At various times in his career, one of the most talented, but also one of the most infuriatingly mercurial directors you’ll ever find. Peter never seemed to be able to separate his best impulses from his worst. Early in his career, his wife and then ex-wife and collaborator Polly Platt kept him from fucking up too badly (to the point that many in Hollywood later whispered that she probably should’ve gotten some co-director credit).
Even though his inability to be his own inner editor resulted in “Daisy Miller” and “They All Laughed”, he always still had moments of inspiration sprinkled into his films.
The Polly Platt season of the podcast You Must Remember This has a great amount of history on how Bogdanovich went from being a film cataloguer and writer to being a director…and how much he and Polly Platt worked together on those three great films.
Funnily enough, despite a shocking reception They All Laughed has been re-evaluated and is a highly regarded work in filmmaker circles with Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino and Noah Baumbach considering it to be a masterpiece. Not too long ago a couple of them even produced a documentary about the making of the film.
Now At Long Last Love probably won’t receive this kind of treatment, and for good reason, as Bogdanovich had a long, uneven career but he’s one of the true stars of New Hollywood. Even outside of that, his work as a critic was essential, interviewing movie legends like Howard Hawks, Fritz Lang, Josef von Sternberg and Leo McCarey, later collected in Who the Devil Made It. He, and his often forgotten ex-wife Polly Platt, is the reason we have some of these greats on record at all. His work was part of an incredibly exciting experiment where the major studios gave creative freedom to filmmakers, with Paramount backing the sadly short-lived Director’s Company which he founded alongside William Friedkin and Francis Ford Coppola.
I wanted to share his legendary rebuttal to Pauline Kael’s baseless attack on Orson Welles in the New Yorker, but it seems to be locked behind a sign-in nonsense paywall. Kael had hoped to hurt Welles, Bogdanovich’s mentor, by crediting the film’s co-writer Herman J. Mankiewicz for all it’s riches. In truth, she largely hoped to end any support for auteurism film writing and win the debate with Andrew Sarris through a poorly researched hit-piece that called into question Welles’ contribution to the work, which in the early 1970s, at least in the States, was seen as the wunderkind’s lone uncompromised film. Peter Bogdanovich was having none of it and just let loose in Esquire. Kael never responded. It’s the kind of thing I can’t imagine a busy contemporary director doing today.
I think my opinion of They All Laughed is formed by having seen it when it first hit cable TV in the early 1980s, and even then (when I was like 14 or 15) knowing it was a notorious box office bomb, and had the dead girl from Playboy in it.
Ben Mankiewicz, on the podcast I linked, based the Season on hours and hours of personal interviews with PB, after a years-long friendship, and they deal with Orson and that issue. And, obviously, Ben has a very different take than PB. 😀. But he and PB were very close. Highly recommend it to you, Tibbsy.
Yeah, I think it’s dreck, personally. And I hate St. Jaques too. But to each their own. At least he always sparks an opinion. If there’s a Heaven, Peter is up there arguing at the pearly gates that the studio didn’t market his films correctly. Otherwise they’d be considered masterpieces.
Thanks for the tip, Nava. I know what I’ll be listening to today! :)
Bogdanovich gave a great talk early last year reminiscing on his meeting with John Ford that’s worth a listen. He was looking pretty frail then but it’s genuinely wonderful to see him become increasingly animated recalling the anxiety being around the often-mean director. He was a wonderful storyteller.
RIP. Bogdanovich burned brightly as Hollywood’s wunderkind in the early 70s. Yet in a rapidly-changing environment he was superseded first by Coppola and then by powerhouse earners Lucas and Spielberg in less than a decade.
One thing people often forget about Picture Show/Paper Moon/What’s Up Doc? is how popular they were in their time. Those movies were not Wes Anderson-scale art house phenoms, but rather mainstream hits (Picture Show was #9 at the box office for the overall year 1971, What’s Up Doc? was #3 in '72, Paper Moon was #9 in '73.) It’s impossible to imagine that happening for those sorts of movies in this day and age.
Indeed. He was a great raconteur, a trait he shared with Welles. It seems to be a lost art in Hollywood these days.