Peter Biskind, Simon & Schuster, 1998
This is really only the second book I’ve read on Hollywood, the first being David Niven’s Bring On the Empty Horses. The books are about very different eras, and they are, not surprisingly, very different books. Empty Horses is a raconteur’s reminiscences, a participant’s tales retold with a certain charm and tact, even when dealing with scandal and excess. Easy Riders is a much denser history, more concerned with the facts, and is written with a distinct thesis. There’s another obvious difference, with Niven focusing on the stars and Biskind focusing on the Directors. But there’s deeper stylistic differences as well. Niven’s recountings each have their own arc, segueing into one another, perhaps, but mostly episodic. Biskind’s retelling is much less linear, telling chronologically parallel stories.
I can’t remember when I have read anything that throws such a bewildering quantity of names and facts per page as Easy Riders does. Lacking Biskind’s encyclopedic understanding of the names and interrelations of the people involved, coupled with his tendency to refer to a person by first name, then last name, then nickname, then role (sometimes all in a single paragraph) I was occasionally left confused.
Yet even with this confusion, I thought the book did a remarkable job of telling the tale of the rise and fall of a generation of filmmakers, gave insight into their movies, and even helped explain the Hollywood of today. It also sketches out the attributes required to become a successful director or producer in Hollywood.
Like Empty Horses, Easy Riders left me with a sense of the personalities behind the movies, but, more importantly, gives some texture to the zeitgeist from which the movies sprang.