Monday, May 28, 2012

Book Review: Easy Riders, Raging Bulls; How the Sex, Drugs and Rock 'n Roll Generation Saved Hollywood

I bought this book because of its author. Journalist Peter Biskind was once the executive editor of the late, great film magazine Premiere. For a good portion of my high school and university years, this monthly magazine was like my Bible -- and I still miss it to this day.

Back in 1998, when Easy Riders, Raging Bulls was first published, Biskind had all-access to some of Hollywood's biggest names, as well as some of its most reclusive stars. As a result, he had plenty of anecdotes, professional rivalries and gossipy tidbits at his fingertips. The end result is a random collection of stories that is both easy to love and dislike.

When most film critics and enthusiasts debate the greatest decade for American cinema, they often cite the 1970s as the defining era. It was a decade of change that was heavily influenced by the European art directors most of the American up-and-comers once admired from afar.

It's evident that Biskind has a passionate admiration for the world of cinema; however, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls comes off as both a clever, analytical look at the decade and a tabloid reporting all the "he said, she said" gossip from the time. For every brilliantly researched passage about the behind-the-scenes life, there's a salacious piece of gossip that threatens to veer the book in an entirely new direction.

I'm not one to turn away a good piece of gossip -- and I don't mind a story or two mixed in with heavy film talk -- but there are moments when some of the stories being related feel forced or, even worse, carry an underlying intent to slander. At some points, the lack of insight into certain rivalries or the simple fact that it's often only one side of the story being told, may prevent Easy Riders, Raging Bulls from being a 'must-read' on any film lovers book list.
Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda in Easy Riders
It opens with a discussion about Warren Beatty and 1967's Bonnie & Clyde -- which essentially kicked off the new wave of American filmmaking -- and Biskind charts the rise, fall and, in some cases, disappearances, of renowned directors, producers and actors. You'll learn more than you ever wanted to about Martin Scorsese's drug binges, Francis Ford Coppola's ego and Dennis Hopper's bizarre, dangerous and addictive personality.

Perhaps there are too many subjects at hand that Biskind is struggling to cohesively weave together, but the book's strongest moments are often the quieter ones where the directors, producers and actors put their egos aside and discuss the toll that their careers take on their personal lives. There are some great, insightful passages, specifically from the always-eloquent Scorsese, about why these people continue to make art despite that fact that it ultimately ruins every relationship in their life.

It all comes back to the fact that these men and women were -- and still are -- artists. And for every late-night bender, drug-fuelled party and rocky relationship, there's a great film in the midst of being made.

So, if you like a heavy dose of gossip with your film history, than you'll enjoy Easy Riders, Raging Bulls. But for those who are looking for more of a focus on the process of filmmaking and how cast and crew interacted with one another may be disappointed.

But, I had fun reading it.


  1. I loved all the gossip! Have you read Down and Dirty Pictures also by Biskind? I picked it up for a pound once upon a time and though it's full of gossip especially about the Weinsteins, it's probably an even better read than this!

    1. I loved the gossip too, for the most part. I only took issues with certain tidbits where he only quoted one side of the story because it leaves us wondering how much of it is true or not.

      No, I haven't read Down and Dirty yet, but I've added it to my list.