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DVD Reviews

HTF REVIEW: Easy Riders, Raging Bulls

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#1 of 29 OFFLINE   Michael Elliott

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Posted March 29 2004 - 03:25 PM

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Easy Riders, Raging Bulls

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Studio: Shout! Factory
Year: 2003
Rated: NR
Film Length: 118 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.78:1)
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround
Subtitles: None
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

#2 of 29 OFFLINE   Haggai



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Posted March 29 2004 - 03:46 PM

Wow, I didn't even know this had been made into a documentary. I own the book, and I like it very much, so I believe this is a first for me--a title whose existence I wasn't even aware of becomes a must buy DVD! Thanks for the great review, Michael, I'm really looking forward to checking this out.

#3 of 29 OFFLINE   Nick Sievers

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Posted March 29 2004 - 03:47 PM

I know a few people who have seen this and pretty much agree with your comments, Michael. I'll be ordering it ASAP.
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#4 of 29 OFFLINE   Ronald Epstein

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Posted March 29 2004 - 09:53 PM

Woo-Hoo! This looks like my kind of documentary. Just preordered it.


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#5 of 29 OFFLINE   Adam_S



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Posted March 29 2004 - 10:17 PM

I read this book last summer with no awareness it had ever been a best seller or any other knowledge about the author or content of the book. I had just picked it off the library shelf because it seemed very interesting. I finished the book and thought it was very well written but my conclusion was that this was a 'tabloid history of the period' because if you believe even 1/4 of what's in the book then there's no way any movie would have ever been made by any of these people because the only stories in the book are about sex and drug use--in other words decadence and titillation. I think the only story about Steven Spielberg in the entire book is a story about how a friend had another friend flown to the Jaws set for some recreational sex because Spielberg was so stressed out. That's all the focused coverage Spielberg or Jaws get, and I think it's a pretty good summation of what the book is interested in. But I"m now interested in the documentary, I'll definitely give this a look when it comes out, thanks Michael. Adam

#6 of 29 OFFLINE   Heinz W

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Posted March 29 2004 - 10:26 PM

I saw this on Trio twice a few months ago and I agree, it's a fantastic look at the changing climate in Hollywood during the late 60's and 70's. This piece really captures the mood and feeling of the era. Lots of cool footage from home movies and such.

#7 of 29 OFFLINE   Bryan Tuck

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Posted March 30 2004 - 12:13 AM

Thanks for the review, Michael; I'll have to take a look at this. If anyone is interested, Richard LaGravenese and Ted Demme's A Decade Under the Influence is another fascinating documentary about film in the '70s, produced for the Independent Film Channel. From what I gather from Michael's review, it seems Easy Riders, Ragin Bulls is probably more in-depth and anecdotal, while Decade... is more of an overview (although there are some great stories in it, too), but it's still intriguing.
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#8 of 29 OFFLINE   Lyle H.

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Posted March 30 2004 - 12:49 AM

Thanks for the review, Mike. I've read excerpts from the book and it is VERY good. How does this stack up to the IFC documentary A DECADE UNDER THE INFLUENCE?, which is also about the films of the 70's and their impact.
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#9 of 29 OFFLINE   Scott Weinberg

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Posted March 30 2004 - 01:11 AM

Damn good review, Mike. I saw this film at the 2003 Slamdance Film Festival, and I absolutely LOVED it. I've since seen A Decade Under the Influence and I still think ERRB is much better. They'd make great companion pieces for anyone who loves 70s cinema or modern movie history.

#10 of 29 OFFLINE   Bryan Tuck

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Posted March 30 2004 - 02:25 AM

Absolutely, and their were some awful movies made in the '70s, too. I think the point that's being made, though, is that the mentality of the studios is different today, and it is harder to get those daring and interesting films made.

And as always, "horrid" is a subjective term. One person's trash is another person's treasure. Posted Image
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#11 of 29 OFFLINE   Reagan


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Posted March 30 2004 - 03:02 AM

I'm excited about seeing this. Before it aired on TV, Ebert raved about it on his show. -Reagan
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#12 of 29 OFFLINE   Lyle H.

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Posted March 30 2004 - 03:10 AM

This is true. Posted Image

#13 of 29 OFFLINE   Marc Colella

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Posted March 30 2004 - 03:15 AM

It's a good little documentary. Watched it a few times on the dish. It made me somewhat depressed though... knowing that the quality of films backed and released by the major studios was so much better than what it is today. Today, it seems the majority of quality films come from independant and foreign sources. The studios are much too concerned with boxoffice results. The general public are also responsible, as it seems they'll watch anything that gets dished out to them. A look at the Top 10 boxoffice films each week makes me want to cry. Of course, this is all subjective and is just my opinion. I'm thankful that DVD is such a viable format today, because independant and foreign films get very limited runs at very few theatres - so I rely on DVDs to get to the films I enjoy.

#14 of 29 OFFLINE   Jay E

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Posted March 30 2004 - 03:27 AM

I pre-ordered this DVD and I can't wait as I'm a big 70's film fan. The biggest difference between Hollywood then & now is that the target market has changed. Back then the adult audience was the main target for the major Hollywood studios and the teenage audience was targeted by the B-movie studios. Today, it's the opposite.

