The Last Picture Show

last-picture-show

I saw first saw The Last Picture Show back in 1971 at a twin theater called the Columbia 1 and 2 located on 2nd Avenue on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. When the film opened, it created a phenomenon with audiences crowding the sidewalks in long lines waiting for the next available show. The Last Picture Show was only director Peter Bogdanovich’s second film; the first was the low budget Targets. Exquisitely filmed in black and white by Robert Surtees (The Graduate, Act of Violence, The Collector) the cinematography visually expresses and adds immensely to the bleakness of a dying small Texas town. Continue reading

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Targets (1969) Peter Bogdanovich

1968 was a pivotal year in the United States. There were the duel assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Kennedy’s death ended the dream of Camelot while King’s death resulted in riots, neighborhoods burning, and racial tensions reaching new heights of discontent. In Vietnam, troop levels went over 500,000. The Siege of Khe Shan and the TET offensive caused Americans to wonder if the war was winnable. Emotionally and politically dead, LBJ refused to seek or accept another term as President. In August, the Democratic National Convention in Chicago was marred by violence between protesters against the war and the Chicago police force. Vietnam was the first television war, blurring the senses between real and fictional violence. Unlike today, audiences back then were not use to watching the 6 o’clock news and seeing the blood of American soldiers flowing in the mud…unless it was just a movie.

In August of that year, “Targets”, a small film directed by a young novice director named Peter Bogdanovich was released to generally good reviews and not so good business. The film contains two narratives, one about Bobby Thompson, a seemingly all-American young man and the second about Byron Orlok an aging horror movie star, whose paths will cross blurring real vs. fictitious violence in our society.

Bogdanovich was already well known as a film writer for Esquire magazine; a film programmer for the Museum of Modern Art in New York City; a champion of such directors as Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, Howard Hawks, Allan Dwan and many others, all of who, he helped bring back to the attention of  cineastes. Bogdanovich’s book, “Who The Devil Made It?” is a collection of interviews with these directors, and many others, is an essential read for film lovers.  Bogdanovich, along with his then wife Polly Platt, would soon leave New York for Los Angeles where he hoped to break into the film industry. He would meet Roger Corman at a film screening, and eventually was offered a job directing. His first jobs for Corman were on films like “Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women” where he was given two Russian science fiction films and told to add some additional footage resulting in a new film.  “Targets” was his first film from scratch, well almost. According to Andrew Yule in his Bogdanovich biography “Picture Shows: The Life and Films of Peter Bogdanovich,” Boris Karloff owed Corman two days of work. Corman gave Bogdanovich the opportunity to make “Targets” if he incorporated about 20 minutes of outtake footage from Corman’s “The Terror.”  He would then be able to use Boris Karloff for approximately another 20 minutes of new footage and he could shoot an additional 40 minutes to fill out the feature, that way Corman had a new Karloff film.  Bogdanovich and Platt would write the story and screenplay (according to IMDB Sam Fuller had a hand in writing also) and direct. Corman sold the film to Paramount who purchased it for $150,000 netting Corman a profit of about $20,000. Continue reading

Nickelodeon (1976) Peter Bogdanovich

Peter Bogdanovich’s love of movies is well-known. Over the years he has interviewed many of cinemas greatest artists including Orson Welles, Fritz Lang, John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock and Leo McCarey among others. In his career he has made two films looking back at Hollywood’s early days, the most recent being the 2001 “Cat’s Meow.”   In 1976, Peter Bogdanovich made “Nickelodeon”, a film that focuses on a group of fledging filmmakers and their battle with what became known as the Patent Company War.  Overall, “Nickelodeon” is a mixed bag of treats and disappointment.  There are some wonderful sequences that evoke those early days with obvious love and passion. On the other hand the film seems to be a string of two reel short films tied together by a slim connecting thread, at times a mix of heavy handed slapstick humor and unconvincing pathos. The Director’s Cut which is the version I watched corrects one of the major problems of the original release, it is in black and white instead of color. It also made matters worse with another problem; it is longer by three minutes. The film has been among the missing until a year ago when it was released on DVD (both the original theatrical version and the director’s cut) along with Bogdanovich’s masterpiece “The Last Picture Show” as a two disc set.

Originally release in 1976 right after Bogdanovich’s made what would become his biggest flop, the still then unreleased “At Long Last Love.”  “Nickelodeon” also died at the box office basically killing his superstar directorial status. What makes the film most interesting is Bogdanovich’s background as an interviewer of some of the greatest and earliest filmmakers of Hollywood, the previously mentioned John Ford, along wiht Alan Dwan and Raoul Walsh (Walsh even had a bit role as an actor in The Birth of a Nation).  Bogdanovich incorporated some of the stories related to him by these greats. One example is a scene where O’Neal’s character film director Leo Harrigan is behind a day in his shooting schedule and is being jumped on by a producer. To get back on schedule Leo rips five pages out of the script and tells the producer “now we’re back on schedule.” This actually happened and was told to Bogdanovich by John Ford. There are some other fine scenes that showcase the early days of filmmaking including a sequence where the main characters go to the premiere of D.W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation” (originally called “The Clansman”), a revelation to all who are in the audience.

Bogdanovich blamed Columbia honcho David Begelman for the failure while producer Irwin Winkler blames Bogdanovich. Peter wanted the film made in black and white and considering that the film’s story focused on the early days of filmmaking black and white seemed an artistically reasonable choice. It should not have been a difficult choice for the producers to make considering that some successful black and white films had been released during that period, including “Young Frankenstein” and Bogdanovich’s own “The Last Picture Show.”  The debate should have been a no brainer, still the studio (Begelman) said no, they wanted color. Bogdanovich also wanted John Ritter, who had a supporting role in the film, to have the lead role subsequently played by Ryan O’Neal. This would also have been a good choice since O’Neal’s performance, heavy handed and flat, is one of the film’s problems. That said, not all of Bogdanovich’s choices were golden. He wanted then girl friend Cybill Sheppard in the leading female role played by newcomer Jane Hitchcock. Winkler for his part blamed Bogdanovich inflated ego and his infusion of early Hollywood tales to what he felt was detrimental to an already excellent screenplay written by W. D. Richter (Brubaker, Invasion of the Body Snatchers). Whoever is truly to blame, if you can blame just one person, will never be known. What we are left with is an interesting, though not totally successful  film reflecting Bogdanovich’s obvious affection for those early days of Hollywood and a new industry.

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