What’s up, Pete?

1970smoviebratPeterBog­danovich is stilldirect­ingthem,but­tha­told Hol­ly­wood­magi­cis­long­gone,the­last pic­tureshow­man­tell­sDon­aldClarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - |FILM -

Peter Bog­danovich, a man who knows how to wear a cra­vat, is among cin­ema’s great talk­ers. He is fa­mous for di­rect­ing nos­tal­gic mas­ter­pieces from the early 1970s such as The Last Pic­ture Show, What’s Up, Doc? and Pa­per Moon. But he was also mag­nif­i­cent at draw­ing out older ge­niuses such as John Ford and Or­son Welles for search­ing doc­u­men­taries and ex­haus­tive books. So, Bog­danovich knows what we ex­pect of him. And he de­liv­ers.

Ask Bog­danovich what’s changed since he and the likes of Fran­cis Ford Cop­pola, John Cas­savetes and Hal Ashby changed US cin­ema in that post-clas­si­cal era and he de­liv­ers a per­fectly mod­u­lated cin­e­matic es­say.

“The qual­ity of the movies,” he an­swers in his ed­u­cated drawl.

I take it he’s not say­ing they’ve got bet­ter? “That’s right. I think things have gone down­hill since the end of the 1970s. There are al­ways good movies, but they are few and far be­tween. This fo­cus on the top 10 grossers and the first week­end is all new. We opened The Last Pic­ture Show in one theatre. It played there for months. Then we did the same thing in LA. I liked that.”

Bog­danovich­sup­ports thepopular no­tion that all this changed for­ever with the re­lease of Jaws in sum­mer 1975. Jaws opened si­mul­ta­ne­ously all over the US. It made a for­tune. An era of in­ven­tion within the main­stream was over.

“Then you had James Cameron mak­ing Titanic,” he says with a sigh that sounds as if it has been drawn all the way down from his ex­pen­sive shoes. “Ev­ery­one was say­ing: ‘He’s spend­ing too much money. It’s his folly.’ It was a big hit. Now they’re all spend­ing $150 mil­lion.”


If we are in the busi­ness of moan­ing about “young peo­ple to­day” (and why shouldn’t we?), we should also men­tion the de­cline of cinelit­er­acy. When Bog­danovich was a young man, it was com­mon for any mod­er­ately well-ed­u­cated per­son to know their Pre­ston Sturges from their Ernst Lu­bitsch.

Bog­danovich’s latest film, a slightly un­hinged com­edy called She’s Funny That Way, makes spe­cific ref­er­ence to Lu­bitsch’s Cluny Brown (1946) in a key snatch of di­a­logue. Does he ex­pect peo­ple to no­tice that wink?

“No,” he says, with a wry laugh. “I don’t re­ally ex­pect that any more. I try to make the film work on its own with­out you hav­ing to know too much. I didn’t an­nounce it as a ‘screw­ball com­edy’, but it’s been called that. I guess younger peo­ple don’t even know what that is.”

No­body would have needed to ex­plain the term to the teenage Peter Bog­danovich. Raised in New York State by a Ser­bian fa­ther and an Aus­trian mother, the fu­ture film-maker stud­ied act­ing un­der the great Stella Adler and spent some time di­rect­ing plays on Broad­way. He read­ily ad­mits, how­ever, that all this was just a way of ma­noeu­vring him­self be­hind the cam­era.

Like so many of his con­tem­po­raries, Bog­danovich got his big break­work­ing for brainy schlock­meis­ter Roger Cor­man be­fore fi­ness­ing his way into a main­stream ca­reer.

“The stu­dio sys­tem fell apart in 1962 or 1963,” he says. “I date it from the time they killed off Bugs Bunny. When Warner stopped mak­ing car­toons, that was the end of it. What’s Hol­ly­wood with­out Bugs Bunny?”

The end of the sys­tem did, how­ever, al­low younger, more ex­per­i­men­tal di­rec­tors to break through. Bog­danovich sits un­com­fort­ably among those who cre­ated the new cin­ema. He prof- it­ed­from the loos­en­ing of­con­ven­tion, but he was, more than any of his con­tem­po­raries, de­voted to clas­si­cal Hol­ly­wood. The Last Pic­ture Show and Pa­per Moon were both in black and white, for heaven’s sake.

“I al­ways said that the eas­i­est way to di­rect a pic­ture back then was never to have di­rected one,” he laughs. “The stu­dios were grasp­ing at straws. They thought, maybe these younger guys know some­thing. Then Jaws came out and then Star Wars. They thought, this is the way to make pic­tures. You set out to make pic­tures that can be top-10 hits.”


When Bog­danovich was on the way up, he made an ef­fort to help out idols such as Cary Grant and Or­son Welles. The lat­ter lived in Bog­danovich’s house for a spell when he was to­tally broke. “He had his own wing,” Peter laughs. “Which kept broad­en­ing out.”

Sadly, Bog­danovich was soon cop­ing with his own catas­tro­phes. Films such as At Long Last Tar­gets( 1968) Enor­mous­ly­clever film–made for peanuts­byRogerCor­man– con­cernin­gen­coun­ters­be­tween a se­ri­alkiller an­danag­inghor­ror film star.Boris Karloff­playsaver­sion of him­self. TheLastPic­tureShow( 1971) Nostal­gic­study­ofa de­clin­ingTexas town­base­donasad­nov­el­byLarry McMurtry.Th­es­tun­ning­cast in­cludesJ­ef­fBridges,Cloris Leach­manandCy­bil­lShep­herd. What’sUp,Doc?( 1972) Riotouscel­e­bra­tionof­screw­ball Love, Daisy Miller and Nick­elodeon failed in the mid-1970s. Girl­friendDorothy Strat­ten was mur­dered shortly be­fore the re­lease of his They All Laughed, in which she co-starred. There were at least two bank­rupt­cies.

Through­out it all, Bog­danovich has never stopped work­ing. He played a psy­chother­a­pist

“What’s Hol­ly­wood with­out

Bugs Bunny?”

com­e­dyfea­turinga zanyBar­bra Streisand(intheHep­burn­role) andRyanO’Neal(in­CaryGrant’s shoes). Paper­Moon( 1973) O’Nealjoins his­daugh­terTa­tum fo­ratale oft­wohuck­ster­swork­ing the­out­lands­dur­ingthe Great De­pres­sion. TheyAl­lLaughed( 1981) QuentinTaranti­noon­ce­named this un­der-dis­tribut­ed­com­e­dys­tar­ring Au­dreyHep­bur­na­monghis10best ofall­time.That­maybe­stretch­ing things, bu­tit­begs­forre­dis­cov­ery. in The So­pra­nos. He made an ac­claimed doc­u­men­tary on Tom Petty.

“As long as the work is in­ter­est­ing I’ll still do it,” he says. “If I wasn’t en­joy­ing it, I’d stop.”

She’s Funny That Way is out now on lim­ited re­lease and is re­viewed on pages 10-11

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