#15 of 29 OFFLINE   Michael Reuben

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Posted March 30 2004 - 03:44 AM

I tend to agree, if you substitute "independent film" for "the B-movie studios". But to me the more important difference is release patterns. Most of the great director-driven films of the 70s wouldn't have a chance in today's world of releases on 3000-plus screens and make-or-break opening weekends. I read the Biskind book when it was first published, and I saw the documentary when it first aired on Trio. I prefer the documentary, because it lets the participants speak for themselves instead of being filtered through Biskind's smarmy style (the description of the book in an earlier post as "tabloid history" is very apt). The big limitation is that some of the key participants weren't around to be interviewed -- notably Hal Ashby, who is clearly Biskind's hero of the period. His contributions loom large in the book but barely feature in the documentary. M.
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#16 of 29 OFFLINE   Michael Elliott

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Posted March 30 2004 - 06:53 AM

I haven't read the book yet and from the second disc, it appears everyone was unhappy with the book, which I find a bit strange. Apparently Peter Bogdanovich threatened the author over what he wrote yet he did agree to the interview (for the book) and he openly talked about his infamous fling with Sheppard while making LAST PICTURE SHOW. In the doc, Sheppard talks openly about their relationship, her relationships with other cast members as well as saying she went into the film wanting to sleep with any of them. With that in mind, I really don't see how either could be upset with their sex lives being talked about. Both have talked about it before as well. Apparently Dennis Hopper only read what the author wrote about EASY RIDER and then claimed it was all fiction. On the second disc, Hopper talks about a quote in the book where Fonda said he didn't know how to director. Hopper said this was never said but I've heard interviews with Fonda where he said he didn't think Hopper could do the film and didn't think he was doing a good job while filming it. Karen Black was said negative things about the directing. Of course, when the film was a hit all was forgotten and Hopper was a God. I believe Hopper was also upset that the book said THE LAST MOVIE was ruined because of all the drug use. Several cast members agreed with that and since Hopper is very truthful about his drug issue, I don't see why this was a big deal. He even admits to still smoking pot so.... Of course every decade has brilliant films as well as bad films but I think the difference is what type of "brilliant" or "bad" films were being made. Stuff like CHINATOWN, TAXI DRIVER, EASY RIDER and even DIRTY HARRY would never be made today. Someone like Woody Allen probably couldn't be a "star" in today's world. It's doubtful hippies like Dennis Hopper could have been directing a movie with no studio heads watching every move. This freedom that the director's had certainly showed on the screen and that's why these films are still so refreshing. The endings didn't have to be happy, you didn't have to be politically correct and you could put whatever you wanted in the movie because you didn't have to worry about the weekend box office. It's funny but in the doc someone says they knew everything was over when Entertainment Tonight started posting the box office. I think the lack of freedom is what really hurts movies today. I think the director should have the last say to get their vision on screen but due to the box office and other things, this is a thing of the past. I mean, could any movie have an ending like CHINATOWN today? Could a teen movie be something "clean" and "good" like AMERICAN GRAFFITI? What would a studio say to something like LAST TANGO IN PARIS or CARNAL KNOWLEDGE? Even MIDNIGHT COWBOY is still rather shocking compared to how it would be handled today. I think it's rather funny that Roger Corman spoke about the "end" when the dorks (Spielberg, Lucas) realized what he had been doing for decades and took it to the major studios. Seriously, JAWS and STAR WARS were basically B films that Corman made various times only these films had talent and movie involved. On a side note, I certainly think Corman deserves an Honorary Oscar for his career. The talent alone that he discovered should be worth at least a mention.

#17 of 29 OFFLINE   Michael Reuben

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Posted March 30 2004 - 07:35 AM

I doubt that's what bothered Bogdanovich. Biskind's portrait of his general behavior after a taste of success is much more damning (and probably true). M.
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#18 of 29 OFFLINE   Jon Hertzberg

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Posted March 30 2004 - 07:46 AM

Read the book when it was first published and while it is certainly well-written, author Peter Biskind concerns himself entirely too much with the offscreen shenanigans of Schrader, Friedkin, Bogdanovich, Scorsese, Spielberg, Towne, Hopper, Altman, Beatty, et al. It is smarmy and leans way too heavily on a tabloid style which becomes tiresome before too long.

I remember, in the middle of the book, wondering when the "Friedkin is an impossible, irritating, arrogant s**t" or "Spielberg is naive and an amateurish lover" stories were going to end.

It is good to hear that the film allows some of the filmmakers to tell their side of the story. I imagine they concentrate more on actual films and movements (this is what this was all supposed to be about), rather than sordid personal details.

On top of all this, in talking about the new freedoms of 70s Hollywood cinema, Biskind skims over the contributions of old vets like Huston who were able to thrive and take advantage of said freedoms, in their films of the period. This type of development goes against Biskind's thesis and is, therefore, brushed under the rug, so to speak.

The book is one-sided in its approach and, ultimately, not very revealing.

Still, I would am interested to see both Decade Under the Influence and the film version of Easy Riders, Raging Bulls.


#19 of 29 OFFLINE   Jordan_E



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Posted March 30 2004 - 08:26 AM

Loved the book, gotta see the DVD!
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#20 of 29 OFFLINE   LarryDavenport



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Posted March 30 2004 - 08:37 AM

I loved the book!