Critic and essayist turned documentary and then feature filmmaker, a director of “The Last Picture Show” and “Paper Moon,” specializing in nostalgia and homages to the past, a star director who wrecked his career in all sorts of personal, stupid and even tragic ways, there are a lot of reasons to recognize and remember Peter Bogdanovich, who died today at the age of 80.
In hunting down photos of him to do a remembrance, I see some wag’s piece of a few years back that refers to him as “Hollywood’s Favorite Flop.” Oh yes, that fits. He ditched the writer/producer/sounding board wife, Polly Platt, who helped make him a success and took up with starlets, from Cybil Shepherd to Miss “Star 80,” Dorothy Stratten.
He over-reached with his dips into screen nostalgia and struggled, like his longtime friend and mentor, Orson Welles, to stage a comeback. He even managed one, the nostalgic Old Hollywood murder mystery “Cat’s Meow.”
He acted, playing film directors like himself as often as not. He was a hoot on “Northern Exposure,” for instance, playing a version of himself as that director who made it to every film festival that invited him.
And he stayed in the public eye as a critic, historian and enthusiast for the cinema. “Favorite flop” or not, he made a difference.
I talked to him many times over the years, about his Orson Welles biography “This is Orson Welles” (His publisher sent critics cassette copies sampling the taped interviews, which I thanked him for profusely and told him I’d treasure forever. His reply? A droll, “And I knew you would.”), about “Paper Moon,” which he showed at the Florida Film Festival and did a Q & A about, and even about “Cat’s Meow.”
He’d pass on gossip and impersonations — of Cary Grant, whom he knew, and Hitch and Orson. He’d give grooming and fashion tips, always with a hearty helping of fun name dropping.
“Never button your shirt sleeves,” he said, citing Audrey Hepburn’s advice. Gives your arms a “willowy” look when you walk. “Never touch your face with anything but water,” Cary Grant advised, and he passed on.
Below is one of those chats, just a catching-up with a film buff’s film buff, a filmmaker who was an even bigger cinema fan than his more successful doppelganger, Steven Spielberg. This piece came from 2007.
Starting off with the thrilling sniper at a drive-in thriller which gave Boris Karloff a last moment in the spotlight (“Targets”) Peter B. wasn’t everything he might have been. But he had a pretty good run and made an eloquent spokesman for Hollywood history, Orson Welles and the cinema’s Golden Age.
There’s a Tom Petty rockumentary to finish and a possible film project, “The Broken Code,” about a real-life scientific stink over the secrets of DNA.
He appears in the upcoming films “The Dukes “(with Chazz Palminteri), “The Fifth Patient” and “Humboldt County.”
But active on-screen and off-screen career aside, Peter Bogdanovich, a former “boy wonder” of the cinema has, in many ways, gone back to his roots. At 67, he has become a guardian of the cinema’s history. This student actor-turned-curator and film journalist-turned-director is once again focusing on the thing that first brought him fame — preserving and honoring the filmmakers of the past.
Before directing “The Last Picture Show,” “What’s Up Doc?,” “Mask” and “The Cat’s Meow,” he was, film scholar David Thomson notes, “a valuable, French-inspired critic who insisted on the director as auteur [author of the film], so much so that many Americans began to take directors more seriously because of what he wrote.”
Today, Bogdanovich hosts a classic movie channel for online-movie service ClickStar (cstar.com). He has written extensively on his friend and mentor Orson Welles. And he is in talks to edit Welles’ last, unfinished film, “The Other Side of the Wind,” tied up in French courts for more then 30 years.
“It’s like Bleak House,” Bogdanovich jokes. “It just went on and on and on.”
Bogdanovich is this year’s recipient of the Florida Film Festival American Visionary Award. Friday night, his Oscar-winning Dust Bowl comedy, “Paper Moon,” will be shown at 6:30 at the Enzian, followed by a Q&A with the director.
“That was a tough picture,” he says of “Paper Moon.” “Personal problems between my ex-wife, who was working on the picture, too, and me. Making a picture with an 8-year-old lead [Tatum O’Neal, who won an Oscar] was tough. She didn’t know how to read yet, much less act. She was adorable, but she wasn’t a pro. I was so anxious to finish it and get out of there that we came in four days under schedule.”
Bodganovich has always been known for a fondness for nostalgia, both in subject matter and in style. He has made period pieces, 1930s-style screwball comedies, an acclaimed tribute to filmmaker John Ford and an old-fashioned Cole Porter musical.
One thing he hasn’t done before is a music documentary. His Tom Petty film is a music story and a Florida story. It “begins in Gainesville and ends in Gainesville. We looked at a five-hour cut the other day, a little long. But Marty Scorsese spent three and a half hours on just six years of Bob Dylan’s life. We’re trying to cover 30 years of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, a very interesting story, drama, tragedy, personality conflicts, humor. Guys who grew up in Gainesville, went to L.A. to try and make it in the record business. And they did.”
The Orson Welles project is another visit to the past, one he shares with the great filmmaker. In the early 1970s, as his fame was growing, Bogdanovich appeared in and helped Welles make “The Other Side of the Wind,” a movie whose cast included John Huston, Dennis Hopper, Mercedes McCambridge, Edmund O’Brien and Rich Little. A movie about the last day in the life of a legendary moviemaker (Huston), the film’s Iranian backer and Welles fought over the unfinished project, and it wound up in court, and in limbo.
“One day when we were on the set, Orson turns to me and says, ‘If anything happens to me, promise you’ll finish this movie.’ I didn’t want to think about that, or talk about it. But we had no way of knowing it wouldn’t be finished then, or even 10 years later, when Orson died. It fell into the French courts in 1976.
“According to Orson, he shot everything he needed to finish the film except for what he called ‘trick shots,’ effects. The footage with the actors was all done. I haven’t seen all of it, just an hourlong cut of it. So we may do those shots, which would be easier to do in the digital age, or we may not. We’ll try to cut it together in the unusual style Orson intended.
“It was a movie 20 years ahead of its time, at least. It’s amazing how contemporary it is — splintered, fragmented. It was a mockumentary, before there was such a term. It’s important to Orson, to how we remember him, that it be finished. I think it’ll be something extraordinary.”