Easy Riders, Raging Bulls Essay - Critical Essays

Easy Riders, Raging Bulls

In the opening pages of EASY RIDERS, RAGING BULLS: HOW THE SEX-DRUGS-AND-ROCK’N’ROLL GENERATION SAVED HOLLYWOOD Peter Biskind thanks a friend for teaching him the importance of the NATIONAL ENQUIRER, perhaps his way of admitting that any story of modern Hollywood inevitably becomes a story of “Hollywood Babylon.” The title of the book will surely attract “inquiring minds” to his encyclopedic compilation of tales of excess that he believes characterized Hollywood in the 1970’s, many of them told to him in personal interviews collected over a five-year period. These tales reveal that the men and women who took Hollywood away from the out-of-touch old guard and created a brief but golden age of filmmaking were, in varying proportions, egomaniacal, confused, sexually predatory, money and power hungry, drug dependant, vain, competitive, and quick to lose whatever ideals, loyalties, and friendships they may have previously made.

Biskind includes enough material on such things as Martin Scorsese’s cocaine use, Francis Ford Coppola’s megalomania, Dennis Hopper’s unrepentant weirdness, Paul Schrader’s self-destructiveness, and Steven Spielberg and George Lucas’ empire building to satisfy a sensation-seeking audience. More than an overheated and exploitational book, though, this is a carefully prepared micro-history of Hollywood during the 1970’s, illustrating how the great and most deeply influential cinematic works of the time, such as EASY RIDER (1969), THE GODFATHER (1972), CHINATOWN (1974), TAXI DRIVER (1976), and STAR WARS (1977), were produced by lucky combinations of often unhappy elements.

Interspersed throughout are tantalizingly brief bits of social and political analysis that add depth to the broader plot Biskind traces: not, as his title would suggest, how Hollywood was saved but how the independence and creativity of the 1970’s was lost—ironically, in some ways because the directors were too successful at what they did and paved the way for an industry based on blockbusters, pre-sold packages, comic book dramas, and sequels of sequels.