Pictures at a Revolution is Porn for Film Buffs

If ever there was a book that seemed to have been written specifically for me, this is it. And it did not disappoint.

I’ve been fascinated by the Academy Awards since childhood, when I would get sent to bed before the show was over, then sneak out of my room to finish watching with the volume turned way down. The Academy Awards is my Super Bowl, and I spend all year preparing for it and doing analysis of both the coming races and the ones in the past. But the Academy we know today is very different from the Academy of yesterday, and Pictures at a Revolution takes an in-depth look at 1967–a pivotal year for both the Academy and American cinema as a whole. It examines the profound shift in audience tastes as well as the great impact of the breakdown on the studio system by doing case studies of the five movies nominated for Best Picture in that year: In the Heat of the NightBonnie and ClydeThe GraduateGuess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and Doctor Dolittle.

These five movies and the way they were made say much about the revolution Hollywood was undergoing about the time, but they also speak of the challenges faced both by the people leading the revolution as well as those clinging to the old ways. There are fascinating facts sprinkled throughout–ranging from Rex Harrison’s bad behavior to the myriad ways Hollywood and society at large did not know how to handle Sidney Poitier becoming the biggest box office draw in the nation, from Dustin Hoffman becoming an unlikely leading man to how Stanley Kramer got one last performance from the dying Spencer Tracy in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.

These facts have been meticulously collected, fact-checked, and laid out in a seemingly effortless narrative by Mark Harris. Each segment leads flawlessly to the next in a naturally conversational way. This book never fails to be interesting, and yet for all the details it crams in it never loses its focus. The central theme, that 1967 was a turning point in American moviemaking, is well supported throughout.

Pictures at a Revolution isn’t just a good book for movie lovers–it’s also a great read for anyone interested in American history in the 1900s.

Grade: A

For more Academy Awards-related posts, you should check out my Academy Awards page.

Pictures at a Revolution Mark Harris

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