- The Twin Geeks 167: Every Oscars Best Picture Winner Tier List
Every Best Picture winner in Oscars history enters and all are ranked according to your hosts, Calvin and Matt, organized into tidy tiers for your viewing and listening pleasure. Every movie has been watched, evaluated, and slotted into careful placement in our lists, including all but this year's eventual winner.1h 51m | Mar 12, 2023
- TG10: David Punch's List
The Twin Geeks co-founder David Punch presents his list in this The Twin Geeks podcast special, presented by Stephen Gillespie39m | Jan 27, 2023
- The Twin Geeks 166: Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)
It's a The Twin Geeks tradition! Our resident Halloween expert Jesse joins the show to talk Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, Halloween Ends, seasonal horror watches, and... Radiohead's In Rainbows (2007). See you next year!1h 16m | Oct 28, 2022
- The Twin Geeks 165: Robert Altman - Short Cuts & Long Goodbyes, Part 7
Over the course of nearly 50 active years in the film industry, Robert Altman created a total of 35 unique and creative feature films. It has been a long journey to catalog the trajectory of that storied course, but we come now, some four months later, at the end of the road. From an early peak in the mid-1970s, he was churning out an unmatchable string of masterful ensemble contemplations, to a rough era of uncompromised artistic efforts in the '80s, which suffer significantly in spite of his rejection of rigid studio control. The '90s saw a triumphant return for Hollywood's most notorious maverick, with both audiences and backers alike. A revived interest in Altman as a creative force allowed him to finish out his career in splendor, working up 'till his dying days on his latest project of eminent interest. Altman proved with his late-career successes that his creative well never dried, but were his final creations of the same caliber and interest as his greatest masterpieces? Tune in for our final episode discussing the entire career of the late, great, Robert Altman.2h 5m | Oct 21, 2022
- Ep. 164: Robert Altman - Short Cuts & Long Goodbyes, Part 6
It's not often, in Hollywood, that our heroes find a second wind. It's true that everyone loves a happy ending, but they love a devastating tragedy just as much, if not more. Some of the industry's most treasured pioneers spent the later halves of their career languishing out in the cold, and after more than a decade of relative isolation from the bigwigs in California, it seemed like that same familiar fate was destined for Robert Altman, too. But in 1992, Altman had his comeback, and in such a way that couldn't have been more perfect for the man who spent his entire time in the sun bucking the profit-driven conventionality of the Hollywood system. The Player was an incisive mockery of Hollywood using the tools of its myriad stars and rote ideas against itself, and it was a resounding success. Because even more than a happy ending or a tragic downfall, Hollywood loves to be cynical about itself.
Throughout his career, Altman had always prioritized an interest in his actors, and that reputation now returned its favor in a career-saving way. Everyone in Hollywood wanted to work with Altman, and so when the time came to enlist a gargantuan cast of Hollywood's most famous names, everyone came on board, solidifying the inside-nature of The Player while also building its audience appeal for an artistic swing that couldn't miss. Altman carried over this clout and size to subsequent projects throughout the '90s, following up his massive hit with an amalgam adaptation of Raymond Carver short stories in Short Cuts (1993) and a comic exposé of the Paris fashion scene in Prêt-à-Porter (1994). He returned to his roots with a jazzed-up gangster flick set in his home town, Kansas City (1996) before trying something completely new by making a conventional no-frills thriller. The Gingerbread Man (1998) was adapted from an incomplete John Grisham novel, and its failure to impress either audiences or critics dampened the high Altman was riding from his nominal comeback, already on the downslide thanks to the middling reception of his previous two films.1h 30m | Sep 29, 2022
- Ep. 163: Robert Altman - Short Cuts & Long Goodbyes, Part 5
Altman's continued trend of adapting stage plays into feature films proceeded into the end of the '80s with mixed successes. On one hand there were films like Secret Honor (1984), a scaled-back character study of a fictional Richard Nixon contemplating on the missteps and bitter grudges of his tumultuous political career, carried by an astounding one-man performance from Phillip Baker Hall. On the other you have something like Fool for Love (1985), an oddball testimony of toxic relationships that occasionally dips into the surreal and esoteric, with no clear reasoning or well-defined characters to ground its unaccountable departures. He did make at least one studio film between now and his eventual Hollywood comeback, a supposed satire on the burgeoning teen comedy genre called O.C. and Stiggs (1985), based on a beloved National Lampoon article from the time. Altman himself considered it a total failure, and the questionable politics and sensibilities of the story somewhat call into question the sensitive and socially intuitive Altman we thought we knew from a few films back.
And if that doesn't assure you completely of his lack of consideration for marginalized characters, then the unmitigated offenses of Beyond Therapy (1987) will surely remind you that the '80s were a time bereft of needed allies. Fear not, though, as promises of the breakthrough to come manifest in a television mini series he did with Tim Roth and Paul Rhys on the life of Vincent van Gogh that was later truncated and released theatrically, appropriately called Vincent and Theo (1990). There's something about the tragic arc of the famous Dutch artist's failed career that fascinates us cinematically. He's been the subject of so many films, even to this day. It seems only natural that as individual an artist as Altman would take a stab at capturing his life and emotions on celluloid, with greater insight and sensitivity towards his plight than most other hagiographic renderings have lent him.1h 36m | Sep 10, 2022
- Ep. 162: Robert Altman - Short Cuts & Long Goodbyes, Part 4
The legacy of Robert Altman presides mostly in the '70s, based on the strength of his back-to-back run of multiple masterpieces in the early part of that decade. That trend did not continue for him on into the '80s, as a series of previous flops put him in a precarious scenario of needing a big commercial hit that studio executives were praying would allude him. Peculiar oddities like A Perfect Couple (1979) and HealtH (1980) estranged him from producers in Hollywood, on top of already being something of a pariah for his maverick-like approach to directing his pictures, and they were looking for any reason to box him out for good. After the perceived disaster of his big-budget Popeye adaptation (which was actually a financial success), Altman was booted from Hollywood and forced to take up work on the stage. Subsequently, he adapted Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982) and Streamers (1983) into critically successful works that, while no boon with audiences nor studio heads, revived his flagging reputation in the eyes of critics around the world. The '80s was certainly no high point for Altman's directorial career, but it was certainly not a wash either.1h 49m | Aug 26, 2022
- Ep. 161: Robert Altman - Short Cuts & Long Goodbyes, Part 3
If the central thesis of Altman's directorial bent has always been an investigation of what America means, then Nashville (1975) is his ultimate statement on the matter. This sprawling opus of the country musical capital of the country brings together all the disparate, intersecting elements of our culture into an overlapping menagerie of cultural curios and distinct personalities, clashing and interacting with one another as political tensions broil in the background. Altman produced this film on the eve of American's bicentennial anniversary, and he must have been obsessively aware of the nation's foul spirit of patriotism clogging up the air, because he followed Nashville with another incisive examination of American culture. In Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson (1976), Altman turns to the past to discover the roots of America's performative history. The origin of the Wild West show, and its myth-making, is put on blast here, exposing the charlatan Wild Bill as the revisionist and exploitation artist he is, reliving the subjugation and erasure of the Native Americans from their land now through popular entertainment. It's a worthy satire for Altman, but one that may be already apparent from the film's lengthy title alone.
