Although the title is still a pseudonym for "turkey," At Long Last Love has never been released on video or DVD. In a town where success usually excuses all egotism, Bogdanovich had still somehow crossed a line. His failures were blamed on sheer arrogance. "I got a lot of that," he says though back then a purportedly imperious on-set demeanor and statements like "I'm not modest, I'm not humble, and the more success I have, the more critics will resent me" surely didn't help. He'd had the temerity to befriend Hollywood legends including Grant, John Ford, and Orson Welles who was practically a permanent houseguest. Who the hell did he think he was?
Cynics had already interpreted Bogdanovich's hit homages to Hollywood's past as evidence he didn't have an original thought in his head. Then they gloated over his nonhits. Despite the star power of Reynolds and both O'Neals, Nickelodeon was a 1976 Christmas flop. (Forced to shoot in color, Bogdanovich says, "It's another movie in black and white" which is how he'll show it at the Castro.)
Despite excellent reviews, 1979's Paul Theroux adaptation Saint Jack didn't find an audience. Ditto 1981's They All Laughed, an enchanting, ensemble romantic comedy. It was (among other things) a valentine to his new love and protégée, erstwhile Playboy centerfold Dorothy Stratten who shortly after filming ended was killed by the thuggish promoter-husband she'd tried to leave amicably. That murder-suicide was followed by more ugliness: a war of words between Bogdanovich and Hugh Hefner; "dramatization" of the tragedy in 1983's Star 80 ("I begged Bob Fosse not to do it") and a TV movie; and distribution problems for They All Laughed that cost him millions. Sympathy soured when Bogdanovich became involved with Dorothy's younger sister, Louise who was all of six months older than his own daughter. (Nonetheless, their eventual marriage lasted 13 years.)
Bogdanovich had a left-field comeback in 1985's Mask, with Eric Stoltz as Elephant Kid and Cher as biker-chick mom. But even that was marred by public sparring with both Cher and studio execs. The latter substituted Bob Seger tunes for Bruce Springsteen ones key to the story's real-life inspiration. (The Castro's "theatrical world premiere" cut restores all the Bruuuuce.) Whether good, bad, or indifferent, his subsequent ventures flopped. In an eerie echo of past events, 1993's The Thing Called Love came out (barely) after star River Phoenix OD'd. Bogdanovich turned to directing TV episodes (including for The Sopranos) and cable movies. It wasn't a comedown, he says. "The scripts were good ... and I got to work with actors like Cicely Tyson, Sidney Poitier, and George Segal."
Bogdanovich also relit an acting career abandoned decades earlier. Having written essays about film history (notably for Esquire) before moving to Hollywood, he thinks his industry hater trail is partly due to perception of him as critic turned filmmaker. He considers the roughly 45 stage productions he acted in (and the 6 he directed) from age 15 to 24 as his real prior job.
Given all past tempests, Bogdanovich seems on good terms with his exes Shepherd (in town with the play Curvy Widow) has promised to show up at the Castro late Friday for The Last Picture Show and At Long Last Love; Louise is flying in to talk about her late sister when They All Laughed shows on Sunday.
Is it painful for them to see Dorothy Stratten onscreen? "Yeah, especially now that [costar] John Ritter has died," he says. "But you know, when you see it with an audience, it's OK it takes the pain somewhat away. One of the peripheral tragedies [to Stratten's death] was that the movie was never properly seen in its day.