrador sidekick. The woman of the subtitle is wife Diana. The couple tied the knot after 21 years of togetherness and two kids. Much of the book deals with their relationship—and reads like a love story. Goldberg, who early on was an actor on the traveling dinner-theater circuit, also details his ascent up the Hollywood food chain, via a marathon of spec scripts (meaning he wrote them on speculation—without any assignment or fee). He relates exchanges with agents and producers, discusses his friendship and ensuing creative battles with "Family Ties" and "Spin City" star Michael J. Fox (the two men have since reconciled) and chillingly recalls the mysterious illness that nearly took his wife's life. He also ponders the responsibility wrought by unexpected wealth (the "Family Ties" syndication monies), and his good fortune at having found the perfect person to share it with.

Pat H. Broeske has covered the Oscars for publications including the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post and Entertainment Weekly.

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