The origin of 3 Women (1977), Altman always said, came to him in a dream, but he pitched the story to producer Alan Ladd Jr. claiming it was a story he read and wanted to adapt. As ever a master he was at gaming the system as he was at making some of the greatest films of all time, it never ceases to amaze how Altman managed to convince these big studios time and time again to take risks on these odd and esoteric art films, all of which inevitably lost money. 3 Women may be the best of the bunch, with strong themes of identity and thick, surrealist atmosphere to match the dreamlike nature of its conception, Altman delivers an incredible, interior work of art that leaves you with just as many questions as the most enigmatic of dreams often do. While doing publicity for 3 Women Altman was asked what his next movie would be. Glibly, he responded, "a wedding," as amateur recordings of events was a recognized craze. But the more he thought about the off hand remark the more he realized how good an idea it actually was. A grand, centralizing setting with a large cast of characters; a perfect opportunity to create a cacophony of overlapping dialogue and stories; a coming together of two socially distinct sects of society under the umbrella of a religious tradition core to the practices of the American people -- what's more Altman than that?
A Wedding (1978) is all of those things, and more, but for once the outsized nature of Altman's ambitions seems too large for even him to wrangle in. The cast is twice the size of that in Nashville, an intentional challenge on behalf of the film's writer to outdo the grandeur and spectacle captured in masterpiece. But when you're writing characters to hit an arbitrary quota instead of following what the demands of the story call for, it's inevitable that many will fall by the wayside or feel underdeveloped. A Wedding retains all the hallmarks of an Altman epic, losing none of the deftness of his directorial talent in the process, but a certain ineffable elements remains missing all the same. Such is the case as well in Quintet (1979), a bizarre, unknowable effort from Altman in which he is clearly as present as ever behind the camera, but the audience is left out in the cold. As his only true work of fantastical science-fiction, Quintet is at least notable in its total departure from convention for Altman, fixating itself on the quasi-near future in which a new ice age has overtaken the planet and the small clique of surviving humans occupy themselves with the titular game of life and death. It's so erratic and offbeat that it's difficult to even describe, as the setting and nature of the game are never made particularly clear by the film itself. But, Altman seems to understand it all in spite of how he attempts to communicates with us, only failing in the sense that it made no money and both audiences and critics rejected it out of hand. Even today, Quintet is far from a beloved cult classic of Altman's oeuvre -- but who knows, maybe Altman buried some sincerely true revelations within the bedrock of this singularly outlandish art film, and all of us are simply incapable of seeing through the frosted glass of his camera lens to perceive it as the masterpiece it is... but probably not.1h 40m | Aug 12, 2022
- Ep. 160: Robert Altman - Short Cuts & Long Goodbyes, Part 2
And thus began Altman's unprecedented run of innovative masterworks. One by one, Altman ran the gamut of American genre favorites, upending and undoing every convention and expectation held within their structures as a means of dissecting and interrogating the inherent truths buried beneath their mountains of cliches. Time and time again, contemporaries of Altman have called McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)(a film Altman himself dubbed an "Anti-Western") his greatest film. Not to give away the ending, but we tend to agree. Images (1972) was Altman's sole contribution to the horror genre, and quite expectedly for the maverick director, its unconventional nature sets it apart from comparable contenders and leaves an indelible impact on the mind. His signature iconoclasm is never better represented, however, than in the tearing down of an American literary favorite in the form of an adaptation of Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye. With Elliot Gould starring as the ineffectual, yet still effortlessly cool, Phillip Marlowe in a complete subversion of the typically suave and collected Noir private eye. Continuing their collaboration, Altman and Gould pair again for California Split (1974), a buddy comedy with sinister undertones as the specter of addiction looms over the heads of two free-wheeling, luckless gamblers. It was inevitable, then, that Altman would find himself drifting towards the nostalgic trend of reconsidering the romantic vision of the turbulent Great Depression and the lionized gangsters of that time. Thieves Like Us (1975) strips away most of the action and drama to focus on the intimate conflicts of such characters, achieving a kind of tragic serenity that, while quite of a piece with the earlier Altman upheavals, nonetheless retains his signature of deconstructing the American psyche in search of inherent cultural truths nestled in their cores.1h 32m | Jul 29, 2022
- Ep. 159: Robert Altman - Short Cuts & Long Goodbyes, Part 1
Often recognized as a maverick within the Hollywood system, during a time when everyone was a maverick trying to reinvent the American industry just as it had creatively bottomed out, Robert Altman was truly a filmmaker of his own making. Preceding his New Hollywood contemporaries by about a generation, Altman fought in World War II and made his directorial debut in the '50s, before moving on to hone his craft in television. Over time, Altman would become known for his naturalism as a filmmaker, utilizing a detached camera and improvisational, overlapping dialogue to give his films a sense of realism relatively unknown to the American scene. He had an innate sense for social critique, beginning with his breakout success M*A*S*H in 1970. But you can see this style reveal itself even before this career-defining work, as Altman the director was seemingly born just the year before with That Cold Day in the Park (1969). From the beginning to the end Altman remained an individual talent. Even in his earliest efforts a uniqueness remains potent, despite any efforts to eradicate his voice from the picture. So much so, that by the time of Brewster McCloud (1970), you could confidently say nobody else had neither the skill, nor the gall, to make such a film.1h 30m | Jul 1, 2022
- Ep. 158: Ralph Bakshi - X-Rated, Animated, & Complicated, Part 2
Bakshi continued his pursuit of avante-garde animation throughout the 1980s. His refinement of rotoscoping as a means of perfecting the fluid translation of human movement continued into the decade, beginning with American Pop (1981): a jukebox journey through America's cultural apogee, starting with the sonic roots of vaudeville and ragtime, building towards an electric rock 'n roll climax through the eyes of four musicals generations. 1982 saw the release of a project Bakshi first began after the production of Cookskin (1975). Hey Good Lookin' was originally envisioned as an animation/live-action hybrid, but was scrapped by Warner Bros. after its initial completion when doubts around its financial prospects festered. Bakshi worked on it off and on between his various other projects, eventually releasing it as a completely animated feature, far from the innovative conceit he initially pursued.
With Fire and Ice (1983), Bakshi collaborated with legendary comic artist Frank Frazetta in order to ride the wave of popular sword and sorcery films kicked off the previous year by Conan the Barbarian. Bakshi returned to the reliable shorthand of rotoscoping in order to effectively convey the requisite amount of action the film's story called for. Despite failing to capitalize on the market's purported success for these kinds of films, Fire and Ice eventually found a cult following in the home video market, maintaining a niche fanbase to this day. After that, Bakshi shifted his priorities back to television, heading a revival for the old Terry Toons creation Might Mouse, coming full circle to the place he began in the industry. It was nearly another decade before Bakshi made another feature film -- his last, in fact, for both the animated medium and the silver screen.
