Peter Bogdanovich, farewell to the magnificent loser

Even more than the wife of Bogdanovich and the mother of his daughters, Antonia and Sashy, Polly Platt is his guardian angel. It is she who suggests adapting The Last Picture Show (Simon and Schuster, 1966) from Larry mcmurtry and again she who, having spotted her on the cover of the magazine Glamour, recommend the model Cybill shepherd as Jacy Farrow. What she will have plenty of time to regret: fallen in love with his actress during the shooting, Bogdanovich leaves his wife in 1971. But the latter continues to be his artistic collaborator on Shall we pack our bags, doctor? – crazy comedy a la Leo McCarey, starring Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal – and on Cotton candy – worn by the superstar interpreter of Love story (1970) and her daughter Tatum. We can legitimately wonder why, after The last session, depicting, like all the great films of the 1970s, the other side of the American dream, Bogdanovich has chosen to chain comedies ad nauseam? Or again, how could such a shrewd mind have missed the Godfather, of The Exorcist and of Chinatown (1974), which had been offered to him as a priority? “I hadn’t read Mario Puzo’s novel, but I refused to make a film glorifying the Mafia,” he recalls. As it concerns Chinatown, it wasn’t a bad script but I didn’t want Faye Dunaway, who annoyed me. As for The Exorcist, it’s simple, I hate horror movies. Everyone has their own thing, right? I’m not saying Coppola or Scorsese weren’t doing interesting things, but my benchmarks were Ford, Hawks, Hitchcock, King Vidor or Samuel Fuller. ”

This lack of interest in his contemporaries did not prevent Bogdanovich from creating, as early as 1971, The Directors Company with Coppola and Friedkin, and an advance of $ 31 million from Paramount. He made two films for this company: Cotton candy, still in black and white and multiplying virtuoso sequence shots, and Daisy miller (1974) in color, with his muse, Cybill Shepherd. Coppola only realized one: Secret conversation, Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1974. “As for Friedkin,” he sighs, “he contented himself with pocketing a third of the profits from the two films I had made without delivering anything for our company. The press of the time was unfair with Daisy miller, a refined adaptation of the eponymous novel by Henry James, heralding the equally sophisticated ones by James Ivory. Veteran Henry Hathaway, who was not known in a suit suit, said Bogdanovich made this film only to showcase his “insignificant little thing” as a woman. The fact remains that in 1976, the king is really naked: while Scorsese wins the Palme d’Or at Cannes with Taxi Driver and that Woody Allen raided the Oscars with Annie hall, Bogdanovich pedal in vintage semolina with sound Nickelodeon, luxurious evocation of the glorious days of the silent – from David W. Griffith to Mack Sennett – but completely deserted by the spirit. We do not really know if he transferred to a museum guard or a midinette, but he looks very pale next to a Stanley Kubrick or a Sam Peckinpah stylizing violence, a Friedkin asking the question of evil. , or of an Alan J. Pakula revealing the sordid cogs of the reason of state. Then, against all odds, a miracle happened. He delivers Jack the Magnificent, adapted from a novel by Paul Theroux, produced by Corman and Hugh heffner of Playboy, and filmed almost underground in Singapore.


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The film tells the story of a pimp ruined by the mafia who agrees to trap a politician in order to recover financially. But it is above all the portrait of a man adrift, in a world without god, who discovers, in extremis, the moral sense. Alas, this masterpiece does not achieve the expected success. Bogdanovich drowns his spleen in the heights of Bel Air which he crisscrosses in a Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, shooting his Cohiba, and in Hugh Heffner’s Playboy Mansion where he discovers, captivated, Dorothy Stratten. After eight years with Cybill Shepherd, he becomes infatuated with this ingenuous blonde – playmate of the month of August 1979, then playmate of the year 1980 – for which he writes And everyone was laughing (1981), with the help of Blaine Novak, from the title of a song by George and Ira Gershwin. This romantic comedy, with Audrey hepburn and Ben Gazzara in the leading roles, is an atomic turnip. But, personally, Bogdanovich hit the jackpot with his muse whose divine curves and adorable candor would make a dead man hard. Not for long: on August 14, 1980, we find the starlet of Canadian origin, disfigured in caliber 12, at his chief pygmalion, the so-called Paul Snider. They had started divorce proceedings but, not being a Zen master, the latter unsoldered her, before sodomizing her and then gorging himself, in turn, with buckshot. Is it because the pianist of the Polo Lounge has just tackled “As Time Goes By”, the melancholy theme of Casablanca (1942), that Peter Bogdanovich refuses to comment on this tragedy? “Even today, it hurts just to think about it,” he said in his deepest voice. A French publisher recently asked me which of my books he could translate and I suggested The Killing of A Unicorn (William Morrow Co, 1984) devoted to Dorothy who was a splendid person. It’s my best, most personal book. The movie I made with her is also my favorite. “

