Tuesday, July 30, 2019

This Day in Film History (Birth of Peter Bogdanovich, Link Between Welles and Tarantino)

July 30, 1939— Peter Bogdanovich, a film aficionado who parlayed his obsession into a 50-year directing career in which early success was followed by crushing commercial and personal disappointment, was born in Kingston, NY.

The men that Bogdanovich admired most—the likes of John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Howard Hawks, Leo McCarey, and Buster Keaton—invented the grammar of film practically out of whole cloth from the Twenties to the Forties, while still bringing their own life experiences and immersion in other media. 

Bogdanovich was part of a later generation who grew up with film as much a part of their language as English, thanks to obsessive viewing, first on TV as children, then, as adults, through film schools (George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Brian de Palma) or another artistic institution (in Bogdanovich’s case, the Museum of Modern Art, where he served as a programmer in the early Sixties).

The natural culmination of this habit of obsessive viewing might be Quentin Tarantino, who rose from video-store clerk to Oscar-winning auteur over the last quarter century. Tarantino is enough of a fan that he has had Bogdanovich stay as a house guest for an extended period.

Over the years, Bogdanovich has been targeted with so much opprobrium—first jealousy, because of his initial trio of successful movies (The Last Picture Show, What’s Up Doc?, and Paper Moon), then scorn, because of his relationship with model-turned-actress Cybill Shepherd—that he might be forgiven for feeling gratitude to the younger Tarantino. 

But I would argue that Bogdanovich comes from a far different intellectual place than Tarantino: not just programming notes he wrote for MOMA, but also his Esquire film criticism. Had he never gotten behind a camera, he would have contributed just as significantly to the art of film through his commentary.

I also admit to being much captivated by his appearance in the late Nineties at Fairleigh Dickinson University, where he was promoting long-ago interviews with great directors, Who the Devil Made It.  

 From the moment he took to the podium, he held the audience in thrall, whether through funny derisive commentary about one of  his Last Picture Show actors, Timothy Bottoms, inside stories of films in which he was involved (and a near-miss: Lonesome Dove), and his expert mimicking of James Stewart, John Wayne and Alfred Hitchcock.

Bogdanovich might have never achieved all that he wished from his career—and, in fact, experienced severe personal and commercial let-downs in the late Seventies and early Eighties—but his films evince taste, intelligence, humor and warmth. In the best sense, he has tried to create his own works not so much by copying the camera movements of the masters he loved but by channeling the hearts of these films.

(Photo of Peter Bogdanovich taken at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco, March 7, 2008, and uploaded three days later by Eliaws.)

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