Peter Biskind, has for years, been one of my favourite writers. His definitive book on the New Hollywood of the 1970’s – Easy Rider’s Raging Bulls, is rightly regarded as a key text in rehabilitation of many of the films and directors of the 1970’s. The first chapter of the book deals with the film, and the star, that started it all. The film that scandalized Hollywood was Bonnie & Clyde, and the force behind the film, was Warren Beatty. Star is not really a biography in the truest sense, Biskind’s writing has always been more concerned with movies and nitty-gritty that gets a film up on screen, rather than a life story treatment. It’s a book that is neither unauthorized, or indeed approved. This provides a very candid and eventually even profile of a man who’s lived his life with the movies, and loved his life with some of the most dynamic and beautiful women to have been on screen. Seven decades of female conquest are woven with his ‘loves’ (Joan Collins, Leslie Caron, Julie Christie, Diane Keaton, Madonna, Annette Benning to name a small few) marking each twist and turn of his extraordinary career.
Alot was made of the female quota of Star in the pre-release hype. And while the women of Beatty’s life (all 12,000+ by Biskind’s count), what I found more interesting is the strong feelings that Beatty elicited from people within the industry. How his way of getting movies on the screen inspired respect and venom in equal measure. For many, he is regarded as a true great, with a list of films that in the 60’s and 70’s that stand with the best of them. Bonnie & Clyde, McCabe & Mrs Miller, The Parallax View, Shampoo, Heaven Can Wait, and his masterpiece. Reds. For others, these highs were too few and far between, sandwiched between monstorous flops. Beatty is effectively over-rated. At times, this is a pretty fair point to make, the 1980’s with the notorious Ishtar (still regarded as one of the biggest box office failures of all time) was a pretty barren time (Beatty turned to his other love, Democrat politics), and the equally hated Town & Country from 2000 almost ruined the career of the director, and Beatty has never acted since (his choice by all intents).
The manner with which Beatty created and delivered his films, is relentlessly attacked, both by enemies, but also by some of his closest collaborators and friends (Buck Henry and Robert Towne very much come to mind). Even though Beatty could be a supremely difficult character, whether he was acting, producing or directing, he always got his way, and in Hollywood, it’s enough for Beatty to be regarded as one of the best of his time. What is unquestioned is that without his single mindedness and ‘fuck you’ approach to getting Bonnie & Clyde on the screen, the story of the ‘New Hollywood’ that many film buffs (and top 100 lists) still treasure could have been a very different proposition. For that, Warren Beatty deserves to be regarded with the other titans of that decade. Star helps redress some of that balance.
The climatic scene of Bonnie & Clyde that shook Hollywood to it’s core.
Another scene that lives in infamy, this time from Shampoo.
A trailer from 1978 for Heaven Can Wait, this film shouldn’t work but it does (except for the extreme soft focus Beatty is shot in throughout).
And for the benefit of balance, here’s the trailer for the notorious Ishtar.