Top 5 “Must Read” Hollywood Insider Books

The following five books offer a window into Hollywood?s history. Not only do they delve into the stories behind many of the greatest pictures ever made, but they also allow a deeper understanding of Hollywood itself.

1. “Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer”

By Paul Schrader

Many books have been written about film theory; few are as original and influential as Schrader?s, written following his days as a student at UCLA and the AFI, and before he became the celebrated writer of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. You?ll never see those movies the same way again after reading this study of filmmakers whose style seems the very opposite of Schrader?s colleague, Martin Scorsese?s.

This book, admittedly, won?t teach you anything about Hollywood; but it will show you what unites three of the most original directors in the history of film, whose work still laps up against that of Scorsese, James Schamus and other master filmmakers.

?Yasujiro Ozu in Japan, Robert Bresson in France, to a lesser degree Carl Dreyer in Denmark, and other directors in various countries have forged a remarkably common film form,? writes Schrader. ?Although transcendental style, like any form of transcendental art, strives toward the ineffable and invisible, it is neither ineffable nor invisible itself.?

2. Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood

By Mark Harris

While I might quibble about Harris? central thesis ? that 1967 marked a cultural watershed in Hollywood history ? I have no quibbles about his skill as a writer. I?ve now read the book three times; it easily merits a fourth. This exquisitely researched book interweaves the stories of the five movies nominated for best picture at the 1968 Oscars ? Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate, Dr. Dolittle, In the Heat of the Night and Guess Who?s Coming to Dinner ? to reveal a Hollywood in transition, maybe even in crisis, along with the stars, writers, directors and producers who found themselves sucked into the vortex.

?It wasn?t just that we were sick of the system,? says director Arthur Penn. ?At that point, the system was sick of itself.?

3. “Adventures in the Screen Trade”

By William Goldman

One of Hollywood?s finest screenwriters (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President?s Men) tells his version of how those movies got made. Along the way, he also gives the most memorable advice ever ladled out by someone toiling in the Hollywood trenches: ?Nobody knows anything… Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what?s going to work. Every time out it?s a guess ? and, if you?re lucky, an educated one.?

4. “Final Cut”

By Steven Bach

Heaven?s Gate is starting to look an awful lot like ancient history, but the reverberations of the 1980 picture are still being felt in Hollywood today.

Michael Cimino began work on the film after finishing his masterpiece, 1978?s The Deer Hunter, and the latter?s success at the Oscars (where it was named best picture and Cimino best director) allowed him unfettered freedom to do what he wanted next. The massively over-budget western he embarked on spun so horribly out of control it almost sank the studio that financed it, United Artists ? and certainly sank the idea of director-as-king. Never again would they have the clout they had before; never again would a studio permit a director to challenge it for power.

Steven Bach tells us how this came about from the inside, as the UA head of production who had to deal with a movie that was then disparaged, but is now considered by many to be a classic.

5. “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls”

By Peter Biskind

For a close-up view of the 1970s, the last golden age of Hollywood ? at least as we see it through a rose-tinted rearview mirror ? and an appreciation of all its pain and anguish, its hope and glory, look no further than Biskind?s insanely gossipy tale. The characters are larger-than-life, their battles epic, their hubris (and achievements) beyond compare. Delicious as his work is, even Biskind acknowledges the fog of war may have clouded some of his subjects?  memories. 

As Joseph McBride noted in a dyspeptic review when the work first came out, ?in the kind of popularized pseudohistory Easy Riders, Raging Bulls exemplifies, anecdotes are valued above all else, bitchy gossip is privileged, dysfunction is automatically more fascinating than artistic success, aggrieved former friends and former lovers are granted the license to settle scores (sometimes anonymously), documentation is disdained and historical analysis must be squeezed into the narrative quickly, so as not to disrupt the dishing.? Ah, but what dishing.