BOOK REVIEW:  Gary Kent’s “Shadows & Light: Journeys with Outlaws in Revolutionary Hollywood”


In an age when movies like The Matrix and Saw have become mainstream film fodder and independent directors such as Nancy Savoca (True Love) and Michael Keller (Defying Gravity) are not only accepted at major film festivals, but have their work acknowledged by the industry with awards, it is easy for us to forget that forty years ago films such as Broke Back Mountain or Monster never would have been even considered by Hollywood for production, let alone win an Oscar. We often take for granted the ease with which films are made and the general public open-mindedness when it comes to pushing the creative envelope. And perhaps we have even become a little jaded and now take our current freedom for granted. A little over forty years ago The Sound of Music was considered the most popular movie of the time. Try to imagine that; in a way, that would be like the recently remade Escape to Witch Mountain being nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture this year.

Forty years ago Hollywood was content to remain within the box it had built for itself, gleaming like a wingtip shoe with the polish of its stylishly lacquered representation of reality. Movie executives were comfortable with the status quo, their bank accounts fat and their public seemingly well sated with the safe idealized product they delivered. To their ears, there were no complaints. They had no incentive to change. However, below the high-gloss surface a revolt of the creative class was brewing. The actors and directors, writers and stuntmen who lived and breathed film as not just a paycheck, but the truest of passions were rebelling against the oppressive blandness of mainstream Hollywood.

They craved film as art, pushing the artistic format to its limit on shoestring budgets and their own blood, sweat and tears. They took terrifying risks, some of their greatest work never seeing the light of the silver screen, and challenged the public with their raw stories of life as it had never been depicted before. They desired brutal, undeniable honesty and complete creative freedom; they would settle for nothing less. These outlaws of 20th century cinema broke the sterilized mold of the time and transformed the landscape of every genre from horror to westerns. Without their vision and dedication to the industry, the face of cinema as we know it today would not be the same and many of the films we have come to know and cherish, films that have shaped who we are and the world we now live in, simply would not exist.

Gary Kent was there in the beginning of the revolution and still, to this day, is fighting the good fight for independent film. In his autobiography SHADOWS & LIGHT: JOURNEYS WITH OUTLAWS IN REVOLUTIONARY HOLLYWOOD, he takes us on a ride through the uncharted waters of those early years when nudity and profanity were forbidden and silver screen cowboys still wore fringe, all the way to the slickster edge of Quentin Pulp Fiction and the bizarre set of the cult hit Bubba Ho-Tep. Through Kent’s poetically honest personal experiences he introduces us to the faces of the key players who invested their hearts and souls into tearing down the monotonous façade of the previous movie industry. From his experiences working with such legends as Jack Nicholson, George Lucas and Monte Hellman to Chuck Bail and Esai Morales, Kent takes the reader on the most amazing and unforgettable ride that spans four decades working in the movie industry as an actor, stuntman, director, producer and writer. One comes to a miraculously deep appreciation, within a matter of pages, for the truly remarkable degree of determination and dedication these pioneers had to their dreams. You taste the grit and sand of long production weeks in the Utah desert, you smell the smoke and scotch and hear the rowdy conversations of The Raincheck and Barney’s Beanery, you feel the pain of the injuries absorbed by the courageous stuntmen and women. You feel their pride, their joy, their love, their maniacal, intoxicating, contagious enthusiasm, not just for film, but for life in general, and it is, in a word, inspiring.

Kent is a masterful storyteller and his emotional connection to the industry is evident in the beautiful way he delivers each detail, each observation with a mixture of personal, emotional connection and vivid historical facts that give this autobiography a rich soul that is lacking in many such books. SHADOWS & LIGHT will make you laugh out loud and, only a few pages later, bring you to tears. Indeed, filmmakers and moviegoers alike would be wise to pick up a copy of this book for it is a rare gem that moves the reader to pursue their own rebel cause and creative journey. No matter if you are a novice to the industry or an old pro, you will be inspired by Gary Kent’s exquisitely rough story of the men and women who redefined the world with their pursuit of independent film outside of the conservative Hollywood machine. You will never look at the movie industry the same way again.

For more information on Gary Kent and his work visit www.garykentfilmmaker.com.

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