For those wondering this isn't a DVD review. Instead it's a review of a book that concerns movies. Not just movies but someone who was there, someone who was involved with movies. And this someone not only was involved in making movies but was there when things began to change in the sixties. That man is Gary Kent and this is his story.
Sometimes we forget how things used to be. Then there are those who haven't looked into what happened in the past yet. Some things change for the best and sometimes not but things do change. Many of the things we accept today in movies for instance were not always the norm. But somewhere along the line someone stepped out and did something different and the rest followed suit.
If you know anything about movies then you know that for the most part it is a business. Studios answer to stock holders just like any other business. The good part is they then have money to make movies. The bad part is that they fear taking risks to make something different. Instead they churn out sequel after sequel, remake after remake. We're seeing that near daily anymore. Back in the sixties what we had was a set of studios that wanted to make movies with name brand stars they counted on for a fast return, movies that were made for the masses without risks and films that became the same all the time. While foreign countries looked towards new ways to make movies, Hollywood was the same old same old. With the exception of the independent movie maker.
Gary Kent was a part of that time, a part of the independent scene where they tried new things, tried radical things, where the word exploitation wasn't a bad thing. This book tells his story, from his days arriving in Hollywood to the business he embraced taking any job he could and eventually becoming a stunt man of recognition and an actor in low budget films that are remembered to this day. But his book is not just about the movies.
Kent presents a combination of stories that reflect the times that were a changing, not just in the movies but in the real world as well. He was there during the heyday of the hippie, the love children, the bikers, the sexual revolution and the rest that happened first in California and then seemed to spread out across the country. He didn't embrace it all but he did experience it. That's what makes his autobiography interesting. Rather than a shot by shot telling of each and ever movie he made, he mixes in tales of the scene, of beatniks and poets, of jazz musicians and drug induced spectacle. He tosses together the stories of movie making with life. And his life was one that he actually lived rather than just experienced.
In presenting his tale Kent lets us in on the secret that some of us already knew, that Hollywood moguls would sit back and watch to see what happened rather than get their fingers dirty when it came to new ideas. It was the independent film makers who brought about change. It may not have been their intent, but they did it all the same. Inspired by what directors overseas were doing, these celluloid wizards did things their own way. They shot on shoe string budgets but brought creativity to the screen and broke down taboos that had never before been seen on screen. Be it nudity or topics like racism or homophobia, the independent film maker was there first. Once they paved the way or sometimes fought the legal systems, Hollywood would jump on the bandwagon. This is why they changed not only the way movies were made but the times they were made in.
The way they made things was different too. In talking with director David Anspaugh (HOOSIERS) he told me that while friendships are made during a film and some continue, that sense of camaraderie usually dissipated once filming was done and folks moved on to the next film. The film makers Kent describes and enjoyed being a part of were different. Having served in the trenches together they not only hung out together afterwards but made life long friendships as well. When they heard of a new movie being made, they contacted one another and helped each other get work. No back stabbing here, just friends who were there for one another.
Kent's book offers insights into how movies were made not from a technical angle but from the human side of things. While focusing mostly on things from a stunt man's perspective he gives insight into the roles others played as well. From actors who became famous like Jack Nicholson to directors who became infamous like Al Adamson, Kent describes them all in an adoring nod to the friends he knew and loved.
The book is an easy and enjoyable read and moves along at a steady pace. Kent chooses not to go the direct scene by scene route but tells of what was going on in his life and what was going on in the world around him at that time as well. An example of this would be his shooting a western which would seem simple enough. But this western was shot on the Spahn Ranch and the guy working the ranch at the time was named Charlie Manson. Kent might discuss his love of jazz but in the mix was the fact he came to know trumpeter Chet Baker. He talks about making numerous biker flicks that played drive-ins but broke down the barriers of Hollywood but makes note of the director he enjoyed working with on these, Richard Rush, who went on to direct a great film known as THE STUNTMAN. This intermingling gives the book a historical feeling rather than a simple behind the scenes book.
I can say that I really enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it. It accomplished several goals. It enlightened me to what was going on during the time period Kent discusses. It brought history to life by telling me what things were like in that era and in that location. And it entertained me by letting me hear the stories of what went on. Love or hate Hollywood, this book offers a good read that you might want to look into. Look for Gary Kent as well since he makes the round of fan conventions now and then (for instance Cinema Wasteland).
Click here to order. (link is kindle edition but amazon has real book edition for sale as well)