THURSDAY NOVEMBER 27, 2014
 
Blog TALKING TO
PETER BOGDANOVICH
PeterBogdanovich.jpg

Peter Bogdanovich is one of the major successes and victims of 1970s Hollywood. He stepped behind the camera as writer/director when the old studio system collapsed and young whippersnappers were briefly allowed to bring personal filmmaking to Los Angeles. A former actor and film critic, Bogdonovich’s movies were an intriguing mix of old and new. In films like The Last Picture Show and Paper Moon, Bogdanovich took the concepts and aesthetic of old Hollywood and infused them with the stark realism of New Hollywood. He became a hitmaker and talk show raconteur until the '80s ushered in the blockbuster era, effectively killing off his brand of movies in Hollywood.

Bogdanovich has since directed interesting work like They All Laughed or The Cat’s Meow, but always through struggle. Recent years have even seen the lifelong cinephile return to acting and writing about film. While he may never be given the filmmaking freedom that fostered his '70s masterpieces again, Bogdanovich will always be remembered for his influential contributions to cinema. In Toronto to introduce a screening of The Last Picture Show at The Bell Lightbox on March 31, TORO got a chance to speak with the great director about that film, his future plans, his longtime relationship with Orson Welles, and more.

Did you self-consciously shoot The Last Picture Show in a classical Hollywood style or was that more just how you thought all films should be shot since you were so influenced by that era?

I think Last Picture Show is a classical rendering of a subject that was absolutely forbidden in that time. No film made before Picture Show deals with sex the way we deal with it. The fact that it was told in using classic filmmaking techniques created a tension between the material and the way it was told. The way it was told seemed comfortable to an audience, but the subject matter was strikingly different.

It’s also often overlooked that it was one of the first movies to only use source music instead of a conventional score. What inspired that decision?

Well, it started on a picture I did called Targets for Roger Corman. We couldn’t afford a score. I had $5,000 for music [Laughs]. So I approached a couple of friends who were record producers and I got seven or eight records for that price. None of them were any good, but they were good in short pieces so I decided to use it as source music only. What I liked about that was using the music as counterpoint to the scene. I didn’t underscore the scenes like using violins in a sad scene or Mickey Mouse music in a comedy. I did the opposite, uptempo songs for a sad scene and vice versa. The reason I did that was because it seemed to suggest a different life that was happening beyond the scene itself. So the scene was happening, but on the TV or radio there was another world. I liked that feeling. It gave the scenes a certain depth, and I carried that over on The Last Picture Show.

I’ve always been fascinated by the relationship you had with Orson Welles during the '70s and I was curious what he thought of the movie and what sort of advice he offered you before making it?

He hated the script. When he saw the movie he said, “That’s not the script I read.” I said, “It is so, Orson.” He said, “Well, you vivified it and transformed it.” I remember that we were talking at breakfast one morning and I was saying that I hoped to get the sense of depth of field in Picture Show that he got on Touch Of Evil or Citizen Kane. He said, “You’ll never get it in colour. Shoot it in black and white.” He also told me, “You know what I always say about black and white? It’s the actor’s friend. Every performance looks great in black and white. Name me a great performance in colour, I dare you!” It’s true that black and white has a tendency to ground a performance and make it more real. So we did it.

Speaking of Welles, is there any update on his incomplete final film The Other Side Of The Wind that you were going to finish?

Everyone always asks that and I wish I had good news. The update is that we got stalled again and now I think we’re going to get unstalled finally. Every week it’s something different.

Have you managed to get a rough cut?

No. We’ve looked at the footage and it’s great. I cut two scenes together that hadn’t been finished. There are a few scenes that Orson already cut together and then for the scenes that I cut, he had picked takes but just hadn’t assembled them. So we just used his takes and I could tell what he had in mind. It’s very different than anything else he made and quite strange. I don’t think any of us will know what it is until it’s done. I don’t know when it will come out, but I think one day it will.

Since you did so many interviews with Welles and other filmmakers from that era, I was curious if you had any interest in doing something similar with your contemporaries from the '70s?

No, because one of the reasons that I did those interviews with those early directors is because I was learning to make films. At the same time I was popularizing those directors, I was squirreling things away for myself. It was very important.

Do you have any of those interviews left that haven’t been published?

No, but I’m preparing a new book now. From 1965 to 1971 was the period that I got into movies and I kept a diary. So, the book is that diary with an enormous amount of current commentary. For example, in one diary entry I mentioned that I heard Richard Griffith who was curator of the MOMA was sick, which leads into 10 new pages about Richard, my work with the MOMA, the New Yorker theatre, getting laid for the first time [Laughs]. A lot of things are covered and I jump back and forth in time. The diary anchors it because that’s the story of me getting to movies. I started the diary approximately a year after I moved to California and I continued doing it until Picture Show was in the can. We’re calling it Hollywood Diary: A Director’s Apprenticeship, but I need to come up with a better title. 

Do you have any new projects as a director?

Yeah, in the late summer/early fall I’m going to shoot a picture called Squirrels To The Nuts, which is hopefully a comedy with that title. It’s a screwball comedy focused on a young 21-year-old escort who gets a lot of people into a lot of trouble. It’s a wild comedy. Then I have a ghost picture that I’ve been trying to make for many years called Wait For Me. I will make it. It’s just a question of when.

Are you still a passionate filmgoer these days?

Well, I like Wes Anderson. And Noah Baumbach I think is very good too. And Tarantino. I happen to be friends with Wes and Noah, they call me “Pop.” I don’t go to the movies much now though. It’s very disappointing. Not always, but I don’t have the same passion for current films. There’s two much handheld photography, too much stupid comedy. I don’t like the way most films look these days. It’s just cut, cut, cut, cut, cut. No shot is sustained for more than a few seconds. I once asked Orson Welles what he thought the difference was between doing a scene in one shot or cutting it up into pieces and he said, “Well, we used to say that was what separated the men from the boys.” Almost anyone can direct a picture if they are going to cut every second and cover the hell out of it. They do all that because they don’t know what the scene is. If you know what the scene is, you don’t need all that. But, if you’ve got it, you feel like you have to use it all and that never works as well.

Are you pleased that The Last Picture Show is still the movie you’re most associated with?

Well, you only get discovered once. Picture Show is when everyone noticed me for the first time as a filmmaker and I have no problem with that. Whatever film they like is fine by me as long as they like it. It’s funny because I remember discussing Greta Garbo one time with Orson. He was waxing eloquent about how transcendent she was and how much he loved her. I being young and a bit pedantic said, “Yeah, but isn’t it too bad that with all the films she made, she only made two really good ones?” Orson said, “well, you only need one.” So Picture Show was ‘the one’ early in my career and I figured I could drift from then on.

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