Cool World (1992) was Bakshi's most ambitious and star-studded film, bringing with it a greater wave of scrutiny than any of his previous underground works had ever received. With big names like Brad Pitt and Kim Basinger attached, along with the publicity power of Paramount Pictures in tow, Cool World was positioned to be the most commercially viable film of Bakshi's career. That's probably one of the biggest factors that led to its ultimate failure, alongside studio interference curbing Bakshi's initial vision of hybrid animation/live-action horror film into the more audience-friendly Who Framed Roger Rabbit? riff it finally ended up as. Its wider reach led to greater declamation, and the effective end of his movie-making career. Two years later Bakshi directed a made-for-tv film for Showtime, notable only for its debut of Jared Leto as a leading performer, and for being the only non-animated film of Bakshi's entire catalogue.
There are plenty of ups and downs to be found through Ralph Bakshi's storied career. His works are often crudely uneven, and even controversial in their imagery and messaging. But these uncomfortable elements are what ultimately make him a compelling and pioneering figure in film history. Beyond proving a viability for adult-centric animated films which can talk about sex and politics and institutional racism, Bakshi struck out with a unique sensibility for the form itself, combining any and all techniques available to him in order to further his provocative and creative artistic sensibilities. Whether he was drawing from his own life living in impoverished New York slums, or adapting the works of literary titans, Bakshi brought something wholly unique to the animated scene. And despite the relative retirement he presides in now, having been rejected by the movie-going public too often to continue, his work lives on and speaks for itself. There's a reason Bakshi's legend lives on, as the field of animation increasingly returns to the homogenous, Disney-centric sensibilities he once railed so thoroughly against. Despite consistent flaws, Bakshi's work maintains a uniquely subversive quality which resonates some thirty years past his last theatrical contribution to the medium.1h 46m | Jun 3, 2022
- Ep. 157: Ralph Bakshi - X-Rated, Animated, & Complicated, Part 1
With the death of the Haye's Code in the late 1960's and a dearth of new movies from the Disney Corporation's homogenous stranglehold over the field of animation, the time was right for new players to take up the field, carving out a unique landscape in cinema which was not only varied in its style and artistic voices, but in its audiences as well. The leader of this pack was a Jewish animator from a historically Black neighborhood in Brooklyn -- two informative elements of Bakshi's past which would inform much of his earliest work in feature film. He cut his teeth in television, working on a variety of serialized cartoons with an emphasis on slapstick and comedy, honing his skills for the eventual day he would aim to apply these sensibilities beyond the limited scope of children's entertainment.
Those ambitions culminated in the first animated film to receive an X Rating: 1972's Fritz the Cat, an adaptation of Robert Crumb's provocative comic strip satire of the same name. It was the first of several X-Rated animated films Bakshi would make, each building off the low-budget, underground, urban aesthetics inherent to the director's innate sensibilities. His art would perpetuate a propensity for lewdness, feature excesses of nudity and violence as a means of not only challenging audiences' preconceptions of what animation could and should be, but also as a means of harkening back to the medium's origins, where titillation and subversion were primary appeals of the animated form. Bakshi would go on to apply his inherently transgressive sensibilities to more conventional animated avenues, brightening up the fantastical worlds of Wizards (1977) and an innovative adaptation of The Lord of the Rings which would impress itself as a vital influence on the later definitive interpretations of Peter Jackson.
While certainly popular in his time, Bakshi always struggled to get his films made. Even in their most broadly appealing form, each were distinctive counter culture works, challenging the viewer to engage with Bakshi's vision on both visual and thematic levels at every turn. They are not always easy works to swallow -- Bakshi's fearlessness when it comes to depicting racial caricatures as a means of uncomfortable satire and cultural reflection has never been unanimously received -- but that willingness to challenge viewers continues to make him a fixture of cinematic interest. Though the craft is often crude, for any number of different reasons, Bakshi's works endure as distinct, innovative cornerstones in the canon of feature animation.2h 30m | May 20, 2022
- Ep. 156: In Your Honor - A Foo Fighters Tribute
The world's most famous rock band. The last vestiges of a style and sound still thriving after the world has moved on to so many other modern genres. A link to the revolutionary sound stemming from Seattle, Washington in the early '90s, birthed from the ashes of its most infamous loss. And now, another cloud of ash threatens to blanket the Foo Fighters for good, as the tragic eruption of drummer Taylor Hawkins' untimely death signals a potential conclusion for this group's near three-decade run of unrivaled success. From a mixtape hodgepodge of frontman Dave Grohl's lingering ambitions to becoming one of the most successful touring groups of all time, the Foo Fighters have left an impression on the musical world which now appears to be an unifillable hole. In their honor, though, we seek to be on the mend. Their music and legacy will survive any long road to ruin, to live on in history, everlong. Join us for a career retrospective on the Foo Fighters, celebrating and remembering the documentaries, feature film, and ten studio albums produced by virtue of their inimitable talents and artistic chemistry -- each component as vital to their success as their lead singer's iconic charisma and stage presence.2h 30m | May 6, 2022
- Ep. 155: Jean Cocteau - The Rest is Literature, Part 2
Take a new look at the world around you. Look through a mirror. What does it say about your world that is new? The cinema of Jean Cocteau is a world of mirrors and new ways of imagining the world. Looking at Cocteau’s movies is also a kind of gazing into a mirror, reality reflected back more fantastical, more fabulous, more than the real thing ever could. Cocteau made the prosaic profound.
Cocteau called mirrors the door from which death comes and goes. They are essential Georges Méliès-styled visual trickery. They stand for narcissism, of course, and are the poet’s tool for reassessing his relationship between imaginary space and the space of his reality.
“Perhaps you’re afraid?
“But this mirror is a mirror and in it I see an unhappy man. You do not have to understand. You just have to believe.”
Take a tuning fork and some very clever trick photography and you have enduring cinematic magic. The rest is literature.
Liquid mercury is used for the mirrors in Orpheus. We can take the mirrors in the film literally: they mean to reflect life. But they can also be full of metaphor. The men in the film can stand as homoerotic doubles and their charged energy, of life reflected against death, and sex mirrored back onto itself, say and show exactly what they seem to do. Mirrors in Orpheus are cinematic inversions. They are Cocteau subverting the norms of what is usually on screen and what he wants to show, to bring us into another world. What was once wholly original, a hand reaching into a mirror and opening up an entire other zone, is now cliche, out of the necessary utility of its effectiveness.
Cocteau said “mirrors should think longer before they reflected.” His cinematic creations are a means of making that happen. Cocteau wants the mirrors not only to reflect but to show everything to his characters.
