The death of the director Peter Bogdanovich caught me by surprise and saddened me yesterday. The New York Times obituary by Margalit Fox captures something of the vagaries of his life and career.
In my memory he will always be the boy wonder who arrived seemingly out of nowhere with the brilliant black and white throwbacks The Last Picture Show (with the unforgettable performances of Ben Johnson and Cloris Leachman) and Paper Moon (with the unforgettable performance of Tatum O’Neal). Earlier this week I watched The Last Picture Show (recorded from a TCM broadcast that I think constituted the director’s cut restoring a scene or two better left out of the original) for what must be the fifth time.
Saturated in movie history, he may have put his encyclopedic knowledge and brilliant (forgive the repetition) talent to best use in the throwback screwball comedy What’s Up, Doc? I love everything about that movie, including the performances of Madeline Kahn (her film debut), Barbra Streisand, Kenneth Mars, and Austin Pendleton.
I can’t say his directorial abilities represented the least of his talents, but he had many among which to choose. He was a fantastic raconteur, critic, historian, interviewer, writer and actor. Fox uses the word “prodigy” to describe him and that is the word I was searching for before I read her obit.
Many interviews of Bogdanovich are available on YouTube. They are all worth listening to. He interviewed and befriended the great directors (and actors) of Hollywood’s golden era and mimics them brilliantly (forgive the repetition) in the course of the interviews. It was Cary Grant, I think, who customarily asked Bogdanovich to imitate Howard Hawks whenever they spoke.
Hawks was only one among his repertoire including John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles and others. Listen to Bogdanovich imitate Ford (hilariously) at the top of his 2020 Hillsdale lecture on Ford as director here and the others in his 1997 interview with Charlie Rose here, his 2017 interview with Ben Mankiewicz here, and many other videos accessible here.
Bogdanovich’s documentary The Great Buster deserves special mention along with Directed by John Ford (the link is to a video with French subtitles on YouTube). In addition to everything else, Bogdanovich was a brilliant (forgive the repetition) teacher. Watching the The Great Buster, by the way, I can see Bogdanovich stole from the best for his own purposes. The trailer is below.