Archives For Mark Harris

“…the transition between old and new is never elegant or seamless.” – from the Introduction to Pictures At A Revolution

The Academy Awards are often controversial — either legitimately or artificially. And since they’ve been around so long they tend to have an identity crisis every twenty years or so. Or, maybe more accurately, every couple of decades the Oscars reflect a generation gap and/or an identity crisis within the movie industry. Witness The 1967 Academy Awards. Held at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on April 8, 1968 the 1967 Best Picture Nominees included a mix of movies that hardly seemed like a matched set.

Half of the nominees seemed to be sneering at the other half: The father-knows-best values of GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER were wittily trashed by THE GRADUATE; the hands-joined-in-brotherhood hopes expressed by IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT had little in common with the middle finger of insurrection extended by BONNIE AND CLYDE. (from Pictures At A Revolution)

Mark Harris’s wonderfully engaging book, Pictures At A Revolution, takes the five films nominated that year (BONNIE AND CLYDE, DOCTOR DOLITTLE, THE GRADUATE, GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER, IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT ) and weaves together the stories of how those films came to be and with how they ended up reflecting the conflicted state of Hollywood’s body politic at the end of the 1960s. Harris is a seasoned writer with a strong commitment to research. He’s also not afraid to share a point of view. If you’re an Oscar buff this is a great book to dive into. If you’re a student of the American 1960s, Pictures At A Revolution, is also a great glimpse of that era through the lens of the USA’s biggest cultural export.

 
Pictures At A Revolution by Mark Harris | 2008 | The Penguin Press

In 1918 on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, hostilities officially ceased  and World War I came to an end. A year later President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed that the U.S. would observe Armistice Day on November 11. By 1954, in the U.S.,  Armistice Day had evolved from a day of gratitude for peace and remembrance of fallen soldiers into a day to celebrate and thank all veterans. So, this day – 11/11/14 — we observe Veteran’s Day and offer our sincere thanks, admiration and respect to all who’ve served honorably.

5CameBackEarlier this year I read Mark Harris’s remarkable book, FIVE CAME BACK – A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War. This is much more than an account of films made in Hollywood during World War II. It is an amazing account of five directors — all at the top of their game — who actively served during the War — several of them in harm’s way on more than one occasion. John Ford, George Stevens, John Huston, William Wyler and Frank Capra each left the confines and comforts of Hollywood to lend their skills and expertise to inform and inspire both soldiers and civilians. More than a few of the films they made were not seen by the public until many years after the war. Ford had crews shooting real combat footage on Midway. Their film crews were on the beaches of Normandy. And Stevens’s ghastly footage of the freshly discovered death camps in Germany was used in case against the Nazis at the Nuremberg trials.

Harris’s FIVE CAME BACK is as engaging as it is revelatory. Among the dozens of moving accounts gathered here is the story of how the groundbreaking, post-war, Oscar-winning film, THE BEST YEARS OF LIVES, came to be made by WWII vet, William Wyler. That film — which Wyler’s peer, Billy Wilder called “the best directed film I’ve seen in my life” — was a cathartic extension of Wyler’s own harrowing experiences during the war and his peacetime re-entry. Mark Harris spent five years researching and writing this incredible book. It is at once a steely eyed look at the vagaries of war and human foibles as it is a mediation on compassion, courage and honor.

 

FIVE CAME BACK (A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War), by Mark Harris, 511 pgs, Penguin Press