Spotlight On: Peter Bogdanovich

In the 1960’s a new generation of filmmakers rose up to change cinema forever, and one of the leaders of this movement was a man who pushed the artform forward by paying respect to its past, Peter Bogdanovich. Born to an immigrant family in New York, Bogdanovich developed a love of film and after a stint in the Big Apple’s theatre scene he moved to Los Angeles to work in the medium he had such a passion for. Like so many others from his generation he was taught the art of filmmaking by the legendary Roger Corman this opened the door for Bogdanovich to make his first feature Targets. This small budget horror film proved that he was a young talent to watch. Following this up he made his masterpiece The Last Picture Show which transformed him into the hottest director in Hollywood. He had a long career of highs and lows. In his twilight years, Bogdavnovich became a mentor and figure of inspiration for a new generation of filmmakers and remained such until his tragic passing earlier this year. As a writer and director as well as a champion of film history Peter Bogdanovich has more than earned his time in the spotlight.

Targets (1968): The legendary Boris Karloff contractually owed Roger Corman a few days of work and was put to use in Bogdanovich’s brilliant examination of the horror genre. Karloff portrays a hyper realized version of himself, Byron Orlock an aged star of the horror genre in his twilight years. While he is preparing for retirement following his latest film a troubled Vietnam veteran begins a reign of terror with a sniper rifle. Eventually the horrors of the screen and the horrors of the real world collide at a drive-in theater in the most frightening way imaginable.

The Last Picture Show (1971): Peter Bogdanovich was once told Larry McMurty’s coming of age saga set in a dying Texas town was unfilmable. The director took this as a challenge and in the process crafted a cinematic masterpiece. In Anarene, Texas Sonny, Duane and Jacy (Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, and Sybill Shepherd) are high school seniors in what looks to be the last generation to call this tiny community home. As they hit this major crossroad in life they must navigate what to do in a place with not much to offer besides playing pool at Sam the Lion’s hall or taking in a movie at the old picture show. Duane and Jacy embark on a complicated relationship with one another while Sonny embarks on an affair with Ruth Popper (Cloris Leachman), the wife of their gym coach. This powerful film won Oscars for bioth Cloris Leachman and veteran character actor Ben Johnson. It also launched the careers of many of those involved including Bogdanovich himself who began a controversial romance with his leading lady Sybill Shepherd.

What’s Up Doc? (1972): With the success of the Last Picture Show Peter Bogdanovich was the hottest talent in Hollywood. So sought after that A-List studio Warner Bros. made the hot shot filmmaker the focal point of their ad campaign for this screwball comedy. Moving to San Francisco with his fiancé Eunice (Madeline Kahn) musicologist Howard Bannister (Ryan O’Neal) finds his life thrown into chaos. This happens when he meets the free-spirited, klutzy, but brilliant Judy (Barbara Streisand). Throw in government agents and a case of mistaken luggage and Howard’s life will never be the same. What’s up Doc? served as Bogdanovich’s homage to classics like Can’t Take it With You, The Thin Man and Bringing up Baby as well as the Looney Tunes classics that inspired him.

Paper Moon (1973): Having a desire to do a period film, Peter Bogdanovich’s ex-wife/frequent collaborator Polly Platt brought this script to his attention. Bogdanovich cast his What’s up Doc? star Ryan O’Neal as Moses “Mose” Pray a con artist selling Bibles during the Depression. He agrees to take the recently orphaned Addie (O’Neal’s real life daughter Tatum O’Neal) to Missouri during his traveling grift. Eventually the young girl picks up on Mose’s less than ethical line of work and becomes his partner in crime. Somehow, the legendary director manages to make Paper Moon feel both modern and vintage at the same time

Saint Jack (1979): After a string of films that flopped financially and critically Bogdanovich had lost his fire. It was a reunion with his old mentor Roger Corman that sparked a career revival for the director by raising the money for him to pursue this passion project. Veteran actor Ben Gazzara stars as Jack, a charming and good-hearted American pimp in Singapore. He meets with British accountant William (Denholm Elliot) and the two form an unexpected friendship. As this relationship evolves and his Chinese organized crime competitors step up their attacks against him, Jack begins to reconsider the path his life has been on. While it did not light up the box office, Saint Jack earned rave reviews and proved Peter Bogdanovich had plenty left in the tank.

The Killing of the Unicorn (1984): In 1980 Peter Bogdanovich experienced what was undoubtedly the greatest tragedy of his life. In 1979 he began dating former Playmate Dorothy Stratten, and the two were nothing short of mad about each other. Their fairy book ending came to an violent and horrific end when Stratten was murdered by her abusive ex-husband. A devastated Bogdanovich turned to writing as a catharsis for his grief and penned this book. The Killing of the Unicorn served as a tribute to the romantic relationship they had shared. It also called out his former friend Hugh Hefner as his relationship with Stratten had revealed to him how the smut peddler exploited the women in his employ. Given that Dorothy Stratten’s murder was perfect fodder for the vultures, this best-seller served as a reminder of how wonderful she was as a person written by the man who knew her best.

Who the Devil Made it? Conversations with Legendary Film Directors (1998): Throughout his life and career Peter Bogdanovich made sure he was always seated firmly under the learning tree of the masters of film. Given that so many of these legendary mentors have passed on, Bogdanovich decided to enshrine their wisdom. In this massive book he recorded all of his interviews and conversations with the likes of: Orson Welles, John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock, Edgar G. Ulmer and countless others. Now those who never had the opportunity to meet someone like William Wyler can read a primary account of their knowledge and experience making this book a priceless resource for filmmakers and fans.

The Plot Thickens: I’m Still Peter Bogdanovich (2020): In launching the inaugural season of their podcast, Turner Classic Movies knew they had to knock it out of the park with their first subject. And knock it out they did as “I’m Still Peter Bogdanovich” saw the now legendary filmmaker sit down with host Ben Mankiewicz and opens up about everything. From he master firsthand, we hear the saga of his life and career both the triumphs and the heartbreaks. It is a deeply personal work that salutes everything Peter Bogdanovich has done for the art of cinema.