Saturday, August 13, 2022

Jon Lewis's "Road Trip to Nowhere"

Jon Lewis is the University Distinguished Professor of Film Studies at Oregon State University. He has published a number of books, including The Road to Romance and Ruin: Teen Films and Youth Culture, Whom God Wishes to Destroy … Francis Coppola and the New Hollywood, Hollywood v. Hard Core: How the Struggle over Censorship Saved the Modern Film Industry, Hard-Boiled Hollywood: Crime and Punishment in Postwar Los Angeles, and for the British Film Institute’s Film Classics series, The Godfather and forthcoming in October 2022, The Godfather, Part II. Lewis has appeared in two theatrically released documentaries on film censorship: Inside Deep Throat and This Film is Not Yet Rated. Between 2002 and 2007, Lewis edited Cinema Journal and had a seat on the Executive Council of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Road Trip to Nowhere: Hollywood Encounters the Counterculture, and reported the following:
Page 99 [inset, below left; click to enlarge] is quite crucial and central to the story (more like, stories) I tell in Road Trip to Nowhere: Hollywood Encounters the Counterculture. We are at the start of the second chapter, which is about Christopher Jones, a movie star who in 1970 walked away from Hollywood stardom at the very moment he achieved it. Jones’ story—and I will only hint at the particulars here—involved James Dean at the start and, as so many of counterculture Hollywood stories do, Charles Manson at its climax. Along the way Jones met and worked with movieland royalty: Bette Davis, Shelley Winters, Ralph Richardson, Anthony Hopkins, and Robert Mitchum. He hung out with rock stars (including his neighbor at the Chateau Marmont, Jim Morrison) and dated some of Hollywood’s most talked-about, most sought-after women (including Olivia Hussey, the star of Franco Zeffirelli’s sexy 1968 adaptation of Romeo and Juliet). Jones did some of his best work with some of the best young talent in Hollywood at American International Pictures (AIP) at a time when the B-movie studio employed a counterculture ensemble that included Karen Black, Ellen Burstyn, Bruce Dern, and Jack Nicholson. Among even such a talented troupe, Jones seemed at the time the actor most likely to succeed. He did, succeed. Briefly. And then he vanished—off the screen and off the grid.

Jones’s story proved to be a challenge to research and recount. It is more complicated and a lot sadder than I expected, a road trip to nowhere, to be sure. Just not the trip I expected or really wanted to find. A reminder, then: to understand Hollywood we need to get past the bright lights and big pictures—the best and the brightest. We need to focus as well on the things that go wrong, the people who get lost or abandoned, kicked to the side of the road, out of town, out of the business, out of this world. Jones fits this darker historical process, this darker Hollywood history. His story is profoundly revealing about the complexity of counterculture celebrity: its fundamental ambivalences (Hollywood opulence on the one hand, counterculture anti-materialism on the other; the aspirational core of celebrity countered by sixties-era anti-conventionalism) and its fundamental rifts (between an ensconced studio establishment and a very new breed of movie star).
Learn more about Road Trip to Nowhere at the University of California Press.

The Page 99 Test: Hard-Boiled Hollywood.

--Marshal Zeringue