Peter Bogdnovich had a meteoric rise during the New Hollywood era with “The Last Picture Show,” “Paper Moon” and “What’s Up Doc?”
He went to helm some 20 movies, but there had been no major work examining his career until now.
“Picturing Peter Bogdanovich: My Conversations with the New Hollywood Director” is the book Bogdanovich fans have wanted for so long. It looks at Bogdanovich’s career from those early days to later work including “Mask,” “Texasville” and “The Cat’s Meow.”
Published by University Press of Kentucky, “Picturing Peter Bogdanovich” includes an in-depth interview with the filmmaker about his work and personal life, which included highly publicized relationships with Cybill Sheprherd and Dorothy Stratten.
Tonguette graciously fielded questions about his book and Bogdanovich’s career:
Given his own books interviewing John Ford and Orson Welles, how did Bogdanovich react to being the subject of such an extensive interview and look at his work?
When I first interviewed Peter in 2003 and 2004, it was for an article I was writing about his work. While I always had it in the back of my mind that I would like to continue interviewing him, and one day do a book on his life and work, I didn’t come out and say that at first. Happily, Peter really liked what I wrote, so when I eventually told him I’d like to turn our conversations into a book — and do a bunch of new interviews expressly for such a book — I think he was pleased.
Back in 2004, when Peter sent me a copy of his book “The Killing of the Unicorn,” he wrote in the inscription that my article was just about the smartest stuff he’d read about his own pictures — so I felt, at least, that we had a solid basis from which to begin!
What surprised you most over the course of your interviews?
I wasn’t surprised by Peter’s honesty and candor, but I was always impressed by it. I could ask him about anything, and I knew he would be game. Maybe it’s because Peter has been in my shoes — interviewing sometimes-uncooperative directors. But Peter is anything but.
Bogdanovich has some 20 films to his credit as a director, what five would you deem essential and why?
“The Last Picture Show,” because it made Peter’s reputation and remains a powerful, influential movie; “What’s Up, Doc?,” because it never fails to inspire authentic laughter in audiences; “Daisy Miller,” because it brilliantly captures the tragic side of Peter’s personality; “They All Laughed,” because it is Peter’s most personal film; and the director’s cut of “Mask,” because it shows what a large and generous heart Peter has.
Do you agree with Martin Scorsese’s assessment that Bogdanovich’s work reflects classic American films?
Absolutely. Peter was the only member of the New Hollywood generation who sought to further the tradition established by (John) Ford, (Howard) Hawks and (Orson) Welles. Peter was much misunderstood by critics who thought he was merely paying homage to those directors. In fact, he was following in their footsteps, directing as though the Golden Age had never ended. Even when Peter was directing movies that never would have been made in the classical era (such as the sexually candid “Last Picture Show”), he directed them in a classical manner.
In addition to Bogdanovich’s feature narratives, your book includes his documentaries: “Directed by John Ford,” “Runnin’ Down a Dream” and “The Great Buster.” How do you rate his work as a documentarian?
Peter’s documentaries are so personal. Peter tells the story of Buster Keaton, in Peter’s own words and his own voice, in “The Great Buster.” “In Directed by John Ford,” we even see Peter — in over-the-shoulder shots as he interviews John Wayne or Jimmy Stewart. That personal quality makes his documentaries quite distinctive.
Bogdanovich had a number of high profile relationships: Polly Platt, Cybill Shepherd, the late Dorothy Stratten and her sister, Louise. You remark that Dorothy Stratten was his soul mate. Did she have an impact on his work?
As Peter told me, “They All Laughed” would never have become the joyous, life-affirming movie that it is without Dorothy Stratten. Her presence in the film, and in his life, is the wellspring from which that movie emerged. Her memory inspires Peter’s work to this day, in big and small ways, but especially in the way his films celebrate and venerate women.
Bogdanovich will turn 81 at the end of this month. Do you think we will see another feature film from him?
Like Welles, Peter is a relentless worker. My impression is that he’s constantly developing projects, or coming up with ideas for potential projects. I know he has several films he very, very much wants to make, especially “Wait For Me,” a ghost comedy directly inspired by Dorothy Stratten. When I asked him about that project in our book, I said it sounded to me like a personal project on the order of “Chimes at Midnight.” Peter agreed. I hope we get to see it, and soon.