In less literal terms (although maybe we ought to take Cocteau literally always), the characters of Les parents terribles are mirrors. The parents of the film are holding up their own projections, of their relationships and failings, and holding them against the young man at the center of the narrative. For those who like miracles, this is a masterpiece.
To be a writer is to write without writing. Again and again, that’s what Cocteau does. In his final picture, The Testament of Orpheus, he finishes his thesis on mirrored subjects. The artist now holds a mirror up to himself. It is a self-examination made for art’s sake. Watch it because you want to witness Cocteau’s reflection and live inside his mind and his mirror for a while.
Today we’ll explore all three, rounding out our retrospective on one of cinema’s greatest imaginations. Long live Cocteau, the multi-hyphenate who played with mirrors and every other way of telling a story.
Let’s hold up a mirror to a life’s work in the arts. A legend is beyond both time and place. Cocteau’s legacy lives on in the films. Into the mirror we go. The rest is literature.1h 28m | Apr 8, 2022
- Ep. 154: Jean Cocteau - The Rest is Literature, Part I
Take a commonplace, clean it and polish it, light it so that it produces the same effect of youth and freshness and originality and spontaneity as it did originally, and you have done a poet’s job. The rest is literature.
Jean Cocteau. The rest is literature.
When Cocteau was a young boy he said he would be clever later. He said his father was a painter. Boys say a lot of things. His father was an amateur painter, a lawyer by trade. His father killed himself when Cocteau was nine.
You are not what you do, after all. You are not your work, you are not your suicide. Poets only pretend to die. You are not even your art but your art is the greatest reflection of self. Awaken from the reverie of your orphic dream. The poet creates and never insists upon his poetry. He is a poet because what he makes sings with all of his soul.
When the editors of Cahiers Du Cinema collectively disavowed the stagnant literary-leaning past and present of French cinema, they kept the Masters. Robert Bresson, Jeen Renoir, and Jeen Cocteau were anti-modernists making movies that would be new forever. The masters suited the artistic ethics of the Nouvelle Vauge. Cocteau then embodied the past, present, and future of the French cinema. The rest — as the Cahiers crew would insist — is literature.
Children believe what we tell them. They have complete faith in us. They believe that a rose plucked from a garden can bring drama to a family. They believe that the hands of a human beast will smoke when he kills a victim, and that this beast will be shamed when confronted by a young girl. They believe in a thousand other simple things. I ask of you a little of this childlike simplicity, and to bring us luck let me speak four truly magic words, childhood’s “open sesame":
Once Upon a Time...
The gem of today’s triple feature, Beauty and the Beast (1946) is the pinnacle of fantasy storytelling in film. Marrying Cocteau’s multi-hyphenate interests in the poetic and the balletic, the film achieves the beauty of a stage play with the heightened specificity of what it means to make a film.
It provides an exceptional bridge to understanding his other work: his varied interests and grounding in ‘20s-era surrealism with a literary bent.
Today, we draw back the curtain on a life lived in the arts and celebrate three pieces of a storied career of a real master craftsman.
First, we venture into The Blood of a Poet — perhaps the first poem film to make headway with international success. Because it is first, it can disregard histories, examples, and rule books, and is permitted to tell its own story uniquely in the text. Cocteau wrote, “To sum up, The Blood of a Poet and my new film Beauty and the Beast are aimed at the aficionados. It is true that I do not kill the bull according to the rules. But this contempt for the rules is accompanied by a contempt for the danger that excites a large number of people.”
Poetic art is creation with regard to space and feeling, moved by the dance of the human spirit, and unconcerned with the linearity of rules. “Poetry begins to atrophy when it gets too far from the music,” Ezra Pound said. Like the myth of Orpheus who could sooth all animals and nature with his poetry of music, the film is equally connected. It has no false symbols or ornamentation that does not add punctuation. It doesn’t have to mean anything, it just is.
Crucially, composer Georges Auric is involved, who would score 11 films for Cocteau. His score is a remnant of his avant-garde period and thus embodies and directs the film with its certainty of purpose. His later works would become more populist as he worked hard to square his work with leftist political beliefs that could reach audiences.
Georges Auric’s compositions are the fundamental through-line between the three distinctly different films.
In Beauty and the Beast and The Eagle with Two Heads, Cocteau has likewise found a more connective populist style. While the films begin to subscribe to the director’s own rule book and definitions without relying on the past, they use familiar constructions and foundations to wildly different ends.
Both are wondrously shot. The camera glides. The black and white is silver in its glow. The steady beauty of it all is overwhelming, singular, well considered.
And yet, with accessibility, Cocteau remains poetic. His films still move smoothly over uncovered terrain and define the fairytale and romantic stories in ways they have simply never been visualized.
His astute gift for defining the image with his camera and getting the most out of untrained actors pays dividends. The poetry sings. The films move with singular beauty. Open sesame. Them movies are poems all right.
Cocteau has done a poet’s job. The rest is literature.1h 33m | Mar 25, 2022
- Ep. 153: Change of the Guard, the Films of Peter Bogdanovich - Part 6
Bogdanovich earned his keep in Hollywood as a director of films first and foremost. But he was perhaps more widely recognized for his efforts as a second-hand oral historian of Hollywood movies, embolding their legacy through innumerable interviews and commentary tracks in which he would recite the stories passed onto him in perfect comic imitation of his legendary filmic mentors. Bogdanovich’s love for the movies is embedded throughout his work: overt in the various pastiches he made to early genre staples during the height of his career, but also recognizable though more humble tips of the hat in otherwise non-nostalgic films. His reverence transcended the adage of imitation as the ultimate form of flattery, taking strides not just to pay tribute to the the films and filmmakers of old, but to actively champion and preserve their legacies.
At the tail end of his time working in television, Bogdanovich was approached to make a biographical film on the life and mysterious early death of beloved actress Natalie Wood. He was hesitant, at first, having personally experienced what it's like to be sensationally depicted in a ripped-from-the-headlines story. He was the recipient of an unflattering portrayal in Bob Fosse’s crude retelling of Dorothy Stratten’s horrific murder not yet three years after her death. Despite Peter’s initial trepidation towards making The Mystery of Natalie Wood, he felt his own experience as a subject of exploitation granted him some insight and authority on the matter, and would help him avoid the same tasteless depictions expected from such material – after all, he said, somebody was gonna make it, it might as well be him. The film is a strange but surprisingly effective mix of documentary and fiction, stringing together contemporary talking head interviews with recreated scenes of Wood’s life and career beginning as a child actor in the studio system up until her questionable death off of Catalina Island. Whether or not Bogdanovich managed to evade the trappings of exploitative caricature is up for debate, but he does manage to produce yet another compelling portrait of corruptive Hollywood glamor.