The promise to Orson Welles

Some believe that with this book, against Heffner, the director has reached the bottom of ridicule and complacency, but the descent into hell has only just begun: firmly convinced thatAnd everyone was laughing is the eighth wonder of the world, Bogdanovich buys the rights to it and distributes it himself. The result: an integral oven that costs him his pretty shack with nine bedrooms and seven bathrooms in the golden enclave of Bel Air. From then on, the petulant wonderboy to whom life seemed to smile with all its teeth, only wears a resigned pout, to the point that one would imagine him playing the stoic Jack Flowers in a remake of Jack the Magnificent. “I couldn’t,” he said. Ben Gazzara really came from the streets; it’s not my case. “I ask him to clarify and he replies:” You will understand when The Other Side of The Wind will come out. Orson Welles was inspired by me to write it and I gave it the best acting performance of my career. “

Since the end of the 1980s, Bogdanovich has not stopped working for film and television. Adored by the “new generation” – from Quentin Tarantino to Noah Baumbach and Wes Anderson, he still earns his living by acting, notably shining in The Sopranos (1999) and How I Met Your Mother (2005). But his “new” role, in the unseen film by Orson Welles expected this fall, is timely. Dozens of articles and a book by Josh Karp, published in 2015, (Orson Welles’s Last Movie: The Making of The Other Side of the Wind, St. Martin’s Press) were devoted to this stylistic UFO. Welles began to write it, with his mistress Oja Kodar, the day after Ernest Hemingway’s death, and filmed it between 1970 and 1976. Satire of old Hollywood, symbolized by the macho director who plays John huston, as much as the “pretentious” or technically “indigent” auteur cinema of the time – from Antonioni to Warhol via Godard – The Other Side Of The Wind recounts the last evening of a filmmaker to whom we come to pay homage, and includes documentary images, shot by the participants: a sort of Citizen Kane live, interactive, and with triple bottom because the director, who turns out to mask his homosexuality behind an ultra-virile image, and who will die at dawn in a car accident, also projects pieces of his new feature film during this evening. “Orson had made me promise to finish his film if he were to disappear, which I have tried to do since 1985, but between the heirs and the Franco-Iranian beneficiaries, it was impossible,” explains Bogdanovich. After an attempt by Showtime, then by the tandem formed by the company Royal Road Entertainment and the German producer Jens Koethner Kaul, Netflix won the bet and entrusted Frank Marshall and Peter Bogdanovich with the task of supervising the editing and post-production. ” Yes The Other Side Of The Wind was released in the mid-1970s, everyone would have cried genius, this film was so avant-garde. John Huston is brilliant there and should have the Oscar for Best Actor posthumously. As for the character of the young filmmaker in vogue, protege of the Hollywood veteran, Orson Welles initially entrusted it to Rich Little but he found that it did not stick. I said to him: “No wonder, you wrote it with me in mind, it would be better if I played it myself.” He replied, “Would you mind? You are already a film critic; suddenly we would give your role to another … ”” Announced at Cannes in 2010 and then last May, the film was not selected for the official selection, Netflix refusing to release it in theaters. Last I heard, it could be presented at other festivals – Venice, New York, Telluride – and would only be released in the United States.

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Peter Bogdanovich, farewell to the magnificent loser