Additional Book Information
Series: NYRB Classics
Publication Date: April 30, 2019
by Lillian Ross, with a foreword by Anjelica Huston and an introduction by the author
Lillian Ross worked at The New Yorker for more than half a century, and might be described not only as an outstanding practitioner of modern long-form journalism but also as one of its inventors. Picture, originally published in 1952, is her most celebrated piece of reportage, a closely observed and completely absorbing story of how studio politics and misguided commercialism turn a promising movie into an all-around disaster. The charismatic and hard-bitten director and actor John Huston is at the center of the book, determined to make Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage—one of the great and defining works of American literature, the first modern war novel, a book whose vivid imagistic style invites the description of cinematic—into a movie that is worthy of it. At first all goes well, as Huston shoots and puts together a two-hour film that is, he feels, the best he’s ever made. Then the studio bosses step in and the audience previews begin, conferences are held, and the movie is taken out of Huston’s hands, cut down by a third, and finally released—with results that please no one and certainly not the public: It was an expensive flop. In Picture, which Charlie Chaplin aptly described as “brilliant and sagacious,” Ross is a gadfly on the wall taking note of the operations of a system designed to crank out mediocrity.
A simple premise with soaring results: in 1950, the director John Huston invited the journalist Lillian Ross to come watch him make a movie, The Red Badge of Courage, based on the Stephen Crane novel; over a year and a half, in Hollywood studios and on set at Huston’s ranch in the San Fernando Valley, Ross managed to capture not only a rich portrait of a brilliant artist (and his foibles) at work. . . but also the internal power struggles at MGM, and the conflict between art and commerce.
—Keziah Weir, Vanity Fair
Picture is a dazzling realist confection … [T]he dialogue is perfect, with pace and tension steady … Picture tells the truth as the writer found it to be, and, by steady accumulation and good writing, we see all the things about the movie business that lie beyond publicity.
—Andrew O’Hagan, London Review of Books
Ross, in her reporting, does what novelists of the first order do in their fiction: she brings abstractions to life, she catches and depicts the passions that motivate people to reach high, to plot deftly, to compromise, to take foolish risks or hedge their bets. Yet, no less than in her exemplary Profile of Hemingway, Ross also explores the inner life of an artist, in an attempt to illuminate the mysteries of the art itself.
—Richard Brody, The New Yorker
Here is probably the most authentic documentation ever done on the making of a Hollywood motion picture and it is presented with such brilliance, fidelity to detail, and characterization that it reads like an exciting novel.
Picture presents Hollywood’s more heroic attitudes as well as its more foolish and familiar ones. Never blind to Hollywood’s persistent creative effort, it is sharply observant of the business mechanism that blunts the points of some of the industry’s sharper talents. It plays back with an unfailing ear some of the wise things that are said in that keyed-up, pent-up industrial town, as well as the wise-cracking, the bathetic and banal.
—Budd Schulberg, The New York Times