After finishing his stint in television and having dabbled again in a bit of documentary filmmaking, Bogdanovich returned to one of his earliest films thinking it needed an update. Directed by John Ford was first produced in 1971, around the same time The Last Picture Show was being edited for release. Bogdanovich had first met the legendary American director in the early 1960s, when Ford was shooting his last Western in his favorite locale: the awe-inspiring Monument Valley. Ford was a cantankerous old man, mean and needling, borderline abusive one might say. He took great pleasure in breaking down the spirits of young Bogdanovich, much in the same way he had with John Wayne for thirty years. But in spite of all logic, Ford receives praise for these cruel acts, and from those he attacks, no less. Wayne is but one of the interviewees Bogdanovich sat down and talked with in 1969 for this initial documentary, joined by Henry Fonda and James Stewart, who recall similar tales of upbraiding with admiration and glee. Strangely enough, it’s not hard to see why these men have such respect for Ford, as even Bogdanovich is able to frame his affronts as humorous and commanding. They’re extensions of his directorial persona, and evidently an important part in what made his films so ineffably great.
When Bogdanovich returned to his filmic dedication of John Ford’s life and legacy in 2006, he found it was missing some pieces that, for practical reasons, could not have existed in Ford’s lifetime. There was more of the story to tell, more of the man behind the facade to reveal, and more of his influence to be recorded. So, Bogdanovich gathered the initial interviews he used to contextualize Ford’s directorial prowess and complimented them by shooting new testimonials with the most significant contemporary beneficiaries of his laurels. Martin Scorsesse, Clint Eastwood, Steven Spielberg, Walter Hill, not to mention surviving Ford collaborators Harry Carey Jr. and Maureen O’Hara, flesh out the unspoken aspects of Ford’s artistry. Their detachment from the director gives space to weigh in on and analyze his motives and ideals, as well as the ability to share stories previously unheard about this seemingly mythic figure of Hollywood directors. Bogdanovich’s ability to reflect upon his own work, recognize how it can be improved, and then implementing those changes without disrupting the spirit or success of its initial incarnation, is one of the more adept and overlooked achievements of his career.
2006 seemed to be the year of documentaries for Bogdanovich, for at the same time he was completing his revamped version of Directed by John Ford, he was approached to document a subject he was initially quite unfamiliar with. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were approaching the 30th anniversary of their unparalleled rock and roll success, and they wanted to get a big name director to document the history of their storied career. They sought out Bogdanovich, who agreed to meet with Petty to see about the offer. Being a fan of Cole Porter and Frank Sinatra primarily throughout his life, Bogdanovich hadn’t so much as heard of Petty before becoming involved with the project, but he learned quickly. After their first meeting, Bogdanovich knew the only worthwhile way to tell the story of the Heartbreakers was to have Tom sit down and lay the whole thing out, which is exactly what he did. Runnin’ Down a Dream is an absolute mammoth of a music documentary. Twice the length of any previous Bogdanovich picture, it is a monumental catalog of the band’s complete history up until that point. They had practically seen it all: the preeminence of rock throughout the 1970s, the swings of conservatism and corporate consumption in the ‘80s, the fadeout and vestiges of the genre lingering on into the ‘90s, and the survival and prosperity of the band up until that day. It was the kind of uncompromising film Bogdanovich struggled to make throughout his career, always having to cut away at vital sequences per the studios’ requests. But for Runnin’ Down a Dream, not an inch of necessary footage was removed. Even the songs play out in full, giving you the complete, mesmerizing experience of the Heartbreakers’ music, with the exhaustive accompaniment of their meteoric success conveyed in full.
Bogdanovich ended his career with a documentary film; a fitting conclusion for a filmmaker so indebted to the history of Hollywood, and the preservation of their legends. In interviews, Bogdanovich speaks often about his father, a painter who passed onto his son a great love for the arts, but especially the movies. Borislav Bogdanovich took his son to see the classics, the films that made him first fall in love with the movies: silent films. Primarily, he took Peter to see the great comedians: Chaplin, Lloyd, and Keaton in particular. The influence of these slapstick giants feature heavily in Bogdanovich’s work, from the incredible comic stunt work in What’s Up, Doc? to the punctual pratfalls permeating the likes of Nickelodeon and Noises Off. Bogdanovich was approached by Charles Cohen to produce a documentary on Buster Keaton after having acquired the rights to his filmography for restoration and distribution. The resultant film, The Great Buster: A Celebration, functions as an extensive overview of Keaton’s life and career, covering both the triumphant highs and miserable lows of the screen comic’s singular body of work.
With access to almost everything Keaton ever made on hand, Bogdanovich was able to present a document which covers not only his most significant works (in a profound new clarity thanks to Cohen’s restoration efforts, no less), but his lesser known sound period as well, also covering the collection of numerous educational shorts and television commercials he made in the twilight of his career. The most significant deviation Bogdanovich makes in the film’s presentation is taking the most prosperous period of Keaton’s career and putting it at the end of the narrative, instead of the middle where it actually took place. Bogdanovich wanted the film to go out on a high note, for it to truly be a celebration of Keaton’s career, as opposed to ending on the more deflated fall from grace he experienced by the time of his death in 1966. Because Keaton passed at a relatively earlier age than his contemporaries, he was one of the few idols Bogdanovich wasn’t able to personally meet and chronicle. But his enthusiasm is never compromised by this absence of personal familiarity, and The Great Buster is perhaps the finest example of Bogdanovich’s dedication to championing the mastery of Old Hollywood legends throughout his own legendary career.
There is so much more to the life of Peter Bogdanovich that analyzing his films cannot fully convey. His textual compilations of interviews with various actors and directors of the Old Guard are invaluable resources for posterity, as well as the second-hand accounts he’s preserved in wildly entertaining retellings of anecdotes passed onto him from additional Hollywood luminaries. He’s done more to consecrate the career of Orson Welles than even his greatest admirers could hope to match, overseeing the compilation of not just one, but two of Welles’ films – one which had fallen into complete obscurity, and another which had yet to see the light of day. You may even recognize Bogdanovich from various dvd introductions, or for the short time he had a supporting role in HBO’s The Sopranos. He started his career as an actor, and proceeded to act throughout his life, whether it was an occasional appearance in front of the camera, or through his direction as the great Ernst Lubitsch had before him. Bogdanovich’s career is too rich and expansive to convey in a neat and comprehensive package, which is likely the reason so many have centered his story around his flagship successes in the 1970s. But that was really just the beginning for Bogdanovich. The heights of Last Picture Show, What’s Up, Doc?, and Paper Moon are the films which define Bogdanovich’s legacy, but his real triumphs is the lifelong dedication he maintained to the celebration and veneration of the movies and the artists who made them. Whether he did so through his movies, through books, or by means of his matchless affability in interviews and unrivaled ability to recount a story, Bogdanovich’s life was defined by the movies, which he paid back, in kind, through every step of his career.1h 55m | Mar 11, 2022
- Ep. 152: Change of the Guard, the Films of Peter Bogdanovich - Part 5
The following chapter of Bogdanovich’s career has yet to be recorded in any significant capacity. Previous retrospectives of his works tend to end at his dramatic apex, with the more thorough examinations dipping into the later classics and recent reevaluations recognizing his last theatrical works. Nobody, however, has paid any attention to his TV works from the ‘90s. Nobody. “I did a lot of tv work that I’m very proud of, but television work doesn’t get considered the same as a feature, even though you shoot it like a feature. It’s still a movie. You still get the script right, you still cast it, you shoot it quickly. And it’s harder to do because you’re shooting fast, but it doesn’t get any consideration. It’s snob appeal.” That’s what Bogdanovich had to say in a rare interview in which he was asked about his television works, expressing at least some bitterness at the disregard paid to the work he gave equal efforts to despite the smaller canvas.
