The director Peter Bogdanovich would have loved to live in Hollywood’s golden era. He was born too late for that – and so he made nostalgic films like “Is’ what, Doc?” and “Paper Moon”. Now this brilliantly clever epigone has died.
When asked which epoch he would have liked to live in, he replied: In the thirties, when Ernst Lubitsch was in charge of Paramount. Back then, Peter Bogdanovich would have liked to have been a contract director. On the list of his 100 favorite films, there was not a single one made after 1960. What kind of films do you think a director like him should make, who once said that all the good ones have already been made? Nostalgic.
Peter Bogdanovich’s masterpiece “The Last Performance” in 1971 was an elegiac swan song for America’s lost innocence, a small-town moral image of extinguished solidarity and faded dreams of life. With “Is‘ was, Doc? ”He shot a lively homage to the screwball comedy a year later and in 1973 with“ Paper Moon ”a rogue comedy from the Depression.
Ryan O’Neal and Barbra Streisand in “Is’ What, Doc?”
All of the films that Bogdanovich made in his heroic era, the early 1970s, are set in the past. They betrayed his longing for the storytelling traditions of classic Hollywood cinema, with which he grew up.
Born in Kingston, New York in 1939, the director was a forerunner, albeit not necessarily a role model, for the generation of Spielbergs and Tarantinos who draw cinema from movie memories: He was the first Hollywood outsider to gain access to the studio system.
The producer Roger Corman became aware of him through an article and initially hired him as a screenwriter in his talent factory AIP before he had him shoot his first feature film “Movable Targets” in 1968. His debut was trend-setting. For one, it was the first thriller about a Vietnam veteran running amok. At the same time, he was able to pay tribute to classic genre cinema with a guest appearance by Boris Karloff.
Horror star Boris Karloff
Bogdanovich not only brought along a keen sense of cinematic storytelling. He had taken acting lessons from Stella Adler – one of his classmates was Marilyn Monroe – and appeared in off-Broadway productions. Inspired by the joy of discovery of the “Cahiers du cinéma”, he published portraits and interviews in magazines such as “Esquire”, “Film Culture” and “Vogue” from 1959 and rehabilitated the reputation of then underrated masters like Howard Hawks with retrospectives at the Museum of Modern Art, Alfred Hitchcock and Fritz Lang.
His enthusiasm for them did not follow the strict authoring policy of his French colleagues – he was not an analytical critic – but rather the desire to portray them as headstrong but genuinely American professionals, as storytellers who confidently got the audience on their side. He politely approached the myths of Hollywood.
Bogdanovich’s encounters with the greats of old Hollywood were of course more than a trophy collection. His memory was phenomenal and made him the seal keeper of American film history, an elder statesman of cinéphilia. As a brilliant mediator and teller of anecdotes, he enriched countless talk shows and audio commentaries.
Peter Bogdanovich, Cybill Shepherd and Cary Grant (1973)
This clever epigone, who proudly demonstrated how exactly he understood his role models, quickly cultivated his own image as a dandy who always appeared elegant in a scarf and smoked cigars that were just as imposing as Orson Welles’. In the early 1970s, he boasted that he was the hope of a dying industry.
The other protagonists of New Hollywood, Coppola, Friedkin, Scorsese, and Spielberg fulfilled this mandate, admittedly far more decisively. While Bogdanovich did not keep his early promise, he was working on his own legend. He was well suited to the romantic figure. With his discovery of Cybill Sheperd (who the audience and critics found less talented than he), he formed a glamorous couple.
Tatum O’Neal and father Ryan in “Paper Moon”
Their spectacular separation and the murder of his future fiancée, model Dorothy Stratton, by her ex-husband made him take long breaks. He later married, true to his predilection for blonde muses, their younger sister Louise. He ruined himself with expensive lawsuits, had to file for bankruptcy at times. If it offended him that he was better known than a filmmaker as a busy supporting actor – namely in the role of the psychiatrist in “The Sopranos” – he hid it behind the mask of amused astonishment.
His very big time lasted barely more than half a decade. But sometimes it was quite profitable when producers, critics, and himself forgot this. With the excellent Paul Theroux film “Saint Jack” he was able to gain a foothold in the film business again in 1979; In the ensemble comedy “They all laughed” two years later, he succeeded in creating the amazing piece that made Ben Gazzara and Audrey Hepburn a credible screen couple.
From then on he made comeback films every two or three years. With the exception of the mother-and-son melodrama “The Mask” with Cher and Eric Stoltz (1985), they were no longer box office hits. However, he regularly showed himself to be an accomplished professional who, above all, had a keen sense for acting. He found a relaxed balance between ambition and routine.
On the one hand, his late work was characterized by light-footedness. He had a knack for comedy that didn’t leave him until 2014 on Broadway Therapy. At the same time, he returned to his cinéphile beginnings. In 2001 he reconstructed a notorious Hollywood scandal of the silent film era in “The Cat’s Meow”.
For decades he played a leading role in the reconstruction of Orson Welles ’unfinished” The Other Side of the Wind “, which came out in 2018. In the same year one of his most beautiful documentaries, “The Great Buster”, was released, in which he created a memorial to another legend that had failed in Hollywood, Buster Keaton. Bogdanovich himself remained an honest survivor – until last Thursday when he died at the age of 82 among his family.
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