Based upon Peter Biskind's book of the same name, this BBC-produced documentary traces the rise of a generation of Hollywood filmmakers who briefly changed the face of movies with a more personal approach that pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable onscreen. Influenced by such European directors as Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, and Federico Fellini, the movement kicked off in the mid-'60s with two films directed by Arthur Penn: Mickey One and Bonnie and Clyde. (The latter had been offered to both Godard and Truffaut before it wound up with producer/star Warren Beatty and Penn.) What really kicked it into gear was the unexpected success of Easy Rider, a biker-road movie that became that rare film phenomenon: acclaimed at the Cannes Film Festival and a huge commercial success. Film school graduates, the first generation brought up with movies as their main cultural reference, flooded the studios (whose own regimes were changing) with production chieftains such as Robert Evans of Paramount and David Picker at United Artists; they approved risky-looking projects and allowed relatively untested filmmakers like Francis Ford Coppola to take on heavyweight movies such as The Godfather or Hollywood newcomers like Britain's John Schlesinger to make quirky stories like Midnight Cowboy. Enriched by success with their TV show The Monkees, producer Bert Schneider and director Bob Rafelson formed a company that produced not only Easy Rider but seminal '70s films such as Five Easy Pieces and the Oscar-winning Vietnam War documentary Hearts and Minds. Another godfather to the new movement was producer Roger Corman, who gave early career opportunities to Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovich, and Jonathan Demme on low-budget projects that allowed them to learn their craft.
Two things brought this movement to an end: Some individual filmmakers' personal excesses (such disastrous flops as Dennis Hopper's follow-up to Easy Rider, appropriately titled The Last Movie, and Scorsese's New York, New York), and the studios growing fascination with special effects-driven B-movies. An outgrowth of two box-office and marketing juggernauts -- Jaws and Star Wars -- the resulting films became entertainments rather than personal statements of the directors. Narrated by William H. Macy, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls features vintage clips of Coppola, Scorsese, Beatty, George Lucas, Sam Peckinpah, Roman Polanski, Robert Altman, and Pauline Kael. It also includes original interview material with Penn; Corman; Bogdanovich; Hopper; Picker; writer/directors John Milius and Paul Schrader; actresses Karen Black, Cybill Shepherd, Margot Kidder, and Jennifer Salt (the latter two shared a house in Malibu, a social center for young filmmakers); actors Peter Fonda, Kris Kristofferson, and Richard Dreyfuss; producers Jerome Hellman, Michael Phillips, and Jonathan Taplin; editor Dede Allen; production designer Polly Platt; writers David Newman, Joan Tewksbury, Gloria Katz, and Willard Huyck; cinematographers Laszlo Kovacs and Vilmos Zsigmond; agent Mike Medavoy; and former production executive Peter Bart. Among the films discussed are Rosemary's Baby, The Wild Bunch, Mean Streets, American Graffiti, The Rain People, Midnight Cowboy, M*A*S*H, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, The Last Picture Show, Shampoo, Taxi Driver, and Raging Bull. (Three interviewees -- cinematographer Gordon Willis, critic Andrew Sarris, and writer-director Monte Hellman -- listed in the Variety review of this film, were not included in this version from a screening on Bravo.) ~ Tom Wiener, Rovi