“I was directing, but I wasn’t doing theatrical features. I did five television films in five years. I shot them very fast, and nobody saw them except millions of people.” Although these films are all but forgotten today, in their time Bogdanovich’s “movie-of-the-week” work was quite successful. With every household glued to their tvs in search of nightly entertainment throughout the decade, Bogdanovich’s films made waves across the Neilson ratings, but promptly disappeared from the pages of posterity. Even his first television project, a sequel to the classic Sidney Poitier film To Sir, with Love, has made no impression on the Bogdanovich canon.
In a depressing fit of irony, the two Hollywood legends passed tragically on the same day, making To Sir, with Love II a kind of twilight coda for the both of them, buried within the legacies of their more treasured works. It’s a worthy successor to its predecessor – better, even, in some regards, such as the way it transplants the tangential racial themes of the first movie to the progressive and more critical conversations of the 1990s. Bogdanovich’s films had rarely ventured outside his prerogative for thematic material up until now, but by transitioning to for-hire work on television he’d find a number of new opportunities to explore perspectives and struggles which were beyond his own.
Blessed Assurance (perhaps also known as The Price of Heaven) attempts to continue this conversation in its portrayal of a Korean War veteran returning home to face a moral dilemma in a job which requires him to prey on the vulnerability of an impoverished Black commune. The truncated structure of the TV-movie mold does the story a disservice and leaves the film little room to flesh out its themes. Its embrace of melodrama betrays the sense of distinction Bogdanovich eloquently bestowed on his first TV production, embodying the kind of schmaltzy, middling productions derisively associated with the genre.
Rescuers: Stories of Courage: Two Women is the first in a series of three thematically related movies about courageous persons aiding the escape of Jews from Nazi agents in occupied Poland. Bognavoch helmed this first entry, but the film lacks any recognizable features attributable to the director. Despite himself having been conceived in the former Yugoslavia before his parents fled from the Nazis and landed in New York, the film lacks any personal distinction or any significant revelations – as bog standard as Bogdanovich ever got.
Jules Dassin was unfortunately not one of the major Hollywood directors whose influence managed to inspire Bogdanovich to chronicle their legacy, but his important role as an architect of Film Noir’s impact on cinema nonetheless managed to worm its way into Bogdanovich’s career. The Naked City was a seminal 1948 noir which distinguished itself with a documentary-like approach to shooting on the streets of New York. Bogdanovich was hired to make a tv movie continuation of the characters first seen in Dassin’s film, now dealing with the criminals of contemporary New York. Naked City: A Killer Christmas stars Scott Glenn in the role first helmed by grizzled noir everyman Richard Widmark searching for a serial killer terrorizing the city. It’s about as close as Bogdanovich ever got to inheriting the legacy of Fritz Lang or Edgar Ulmer, but more often the film feels like any ordinary cop drama than an expressionistic revival.
The next film from Bogdanovich couldn’t be farther from his usual prerogative. A body swap comedy set in New Orleans where professional football player David Alan Grier and artist wife Vivica A. Fox mend their marriage through the old adage of walking a mile in each other’s shoes. It’s also a Disney film, brimming with the requisite amount of Disney cornball and childish humor. A Saintly Switch maintains a certain affable charm, a universal appeal which speaks to the importance of family and communication, while supplying some fantastical humor in all of Bogdanovich’s illustrious comic career.
From one sports sphere to another, Bogdanovich’s last TV film was produced, surprisingly, by ESPN. They asked him to make a movie about disgraced baseball legend Pete Rose, whose story interested Bogdanovich as a kind of embodiment of the failures of the American Dream. Rose rose his way up in prominence through a lucrative and record-breaking career in baseball, but squandered it all away thanks to a debilitating gambling addiction. He became a coach for the team he first became famous on, and started fixing games to pay his bills. When he was finally caught, he spent five months in jail and was stripped of all his previous honors. What we see in Hustle is that downfall in full, a depraved portrait of a fallen man finally reaching the end of his rope. If you’re not a fan of baseball, or aren’t particularly familiar with the legend of Pete Rose, then Hustle will likely be a foul ball instead of a home run.
But regardless of how successful or not these films ultimately were, they kept Bogdanovich employed – and even more than that, they sharpened his skills. “I couldn’t have made The Cat’s Meow, which we did in 31 days, if I hadn’t have done five television films back-to-back in five years — all of them 19, 20, 22, 24 days.” There would never be another Last Picture Show for the enlightened successor of the Hollywood masters, but he did manage some respectable efforts working in an undervalued medium. Bogdanovich never considered his television works any less worthy of consideration than his feature films, and neither should we. Considering how a number of Bogdanovich’s most treasured films still don’t have proper distribution (even Paper Moon lacks a North American blu-ray release), it should come as no surprise that his televisual period languishes thanks to pervasive obscurity.
We feel very privileged here at The Twin Geeks to have the resources necessary for us to catalog and cover these forgotten films, with special thanks to Scarecrow Video in Seattle, Washington for preserving these works on a physical format, which not even the unsavoriest of internet pirates have thought to claim. It’s up to us to preserve the legacy of filmmakers like Peter Bogdanovich; to do for him what he did for Orson Welles, John Ford, and innumerable others. To prop up his legacy and appreciate everything he gave to the world – classics, flops, scriptures, and chronicles – because, if nothing else, the life and career of Peter Bogdanovich exemplified an appreciation for the art of cinema above all else, and the necessity of its preservation and celebration in equal measure.2h 7m | Mar 5, 2022
- Ep. 151: Change of the Guard, The Films of Peter Bogdanovich - Part 4
While the impetus for Bogdanovich’s movie-making career began with Roger Corman, the genesis of his directorial ambitions came earlier, as an actor studying under the tutelage of Stella Adler and her prestigious New York studio for the Method. Bogdanovich gathered a troupe of his fellow students and directed them in a scene from Clifford Odets’ The Big Knife, which went so successfully that it prompted him to secure the rights to the show so they could mount a complete production. It was, perhaps, inevitable, then, that at some point in his career, Bogdanovich would find himself drawn back to the stage. But where other directors used Broadway as an escape route from the movies, Bogdanovich would use the recent success of Michael Frayn’s bedroom farce Noises Off as a kind of kindling for the reignition of his creative hearth. Bogdanovich retained universally warm impressions of the film for the rest of his career, both the making of and the end result. Despite delivering another lead weight to the theaters, nothing appears to have soured the director’s feelings about Noises Off.
