Easy Riders, Raging Bulls
Studio: Shout! Factory
Film Length: 118 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.78:1)
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround
Retail Price: $24.95
Based on Peter Biskind’s #1 Bestseller, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls is without a doubt the greatest documentary on film that I’ve ever seen. The movie, while not as epic as the book, is a wonderful training ground on the greatest era in Hollywood history. The documentary starts off in a clean shaven 1966 when the studios were fallen apart and about to be taken over by a group of hippies who lived by their own rules. On May 11th, Shout! Factory will release this to DVD and every movie fan should add it to their collection.
I’ve often been criticized for overly bashing movies made the past twenty years but perhaps deep down I’m just wishing for a return to the 1970’s, which was following a decade for a horrid studio films that were being made for millions, yet couldn’t find an audience. The studios were one by one pretty much shutting down yet on the outside there was an up and coming ground that was ready to rebuild Hollywood with their sex, drugs and rock and roll.
Easy Riders, Raging Bulls starts off showing the decline of the 1960’s yet quickly flashes to the one success story that is B-Movie legend Roger Corman who turned out low budget films that brought back millions by going the drive-in route and causing the teens to line up at the doors. While Corman wasn’t the greatest director, he certainly knew how to spot talent and by this he helped discover talents such as Martin Scorsese, Jack Nicholson, Dennis Hopper, Francis Ford Coppola, Peter Borgdanovich and many others.
The defined genre in Hollywood started with Easy Rider, which was a low budget film that was made my stoned hippies yet it hit a nerve with people and became a huge hit. Although there had been many biker films produced before this one, this film had sex and drugs, which was speaking to a new generation and soon these young talents were going to Hollywood wanting to make their own films. Hollywood had burned itself for over a decade so they slowly started to listen to these teens who in return were making modern classics. Films such as Midnight Cowboy, Targets, Chinatown, Five Easy Pieces and Mean Streets are just a few titles that this crowd brought in.
However, this new crowd also brought a lot of drugs to Hollywood and their ultra-egos slowly started to destroy their lives. The documentary talks about the wild parties, the sex and how this had an impact on the director’s careers. Once considered something great they were slowly dying on their own success. Towards the end of the documentary the film flashes back to Corman who pretty much saw the end of this period when Jaws was released. In Corman’s own words, the studios finally realized how he was making so much money. Corman was simply making B movies that would attract all sorts of teens. The studios then started to deliver the summer blockbuster with films like Jaws and Star Wars, which were nothing more than B movies with a budget. In 1980, Scorsese fought back with Raging Bull, which was the last “director’s” film to come out of Hollywood.
Easy Riders, Raging Bulls is a candid, revealing and downright fascinating look at the greatest era in Hollywood where the studios were the small guys and the small guys, the directors, were running things and turning some very small movies into films that are now looked at as classics. The documentary does a brilliant job at showing what type of crowd these guys were with interesting interviews with the likes of Peter Bark, Peter Bogdanovich, Ellen Burstyn, Richard Dreyfuss, Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Cybil Shepherd, Laszlo Kovacs and many more. These people tell stories from behind the scenes of the production of these movies as well as stories of all the sex and drugs going across the town.
Considering the horrid movies that are being made today, one can only wish this period of Hollywood would return. Watching the film it makes it seem so clear at what it took to make these classics. It wasn’t a budget or a star but a director who had the courage to be daring and not worry about pleasing the audience. Instead of playing to the crowd these director’s played the crowd. There’s some wonderful home movie footage of the Easy Rider hippies taking over Cannes plus wonderful stories about Alfred Hitchcock’s AFI Lifetime Achievement Award where most of the young crowd was in the bathroom snorting coke while the legendary director was speaking.
Easy Riders, Raging Bull at most is very entertaining but I’m sure many new viewers will also find this to be an incredibly learning experience. Being only 23 years old, I know many my age who simply don’t “get” older films yet I’m sure after watching this they would see how much daring films used to be before the likes of Spielberg and Lucas turned them into a cash cow. The film talks very openly about the good old days and they also talk candidly about why they ended. Those interviewed give a wonderful vision of those days and director Kenneth Bowser has a terrific time telling these stories. The worst thing about the movie is that it just runs two hours because this is the type of entertainment that could have gone on for fifty-hours and not once become boring. Anyone interested in the 1970’s filmmaking or want to learn about it should certainly check this out.
NOTE: When aired on Trio, this documentary had all the profanity bleeped and the nudity from the film clips cut out but this DVD is uncut meaning no bleeps and everything in the clips are complete.
VIDEO---The movie is shown widescreen (around 1.78) and is enhanced for 16x9 TVs. The picture quality of the current interviews are perfect without any sort of speckles, grain or edge enhancement. The black levels are also perfect and I’d say are among the best I’ve ever seen. The movie clips quality varies throughout with some looking better than their current DVD releases but several other clips are from P&S video sources so don’t expect anything good here. The most shocking footage comes from Dementia 13, a cheap B&W film that has always looked horrid yet the clips shown here are in remarkable shape and is better than pretty much anything Criterion has released. Where they found such a wonderful print is beyond me because I’ve seen this title countless times and each has been beyond poor.
AUDIO---The sound mix is Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround, which is also very good considering what this is. All the interviews and movie clips are through the center speakers without any hiss or scratches. There’s some classic rock songs played throughout the documentary and this is where the track really kicks into high gear. I’ve listened to many concerts on DVD plus various other tracks but these songs here sound as good as any mix I’ve heard. Be sure you turn your volume way up to get the full impact.
EXTRAS---The one extra can be found on Disc 2 and is called More Sex ‘n Drugs n’ Rock “n” Roll, which is pretty much a new documentary on its own. This here is 105-minutes worth of outtakes from the film, which have been edited together to create a new documentary and this here is just as entertaining as the main feature. This here is broken down into fifteen segments, all covering various things and most of these are just extended stories from the main documentary. The Times gives more detail about the start of this revolution. Sex and Drugs is exactly that. More talk about all the sex and drugs that were floating around these parties at the time. The next section digs a little deeper into the making of Midnight Cowboy, which gives plenty of information that will last until MGM gives the film its justice with a great DVD release. The Film Critics is a rather interesting piece because several of the director’s of this period were critics before they came to Hollywood to make movies. The next nine segments are about director’s and their ways of making film. Robert Altman, Hal Ashby, Peter Bogdanovich, Francis Ford Coppola, Dennis Hopper, George Lucas, Sam Peckinpah, Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg are all covered here. The best two segments are the Peckinpah and Scorsese pieces. The Pechinpah segment talks mostly about Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid and all the controversy over the studio cut versus the director’s cut. The Scorsese piece covers New York New York and The Last Waltz as well as the cocaine use of the director. The final two segments are probably the most interesting because they discuss the book. The first segment features the interviewees discussing their thoughts on the book and it comes as no shock that no one really liked it. They claim it’s more gossip than anything else and even Dennis Hopper admits he only read one segment and closed the book saying he didn’t like to read fiction. The final segment features an interview with the author Peter Biskind where he discusses why he wanted to write the book and he talks about all the controversy. The best segment is when he is talking about running into various people who he had bashed in the book. The Francis Ford Coppola story is rather funny as are the stuff with Spielberg.
OVERALL---As I’ve mentioned several times now, this is easily one of the greatest documentaries out there so any film fan owes it to themselves to own this one. Shout! Factory offers a very nice package with a terrific transfer and new 5.1 mix. The extras alone are worth the retail price making this a must have.
Release Date: May 11, 2004