Peter Bogdanovich - A Tribute
Everyone has their flaws. There's no escaping it. Peter Bogdanovich is no exception. The difference is that Mr. Bogdanovich made his living in Hollywood so every trial and tribulation was magnified, each tale enhanced and vindictiveness sharpened to bring this hot shot director who had early successes brought down to Earth with later failures. He had a life right out of the movies- several of them were made based on his life. But what drew me the most to Mr. Bogdanovich and what we had in common was a love of cinema; not only the making of the movies but of the history of the art form itself.
To go to film school or not to go is always a question and looking at the tuition usually gives the answer. But I would recommend listening to any director's commentary on a Peter Bogdanovich film. He is a film scholar himself so he goes over the intricacies of making a movie better than most other directors. Instead of joking around with a producer or star of the film as some other directors do on their own commentary tracks, Mr. Bogdanovich tells the viewer how and why each scene was filmed or how that scene evolved the way it did in the context of the story.
Some of my favorite tracks are on "Targets," his first film. He worked for the legendary producer Roger Corman who, like many others- Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese and Ron Howard- gave him his first opportunity to direct a feature film. Mr. Corman had a couple of extra days left on the contract of the iconic horror actor Boris Karloff. Mr. Corman assigned the task to Bogdanovich to come up with a movie where they could use him. He and his then wife, Polly Platt, asked themselves what was real horror in the late 60's. They were influenced by the shooter at the Texas University campus and wrote a film about that character. Karloff's character asks how effective can horror films be when real terror exists in the real world? Bogdanovich's break down of the tower shooting scene is inspirational for any filmmaker who wants to make an action film but doesn't have a huge budget. What they did, Bogdanovich goes on to say, is have his camera man go up on a hill in the distance of a highway. Filming cars that were part of the film, these cars would swerve all over the place to show from an audiences' point of view what the shooter was looking at and to see the cause of his destruction. Another car would pull over and a woman would jump out and run then fake being shot when the order was given from Mr. Bogdanovich. Now, I wouldn't recommend this technique of filmmaking but they did get their film made. And I do believe the police stopped at the scene to ask questions. You'll have to listen to find out how they got out of that one. I've forgotten.
But all of his commentaries are like that. "They All Laughed" tells of how Bogdanovich had one of the greatest movie stars in the world, Audrey Hepburn, and needed a shot in Times Square, New York. They didn't have any permits to shoot so they went with a couple of crew members and Ms. Hepburn to the middle of Times Square and before anyone knew any better they shot their scene. If you watch it, a New York City bus passes Ms. Hepburn giving the film a perfectly framed background for their scene. Just to know that nobody around them knew what was happening and the background traffic was "real" is exciting for a wanna be filmmaker like myself.
The other major asset Mr. Bogdanovich supplies to fellow cinephiles and filmmakers is his collection of interviews with the pioneers of film. I highly recommend his collection of interviews in "Who the Devil Made It." He covers the whole landscape of Golden era directors from silent films up through the sixties. We learn from Allan Dwan how wild it was during the silent era as productions made films with or without a patent for their film equipment and those with the permits tried to put the others out of business, sometimes violently. We learn how Hitchcock intended to manipulate the audience all in service of the story and of bringing out their emotions while Sidney Lumet's style was in service of the story and enhancing the characters' emotions through the camera. It is a book that would help any young filmmaker become a better director while saving a ton of money from film school.
Peter Bogdanovich loved the movies. Loved film. Loved the cinema. I share that with him. One of the most exciting moments I had was attending a screening of Jean Renoir's "The Rules of the Game" at the #Metrograph in downtown Manhattan. At the end of the screening he told us about Renoir and how the film changed cinema when it was released. I had a comfortable seat and a beer in my hand while one of the great teachers of cinema told us how it was. It was a memorable night with a memorable cinematic legend. Rest in Peace.