Arguably no modern film director made a better sustained entrance than Peter Bogdanovich, whose first four features were all triumphs. Targets (1968) was a chilling conceit that brought Hollywood pretend terror (Boris Karloff basically playing himself) against a modern real-world horror, the randomly mass-murdering sniper. That critical success led to a major studio deal to adapt (with then wife and collaborator Polly Platt) Larry McMurtry's novel The Last Picture Show (1971), a melancholy black-and-white flashback to 1950s rural Texas. It won two Oscars, was nominated for five more, and served as a launching pad for actors including Jeff Bridges, Ellen Burstyn, and Cybill Shepherd. Next came What's Up, Doc? (1972), a delightful, San Franciscoset nod to 1930s screwball comedies with Barbra Streisand and Ryan O'Neal. Its huge success was equaled by 1976's Paper Moon, with O'Neal and daughter Tatum as a Depression-era confidence duo.
That's a heady four hits in five years and they'll all be shown at the Castro Theatre in a tribute to the director presented by Midnites for Maniacs' Jesse Hawthorne Ficks. Another four films will be seen in director's cuts different from original theatrical versions. Further, Bogdanovich himself will be on hand at all but the earliest matinees. He's a great raconteur who's insightfully frank about the ups and downs of an eventually checkered career.
"Ups and downs" puts it mildly. While Bogdanovich started out on top, Hollywood relished kicking him with each downward step. But he's still here and especially visible recently, thanks to his role on The Sopranos as Lorraine Bracco's shrink. Behind the camera too, he's gotten love lately from the four-hour DVD documentary Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Runnin' Down a Dream (2007). Bogdanovich, who hasn't directed a big-screen movie since 2001's lamentably underseen The Cat's Meow with Kirsten Dunst, hopes to soon start shooting an adaptation of Tracey Letts's jet-black stage comedy Killer Joe and he's got other irons in the fire.
If it's thus a fine moment to be Bogdanovich, there have been many not-so-great ones. Phoning recently from Los Angeles, he recalls that before the debut of Daisy Miller (1974), his first commercial failure, critic Judith Crist asked him, "Is it good? It better be ... because they're waiting for you." Catching major flack for that film was Shepherd, the model-turned-actress he left Platt for.
"Peter and Cybill" were inseparable, possibly obnoxious. They cohosted The Tonight Show for a week and were reportedly arch as hell. They occupied the inaugural cover of People, with the headline "Living Together Is Sexy." The director quotes Cary Grant (doing a perfect vocal imitation) advising, "Petah, please stop telling people you're happy and in love!" Asked why, Grant said, "Because they aren't happy and in love."
Even those who liked Daisy Miller went Attila on 1975's At Long Last Love, a lavish tribute to '30s musicals with Cole Porter songs recorded live by some actors who were trained singers (Madeleine Kahn) and others who weren't (Shepherd, Burt Reynolds). It was meant to be charming. It got the most vitriolic reviews this side of Battlefield Earth. Bogdanovich now says, "We rushed and fucked it up. The first preview in San Jose was an unmitigated disaster. Then we recut and remixed, and it played quite well. But I made some calamitous changes after that, and didn't preview it again before release. We were just killed. Later we made a different edit. When Jesse called me to say he was showing it, I said, 'Why?' 'I like it.' 'Oh, you're the one.'<0x2009>"
The Castro will screen that improved edit which is charming.