It’s likely that it wasn’t indifference, but expectation for Bogdanovich at this point. He’d been double-crossed or unsupported by studios pretty consistently since he first fell from the height of his powers. Almost 20 years later, he appears content to have filled the role of a director for hire, making plenty of movies but never a profit. The next script to land on his desk was a romantic drama about country music songwriters. On the surface, The Thing Called Love appears to share the least DNA with all the director’s other films, but Bogdanovich fostered an affection for country music beginning with his time on Last Picture Show, eventually culminating in a handful of songwriting credits of his own. The film had a youthful spirit to it not seen since Picture Show, drawing from the energetic talents of its adolescent performers. Tragedy would, however, continue to plague Bogdanovich’s films, as, for the second time in his career, a sudden death would torpedo his film’s box office prospects. The Thing Called Love was the last completed performance by the promising young River Phoenix before he tragically died from a drug overdose on October 30th, 1993. Once again, the studio was reluctant to release the film, and critics couldn’t focus on anything beyond the pall of death hanging over the film. It would be another 8 years before Bogdanovich returned to the theaters.
The familiar comfort of Old Hollywood and its outsized legends provided Bogdanovich the necessary inspiration for his theatrical comeback. The story drew from a perennial rumor once told to him by Orson Welles; a story concerning William Randolph Hearst and his mistress, the youthful actress Marion Davies. This was not the same tale which lent its inspiration to the pages of Citizen Kane. This was a tale of jealousy, indulgence, and murder. A tale which traveled along the lips of every Los Angeles gossipist for close to a century, and was now resting in Bogdanovich’s hands in the form of a stage play titled The Cat’s Meow. As was the case with Nickelodeon, the studio shot down Bogdanovich’s proposal to shoot this silent-era period piece in black-and-white, but he worked around it by employing the same costuming and set design techniques implemented for At Long Last Love, achieving the desired feeling while still shooting in color. The film was completed in an economical 31 days, on a relatively modest budget. The Cat’s Meow was set to be a contender for Bogdanovich, so you know the studio just had to leave him holding the bag yet again. The Cat’s Meow made it to only a handful of screens when it was released, grossed less than half its cost, and saw zero awards prospects for either its luminous director or its superlative cast.
Bogdanovich’s films would not return to the cinema for more than a decade. His last theatrical feature was effectively propped up by the backing of several prominent indie directors who looked to the elder statesman as their treasured forebear. “I let them call me Pops,” Bogdanovich would say, “and I call them my kids.” These same contemporary filmmakers, who earlier championed Bogdanovich’s buried works, were now working to help him realize one final project, which had been gestating for the last 15 years. Squirrels to the Nuts, as it was originally called, was first drafted in the mid ‘90s, after Bogdanovich filed for bankruptcy a second time, as an exercise in escapism between himself and his second wife, Louise Stratten (the late Dorothy’s younger sister). It was another screwball romance from the director, penned with the same personal affection and character as his previous romps, intended as a starring vehicle for his wife and cinematic avatar, John Ritter. Ritter’s premature passing in 2003 put the project in limbo, however, and it wasn’t until Wes Anderson introduced Bogdanovich to his thespian analogue Owen Wilson that the now septuagenarian filmmaker felt he could bring his script to fruition.
She’s Funny That Way, as the film was ultimately titled, had all the bells and whistles of a Bogdanovich film, but wore a coat of contemporary colors, creating some odd dissonance which struck critics and audiences at the time. Here was Bogdanovich making yet another screwball throwback, littered with the most explicit Old Hollywood references he’d ever displayed, with a cast of characters that couldn’t seem farther away from that glitzy nostalgia so often peppered across his films. The whole thing appeared a bit thrown together, as if it was a quick little project assembled by a few friends over a handful of weekends together. And you know what, it kind of was. She’s Funny That Way was shot on a similarly expedient schedule as The Cat’s Meow, on a modest budget largely supplied thanks to the confidence bestowed by executive producers Wes Anderson and Noah Boumbach. It didn’t perform exceptionally well and didn’t make back its cost, but it got Bogdanovich back in the directing chair, and saw the realization of one last personal story for the erstwhile legend. Bogdanovich’s “boys” gave to him what he struggled to supply his mentor with for so many years: the financial opportunity to complete the visions studios never had the faith to pursue.
Bogdanovich would eventually pay back the favor by fulfilling a promise he made to Orson Welles some many years before. In 2018, thanks to decades of dedication and wrangling from his former protégé, preservationist, and devoted friend, Welles’ final film, The Other Side of the Wind, was completed and released to the world. “If anything ever happens to me I want you to promise me you’ll finish the picture.” It took more than 30 years after Welles died for Bogdanovich to fulfill that promise, and even though it was not his own creative spirit behind the wheel, the culmination of The Other Side of the Wind proved to be one of the most significant and crowning achievements of the intrepid movie maverick’s collective career. Bogdanovich passed away on January 6th, 2022, due to complications from Parkison’s disease, at the age of 82. He died an older man than all his idols – Hawks, Hitchcock, Ford, and Welles – leaving behind a legacy as rich and illustrious as those luminaries, with the added feather of preserving their stature tucked in his cap. His life was as active and infectious as his movies, with greater drama than all of Hollywood could muster. With his passing, the few remaining ties to the Hollywood of old have ceased. But through all his work, both on and off the screen, those legends continue to live on. And by revitalizing their stories for a new generation, Bogdanovich secured the traditions he loved while inspiring new filmmakers to follow in his stead, signaling a true Change of the Guard from the masters of old to the artists of today.1h 25m | Feb 25, 2022
- Ep. 150: Change of the Guard, The Films of Peter Bogdanovich - Part 3
Bogdanovich has claimed that the early months of 1980 were the happiest time of his life. He was in emphatic, unequivocal love with Playboy model Dorothy Stratten, and she was equally in love with him. Their blissful romance led to Bogdanovich dreaming up his next film, They All Laughed. Weaving together his affections for Stratten, the ongoing dissolution of her current marriage, and the recent affair shared by stars Ben Gazzara and Audrey Hepburn on their previous film together, Bogdanovich penned the most sincere expression of love he could, and set it against the swooning backdrop of New York City in the spring. Watching the film, it's evident the director was floating on cloud nine during its production, which only makes the dark aftermath of its construction all the more tragic.
On August 13th, 1980, Dorothy Stratten was murdered by her estranged husband during a meeting about their divorce at his rented home in Los Angelos, before then taking his own life with the same gun shortly therafter. Upon hearing the news, Bogdanovich’s life instantly fell apart, with many years of distraught grief and exceedingly poor life choices to follow. Just as his life and career were reaching a concurrent high, everything came crashing down. No studio was willing to touch They All Laughed in the wake of Stratten’s death, and so Bogdanovich dug himself into debt buying the rights to the film and attempted to distribute it himself. Unsurprisingly, this did not go well. The film desperately floundered at the box office and Bogdanovich was forced to declare bankruptcy. The failure of They All Laughed, alongside a number of other auteur-driven flops at the same time, proved to be the final nail in the coffin of the New Hollywood renaissance of director-driven studio productions. Fortunately, the film has regained some traction thanks to a new generation of Hollywood auteurs, with the likes of Quinten Tarantino and Wes Anderson championing it as a masterwork in recent decades.
