Shout Factory presents
Easy Riders, Raging Bulls (2002)
"We didn't know enough. We were too successful, we probably were somewhat arrogant, and we made some mistakes. We made big mistakes."- Peter Bogdanovich
Stars: Tony Bill, Dennis Hopper, Peter Bogdanovich, Arthur Penn, Peter Bart, Paul Schrader, Margot Kidder, Dede Allen, Roger Corman, Peter Fonda, Laszlo Kovacs, Polly Platt, Henry Jaglom, Richard Dreyfuss, Jennifer Salt, Karen Black, Mickey Dolenz, David Picker, Michael Phillips, Mike Medavoy, Cybill Shepherd, Vilmos Zsigmond, Stanley Jaffe, Albert S. Ruddy, Mardik Martin
Other Stars: William H. Macy
Director: Kenneth Bowser
MPAA Rating: Not RatedRun Time: 01h:58m:01s
Release Date: 2004-05-11
DVD ReviewThere was a kind of unintended genius to Peter Biskind's book, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls—knowing full well that the generation of filmmakers he was writing about had risen from being the young bucks to the old guard, and that many of them take great pains these days to burnish their reputations, he didn't rely on the directors themselves for the juicy stuff. The really good gossip came from ex-wives and former girlfriends, people with axes to grind or whose careers had stalled out, but were witness to the rise of the likes of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, Francis Coppola and Martin Scorsese, Warren Beatty and Hal Ashby. So Biskind's book frequently reads like a book-length compilation of Page Six items; still, it sheds a good deal of light on the bacchanalian times of filmmaking in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and this documentary, produced by the BBC, does a fairly reasonable job of telling the story of these guys and their times.
The familiar story begins with the moribund studio system of the mid-1960s, producing bloated, big-budget movies that nobody, especially young people wanted to see; the generation that protested the Vietnam War, that smoked pot and were brazen enough not to get crew cuts just like Dad's, didn't have much interest in what Hollywood was putting out. The suits of course respond to one thing—the bottom line—and a group of young filmmakers got their attention. This was the first generation of filmmakers who grew up thinking of movies as art, and whose influences weren't exclusively or even predominantly produced in Southern California—instead, they were fueled by the fare at the art houses, by Fellini, Godard, Truffaut. The first crucial movie here is probably Bonnie and Clyde, which Truffaut was actually slated to direct, at one point—director Arthur Penn and editor Dede Allen are among those on hand to reminisce about the evolution of that project. And if Bonnie and Clyde knocked on the door, Easy Rider blew that door off its hinges—made for no money, basically, it became a phenomenon, and brought on a director-driven era, young men with little or no experience behind the camera, many of them protégés of Roger Corman, almost all of whom went on to make some of the best American movies of this or any other period, ranging from American Graffiti to The Godfather to Jaws to Taxi Driver.
William H. Macy narrates this fairly conventionally made documentary, which intercuts talking heads with archival footage and only the occasional film clip. (Some of the studios must have made clips unavailable, which is unfortunate, since some movies, such as McCabe & Mrs. Miller, are represented only by bits of their trailers.) Biskind's thesis is pretty clear—filmmakers with exceptional talent were undone by the excesses of drugs. So for every Easy Rider, there's The Last Movie, for each The Last Picture Show an At Long Last Love. Some of the most striking stuff here is the period footage, not of the films, but of their creators—particularly unsettling is an understandably distraught Roman Polanski, forced to do a news conference shortly after his pregnant wife Sharon Tate's murder at the hands of the Manson gang. Also featured is a camera operator on Francis Coppola's The Rain People; the shy young man's name is George Lucas.
The filmmakers didn't reel in the biggest fish, and the list of those who are discussed but who didn't sit for interviews includes Lucas, Spielberg, Coppola, Scorsese, Altman, Jack Nicholson, and Warren Beatty. There are many obvious similarities between this project and A Decade Under the Influence: same time period, same films and filmmakers, even some of the same interview subjects. But in terms of on-camera talent here, the most intriguing portions for those of us who love the movies of this era are the new interviews with those who you usually don't see on screen—cinematographers (Laszlo Kovacs, Vilmos Zsigmond), producers (Albert S. Ruddy, Stanley Jaffe), studio executives (Mike Medavoy, Charles Mulvehill), and of course screenwriters (Willard Huyck, Joan Tewkesbury). There are many directors who are featured prominently, which means that by the end of the documentary, we're galloping through many of the landmark pictures of the era (Chinatown, for instance, and of course Raging Bull). Finally, though, the two most important films from this time, in terms of the future of the business, were probably Jaws and Star Wars—we see the blockbuster phenomenon getting invented, and though these are two great movies, it's fair to blame them in some measure for the years of crappy, market-research-driven, warmed-over movies, years that don't seem to be over yet.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B+
|Aspect Ratio||1.85:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: Solid transfer, with little debris and few imperfections; cinematography isn't what this is all about, but it looks fine.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: Audio sounds fair enough, the in the narration track, William H. Macy frequently sounds a little reedy.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
15 Deleted Scenes
Packaging: Gladiator style 2-pack
Extras Review: A second disc promises More Sex 'n' Drugs 'n' Rock 'n' Roll, and we get fifteen chapters' worth (01h:42m:39s) of exactly that. Some of it is situating the movies in a broader social context, discussing Vietnam, the sexual revolution, and the seemingly omnipresent drugs; Paul Schrader points to the death of John Belushi as the end of it all. Andrew Sarris hashes out his ongoing feud with the late Pauline Kael, in the pages of The Village Voice and The New Yorker; but principally what's here are further reflections on a number of the directors discussed in the feature. An especially loon Karen Black discusses Robert Altman; there's a fond look back at the late Hal Ashby, and his pedigree as an editor; Bogdanovich is rueful about all he squandered. The great Gordon Willis credits Marlon Brando for the signature lighting scheme of The Godfather; George Lucas is described as—surprise!—an aloof control freak, on American Graffiti and Star Wars. There are also tales of Sam Peckinpah's contempt for Bob Dylan on Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid; a debate as to whether Spielberg was a naïf or an operator; and Martin Scorsese's coke-fueled days on Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore and The Last Waltz.
Perhaps most interesting of all: some of the talking heads take shots at what they think Biskind got wrong in his book, and Biskind is on screen to respond. Finally, demerits to the copy editors at Shout Factory, for on the DVD case insert, "Scorsese" is misspelled.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsA smart look at the last great era of American moviemaking. This is a documentary worth looking at almost more for the nasty bits of gossip that get passed around than for a cinematic assessment of the period, but it will also leave you wanting to revisit some old favorites or fill in some lacunae in your DVD collection.
Jon Danziger 2004-05-09