“Daisy Miller”, the cataclysm in costumes that ruined the career of Peter Bogdanovich

A GLANCE FROM PIERRE MURAT — In 1974, the director shone with a thousand lights in the new Hollywood of Friedkin and Coppola. But his adaptation of the novel by Henry James will experience a bitter failure which will begin his decline.

This is the story of a beautiful American. Passionate and voluble. Innocent, but insolent. Alice Miller, who calls herself Daisy, meets, towards the end of the XIXe century, in Europe, a compatriot who will only understand it too late… Henry James wrote this short story in 1878. The same year, he signed Europeans, which tells a bit the same story, but by reversing the places: Switzerland and the Italy of Daisy Miller made way for Boston. But the same misunderstanding reigns between two types of Americans: those who have lived too long in their native land and those who have not lived there enough. Take Frederick Winterbourne, in Daisy Miller. Admittedly, he is sad and austere, as the young people often are at Henry James’s, but it is his stays in France, Germany and Switzerland that have, paradoxically, “dried him out”. He’s too “European” now – that is, a little cynical, even reactionary – to admit that Daisy Miller says what she does and does what she says and doesn’t care about the rest. Unseemly, she may be, but cunning, no, surely not. Frederick Winterbourne cannot conceive it. Hence the drama…

When Peter Bogdanovich insisted, in 1974, on bringing the short story of James to the screen, he was all-powerful. Hollywood has recently discovered the politics of authors, and it doesn’t matter if they are young and crazy, as long as they make money. Roman Polanski was therefore able to shoot Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown, Francis Ford Coppola alternates the spectacular Godfather (10 nominations and 3 Oscars) with the intimate secret talk (Golden Palm at Cannes 1974). And William Friedkin reconciles critic and public with The French Connection. Bogdanovich, he has just aligned three successes : The last session (1971), a bittersweet chronicle of early 1950s teens adapted from the novel by Larry McMurtry, We’re packing, doctor? (1972), Howard Hawks-style comedy with a raging Barbra Streisand, and papermoon (1973), evocation of the America of the depression, with the star of Love Story, Ryan O’Neal, in duet with his daughter, Tatum. He makes the cover of magazines with his conquests. He proclaims his cinephilia – as will Quentin Tarantino, later –, except that he celebrates high-end filmmakers: Orson Welles, John Ford, Billy Wilder… In short, it is ” the king of the world “, what Hollywood does not support, in general…

Peter Bogdanovich on the set of “Daisy Miller”.

Still Photographers, Deborah Beer and Gideon Bachmann/Peter Bogdanovich Collection Courtesy of The Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana.

Obsolete customs in Vietnam America

Daisy Miller will be the cataclysm in its dazzling destiny. None – not even him! – dream of a commercial triumph. Just think: a film in costumes, on obsolete mores, in the America of Vietnam and Watergate… But even in his worst nightmares, he doesn’t foresee such a flop. It is, above all, his companion, the actress, Cybill Shepherd, who takes the hits. But it is with him that the professionals settle accounts. Too proud. Too talented, too…

Because Daisy Miller – reissued on DVD by Carlotta Films – is a very beautiful film. First scenes, superb, in a Swiss hotel frozen in time, where an insufferable kid – a caricature of the narrow-minded American that he is sure to become – has fun creating disorder. Last amazing shot: another American, an adult this time, suddenly realizing that he missed out on his life. Between the two, a cruel marivaudage in an Italian park where Daisy Miller agrees to discredit herself definitively in the eyes of right-thinking people. And especially these brief moments in Rome, at night, in the Colosseum, which one wonders how Bogdanovich managed to make it so funereal: both out of time and harbinger of nothingness… Not to mention the grandiose reply uttered by the old relative snob by Frederick Winterbourne, exasperated by the vulgarity of this old Europe: “Ah, if these Italians would agree to put a little less garlic in their music »

Cybill Shepherd and Barry Brown in

Cybill Shepherd and Barry Brown in “Daisy Miller”.

1974 Paramount Pictures Corp.

Prisoner of its past splendor

After Daisy Miller, strangely, Bogdanovich breaks up: his new fiancée, Dorothy Stratten, with Marilyn’s innocent and gentle gaze, is murdered by her jealous husband (1). And all his films crash (apart from the most mediocre: mask, a tearful melodrama with Cher, in 1985). What to do when everything falls apart? We are trying to start from scratch. To return to the sources. In 1990, Bogdanovich therefore agreed to rediscover, aging and disillusioned, the characters of The last session who made him famous. Texasville – also reissued by Carlotta – is a funny, sad film: a melancholy farce, from which stands out a heartbreaking supporting role, played by Timothy Bottoms. He was the cinephile of the band, he became the mayor of his small town. But because he’s lost his head a little, he now projects films into the sky that only he knows how to see…

Peter Bogdanovich died on January 6, 2022, still a prisoner of his past splendor, like a hero of Francis Scott Fitzgerald… We would like to pay tribute to the audacious – why not those of Carlotta Films? – allow us to review his comedies, lively and sharp. Above all And everyone was laughing… (1981), elegant, silky, caustic film: the story of sentimental private detectives, perpetually in love with the women they are asked to follow. This is one of the very last roles of Audrey Hepburn, moreover. How to resist ?

r Daisy Miller, by Peter Bogdanovich. On DVD or Blu-ray from Carlotta Films, collector’s edition €28, single edition €20.
q texasville, by Peter Bogdanovich. On DVD or Blu-ray from Carlotta Films, €20.

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“Daisy Miller”, the cataclysm in costumes that ruined the career of Peter Bogdanovich