Another hiatus followed suit, but by 1985 Bogdanovich was back at it, both because he needed to pick up the pieces and because he needed the money. When they were together, Dorothy expressed particular interest in the story of Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man. Bogdanovich pieced together her identification with him as an object of public attention, subjugated for their extreme looks – one radiant, the other malformed. This is what inspired Bogdanovich to make Mask, a biographical story of the similarly-stricken Rocky Dennis, and his struggle to live a normal life with a debilitating facial deformity. Mask was one of Bogdanovich’s most successful films to date, being a big hit with both audiences and critics, as well as snagging some much-deserved awards for leading actress Cher at Cannes, as well an Academy Award for the incredible makeup effects used to believably transform Eric Stoltz into the afflicted young boy.
Still strapped for cash (seriously, do not try to self-distribute your own movies), Bogdanovich was still operating as a director for hire. He found himself under the auspices of the rather notorious Dino De Laurentiis, whom Bogdanovich would later blame for the unmitigated failure of Illegally Yours. With a title tipping its name to a Preston Sturges classic, Bogdanovich was set to make a contemporary screwball comedy for the ‘80s in the same way he did in 1973 with What’s Up, Doc? The commercial appeal of leading man Rob Lowe seemed to assure a hit, but a forced rewrite of the script and a hacked-up editing job seems to have ruined the picture’s chances for success, and caused Bogdanovich enough grief to proclaim it as the worst film he ever made.
In 1987 author Larry McMurty penned a follow-up novel to the beloved The Last Picture Show. Bogdanovich was then naturally in talks to direct the film adaptation of the story set some thirty years after the captivating narrative he first brought to theaters sixteen years earlier. Texasville reunited most of the original cast, including Jeff Bridges and Cybill Shepherd, who began as mere aspirants in Picture Show but were now bonafide stars. The story swaps its deconstruction of youthful angst for the mature interests of middle-aged malaise, investigating how the reverberations of the past reflect upon and impact the present. But without the same haunting cinematography and sense of place, not to mention the confidence of the studio behind him, Bogdanovich’s film faltered yet again at the box office. It was a sad reminder of how the young protégé of Orson Welles, whose second feature was once heralded alongside the mighty Citizen Kane, had, much like the great director himself, fallen from the public’s graces. No longer did his name command the same capital as once before, having only further ruined his reputation by constantly fighting with the studios in a vain attempt to regain his creative integrity.1h 11m | Feb 18, 2022
- Ep. 149: Change of the Guard, The Films of Peter Bogdanovich, Part 2
It was during the casting process for The Last Picture Show when Cybill Shepherd was first brought to Bogdanovich’s attention. He and his wife Polly Platt picked Shepherd out from the cover of a magazine, with Platt in particular noting the devious sexuality she possessed which suited perfectly the role of Jacy Farrow. Her promiscuous nature would prove potent off screen as well, much to Bogdanovich’s unexpected delight, and Platt’s heartbroken chagrin. The affair between Bogdanovich and Shephard led to a bitter divorce between the director and his creative partner, signaling with it a major shift in the overall quality of his output as well. They severed ties completely after completing Paper Moon, freeing Bogdanovich to collaborate with his new muse for the first time since his sophomore feature.
Initially, Bogdanovich wanted his good friend Orson Welles to direct Shepherd in the adaptation of Henry James’ 19th century romance novel Daisy Miller, but when the elder filmmaker deferred, Bogdanovich took up the project himself. He said in hindsight that he regretted making the picture – not because it was bad (reviews were generally favorable at the time), but because the material was unlikely to (and ultimately didn’t) resonate with audiences. Its lackluster showing at the box office shuttered his new production studio, inviting the Hollywood press to scrutinize both him and Shepherd with unforeseen hostility. This wave of criticism reached a fever pitch with Bogdanovich’s next film: another throwback to the kind of classic films Bogdanovich loved and found success in reviving before.
At Long Last Love was an ode to the early era of movie musicals, in which decadence and charm worked to avail the masses of the sadness and turmoil pervading the country at the heights of The Great Depression. With its Cole Porter soundtrack and Art Deco-inspired sets, the film was set to recreate the magic of the old Astaire and Rogers films. Notices for At Long Last Love were utterly abysmal, invoking such inexplicable wrath from both critics and audiences that Bogdanovich’s entire career was almost completely derailed on the spot. Bogdanovich himself was personally put on blast, with reviews citing his arrogance and his affair with Shepherd as evidence of vanity. The film was rightfully criticized for its mishandeling of the musical elements, pointing out the egregious results of casting stars like Burt Reynolds for their names over their vocal skills. In retrospect, the film isn’t quite the train wreck the trade papers made it out to be at the time, and in fact has a rather niché following thanks to recent reevaluations. Its lack of availability on both physical media and streaming services, though, means its redemptive arc has yet to fully blossom.
After two successive flops, Bogdanovich’s clout had dropped significantly within the industry. He struggled to find proper financing for his next venture, and when he tried to convince the studio that, as with his previous films, this next project should be shot in black-and-white, they balked. They also rejected his initial casting choices, including Shepherd again in a leading role. Hollywood had become completely embittered with the dynamic couple, and saw the repudiation of their recent collaborations as a referendum on their popularity and success. Nevertheless, Bogdanovich plunged headlong into Nickelodeon, an adventurous chronicle depicting the burgeoning era of the movies, in which plucky bands of creative upstarts formed the nucleus of the medium while battling against the tyranny of monopolistic patent companies. While not a flop, it did little to reignite Bogdanovich’s career, and with production troubles straining both his creative energies and personal relationships, the once inimitable director threw up his hands and quit… for three years.
Since Hollywood had done such a thorough job of roasting him over the coals for three straight years, Bogdanovich was wise to make his next project as far away from there as possible. Saint Jack is a story about a magnanimous pimp working brothels in Singapore, with Ben Gazzara shining in the lead role. Bogdanovich’s reprieve from movie-making, and the system as a whole, appears to have been quite healing, as Saint Jack is largely considered an artistic return-to-form. The confident, charismatic direction behind the lens certainly recalls the self-assurance once associated with the youthful auteur, but its whirlwind-like approach to narrative and structure made it a difficult sell in 1979, leaving critics dazzled but audiences estranged. Nonetheless, Bogdanovich had regained his creative footing, and was once again reaching a crest in his career. He fell in love yet again upon returning home, and was set to make what he would later consider the uncontestable favorite of his own movies. No one could have predicted the shockingly tragic turn his life was about to take.1h 20m | Feb 11, 2022