GRANTLAND: 'TWILIGHT OF THE MOVIE BRATS'
"THE MOVIE BRATS WERE LIKE THE CINEMATIC VERSION OF CLASSIC ROCK" -- "DE PALMA IS LED ZEPPELIN"
Grantland's Steven Hyden yesterday posted a piece about Steven Spielberg, and included the following discussion about the Movie Brats:
"To understand Spielberg’s 'I’m just a weird kid' self-mythology, it helps to know about the Movie Brats, the group of upstart filmmakers that invaded Hollywood in the late ’60s, fostered an unprecedented era of auteurism in the ’70s, and then ushered in the age of blockbusters that began with Jaws and has grown only more massive over the next 40 years.
"Along with countless other budding cinephiles, an obsession with the Movie Brats coincided with my first flash of serious interest in movies. It didn’t matter that most of these directors were well past their peaks by the time I discovered them in the ’90s. I dug everything that the Movie Brats stood for: self-conscious artiness, difficult genius, downer endings, rock and roll soundtracks, salt-and-pepper beards, fabulous scarves and/or ascots, and, like, bucking the system, man!
"The Movie Brats were like the cinematic version of classic rock — the art they created was infused with the faded idealism and decadent glamour of a bygone era. When I read Stephen Davis’s Hammer of the Gods as a teenager, the book did the opposite of humanizing Led Zeppelin — it made Jimmy Page seem like a fictional demon with discomforting interests in heroin. It made these banana-stuffing Vikings seem larger than life. The coke- and sex-fueled antics depicted in Peter Biskind’s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls — a defining account of the 'New Hollywood' that I reread even more times than Hammer of the Gods — planted similar illusions in my head about my favorite directors.
"This even applied to Spielberg, who initially didn’t want to make Jaws. ('I wanted to be Antonioni, Bob Rafelson, Hal Ashby, Marty Scorsese. I wanted to be everybody but myself,' Spielberg told Biskind.) With his rebel heart and populist instincts, Spielberg infused his early hits with antiauthoritarian overtones: You couldn’t trust Amity’s mayor in Jaws, the federal government in Close Encounters, or the evil scientists in E.T. Spielberg even questioned movie authority: Why stage an elaborate fight sequence when Indiana Jones could just take out that swordsman with one bullet?
"So who were the Movie Brats? Here’s a roll call of important players:
"Steven Spielberg: The most famous of the bunch, his near-universally adored work would come to define the center of mainstream taste. Steven Spielberg is the Beatles.
"Martin Scorsese: Not as popular as Spielberg in the ’70s, he’s come to be viewed as the most respected (and coolest) director of his generation. Martin Scorsese is the Velvet Underground.
"Francis Ford Coppola: His early work was visionary and established a beachhead for those that followed, though by the early ’80s he seemed to have lost his mind. Francis Ford Coppola is Bob Dylan.
"George Lucas: Starting out as an experimental filmmaker on the fringes, he then reinvented himself as the epitome of mass-appeal space-themed entertainment. George Lucas is Pink Floyd.
"Robert Altman: Iconoclast to the end, he was also prolific to a fault, resulting in a filmography that varies wildly in quality. At his best, nobody was better at reflecting the sardonic cynicism at the heart of the ’70s. Robert Altman is Neil Young.
"Brian De Palma: He’s bombastic and derivative, but such a gifted stylist and technician that it scarcely matters. Brian De Palma is Led Zeppelin.
"Peter Bogdanovich: The early work is beautiful and tragic, but he’s ultimately stifled by limited range and nostalgic tendencies. Peter Bogdanovich is the Beach Boys.
"Hal Ashby: He’s a gentle poet whose work is imbued with a mix of bracing sweetness and clear-eyed bitterness over the decline of civilization. Hal Ashby is the Kinks.
"A few of these directors have since gone the way of AOR. But for the most part, we’re still living in a world that these guys created. While Jurassic World reigns as 2015’s biggest moneymaker, it might soon by supplanted by the Lucas-shepherded Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Like Spielberg, Scorsese is virtually guaranteed a raft of Oscar nominations each time he puts out a movie — perhaps that’s why there’s never a shortage of Scorsese imitators in film (Black Mass) or television (Narcos) ready to lap up his residual prestige.
"Even lesser-known Movie Brats are having a moment this year: The 76-year-old Bogdanovich directed his first narrative feature in 13 years, She’s Funny That Way, a screwball comedy with an all-star cast of ringers that includes Owen Wilson, Imogen Poots, Will Forte, Jennifer Aniston, and Kathryn Hahn. As for De Palma, 75, he’s the subject of a new documentary, De Palma, that’s garnered rave reviews after playing the festival circuit.
"Many of those critics — like De Palma’s directors, Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow — grew up enthralled by the exploits of the Movie Brats. This childhood affection is now touched with a new sense of mortality. Spielberg turns 69 in December, which makes him the pup of his peer group. Lucas is 71. Scorsese turns 73 in November, and Coppola is 76. (Ashby died in 1988, and Altman died in 2006.) The New Hollywood directors have been entrenched longer than the studio-era legends they swept out nearly 50 years ago. But nothing lasts forever."