Pictures at a Revolution: A Brilliant Exploration of a Key Year in American Movies through 5 Oscar-Nominated Films

Pictures at a Revolution - Book Cover -

This great work is 5 Making Of books into one.

In Pictures at a Revolution, Mark Harris offers a thorough exploration of a significant transformative period in American cinema through five influential films released in 1967: Bonnie and Clyde, Doctor Dolittle, The Graduate, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and In the Heat of the Night. This pivotal year marked the emergence of the so-called New Hollywood, characterized by innovative storytelling, cultural reflection, and a departure from the traditional studio system. But the book is much more ambitious than that.

Let’s take a quick look at these five movies:

Bonnie and Clyde

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Arthur Penn‘s “Bonnie and Clyde” shattered cinematic conventions with its bold portrayal of the infamous outlaw couple. Drawing inspiration from the French New Wave, Penn infused the film with stylistic experimentation, nonlinear storytelling, and graphic violence, challenging the censorship standards of the time. The film’s anti-establishment themes and sympathetic portrayal of its protagonists resonated with the countercultural movements of the 1960s, cementing its status as a cultural touchstone and a harbinger of the New Hollywood era.

Doctor Dolittle

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In stark contrast to the innovative spirit of Bonnie and Clyde, Doctor Dolittle represented the old guard of Hollywood, clinging to outdated production methods and formulaic storytelling. Despite its ambitious scope, lavish production design, and star-studded cast, the film failed to connect with audiences, highlighting the growing divide between traditional studio fare and the emerging wave of independent, auteur-driven cinema. Its lackluster reception underscored the need for Hollywood to adapt to changing audience tastes and societal attitudes.

The Graduate

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Mike Nichols‘s The Graduate captured the disillusionment and ennui of a generation grappling with societal expectations and the search for authenticity. Through the eyes of its protagonist, Benjamin Braddock, the film explores themes of alienation, identity crisis, and generational conflict. Nichols masterfully blends satire with introspection, crafting a cinematic experience that resonated with audiences and critics alike. Dustin Hoffman‘s portrayal of Benjamin Braddock challenged traditional notions of leading men, paving the way for more complex, flawed protagonists in American cinema.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

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Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, directed by Stanley Kramer, tackled the taboo subject of interracial marriage. The film’s narrative revolves around a white woman bringing her black fiancé home to meet her liberal parents, who turn out no to be so liberal.

In the Heat of the Night

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Norman Jewison‘s In the Heat of the Night confronted racial tensions in the Deep South, as a black detective, Virgil Tibbs, teams up with a white police chief to solve a murder case. The film’s exploration of systemic racism, police brutality, and institutionalized prejudice struck a chord with audiences during a tumultuous period of civil rights activism. Sidney Poitier‘s commanding performance as Virgil Tibbs challenged racial stereotypes.

But the book is much more ambitious.

It deals with racism, antigay messages, censorship, and a changing society.

Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway in Bonnie And Clyde (1967)

The times are changing

The second half of the sixties represented a change of paradigm for American movies:

What was an American film supposed to be? The men running the movie business used to have the answer; now, it had slipped just beyond their reach, and they couldn’t understand how they had lost sight of it. In the last year, the rule book seemed to have been tossed out. Warren Beatty, who looked like a movie star, had become a producer. Dustin Hoffman, who looked like a producer, had become a movie star. And Sidney Poitier, who looked like no other movie star had ever looked, had become the biggest box office attraction in an industry that still had no idea what to do with, or about, his popularity. The biggest hit among the five nominees, The Graduate, had been turned down by every major studio and financed independently. Bonnie and Clyde had been financed by Warner Brothers but loathed by Jack Warner, who rued the day he put even a small amount of his company’s money into it. In the Heat of the Night was made because United Artists ran the numbers and realized the film could be produced so cheaply that it would never have to play in the South at all and might still break even. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was green-lit only because Columbia Pictures owed its producer-director, Stanley Kramer, a movie. Together, the four films cost about $10 million. The fifth picture, 20th Century-Fox’s Doctor Dolittle, cost more than twice as much to produce and promote as the other four combined; it was the only movie of the five that had been fueled by a studio’s bottom-line goal to manufacture an immense popular hit, and the only one that flopped. 

Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft in The Graduate (1967)

Antigay messages in the official media

In a lengthy essay published at the beginning of 1966, Time magazine (whose movie critics used the word fag in their reviews without a second thought) spoke for and to much of America when it called homosexuality “a pathetic little second-rate substitute for reality, a pitiable flight from life…it deserves no encouragement, no glamorization, no rationalization, no fake status as minority martyrdom, no sophistry about simple differences in taste—and above all, no pretense that it is anything but a pernicious sickness.

Racism in movies and TV

Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger in Norman Jewison’s In The Heat of the Night

In 1964, black Americans were still virtually invisible in filmed entertainment. “All we ask is that movies show the truthful American image,” Edward W. Warren, head of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), had complained in 1961. “Any time [movies] have a crap game they show plenty of Negroes. But when do you see a Negro doctor or lawyer?…They will show you a scene with a baseball crowd and you don’t see a single Negro. You will see city street scenes and not a single Negro. This is ridiculous.” At first, Hollywood simply didn’t listen. When 20th Century-Fox was taken to task for making Darryl F. Zanuck’s World War II epic The Longest Day without any close-ups of black soldiers, Dick Zanuck was caught flatfooted, first announcing that the studio’s research had shown that no black soldiers were involved in D-Day32 and then, when that proved not to be the case, defending his father by pointing out that “one of his three secretaries was a Negro.”

The pilot for the ABC sitcom Bewitched sat on the shelf for more than a year, a victim of complaints by the network’s southern stations that its innocuous comic story of an advertising man whose wife is a witch was a veiled argument for racial intermarriage. In 1963, CBS became the first network to use a black actor as part of the ensemble of a drama series, casting Cicely Tyson as a secretary in the gritty, innovative New York–based drama East Side/West Side. But the network asked the show’s producers to limit the number of scenes in which she appeared, and the series was canceled after one season, the victim of southern affiliates that refused to carry it at all.

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