Born in upstate New York to immigrants who had fled the Nazis, Peter Bogdanovich (1939–2022) will always be remembered as the notable American auteur who took the French path from criticism to filmmaking. An obsessive filmgoer and sometime stage actor who, as a teenager, had studied with Stella Adler, he wrote monographs on Welles, Hawks, Ford and Hitchcock and also mounted a series of influential retrospectives at MoMA in the 1960s. Decamping to California, he got his Hollywood break assisting B-movie king Roger Corman on The Wild Angels (1966) before directing, with Corman’s help, his acclaimed debut, Targets (1968). Like those of the ex-Cahiers du cinéma auteurs he admired, his films rework the cinematic past – from the black-and-white paeans of The Last Picture Show (1971) and Paper Moon (1973) to the screwball homages of What’s Up, Doc? (1972) and his very late return to the form, Squirrels to the Nuts (2022) – but transcend their inspirations to create something wholly original. Peter Tonguette describes him as a master of subjective cinema: “Everyone has their reasons in Bogdanovich’s universe, and we see those reasons clearly because he shows us the world from ‘everyone’s’ perspective.” Our six-film retrospective takes in some of Bogdanovich’s best-known films but also reappraises titles unfairly treated on release (At Long Last Love, 1975), critically acclaimed but otherwise ignored (the Cassavetesian Saint Jack, 1979) or even butchered in their first run (Squirrels to the Nuts being the director’s cut of 2014’s She’s Funny That Way). In short, both newcomers and seasoned fans will find much to enjoy and explore.
Peter Bogdanovich (1968) 90 mins – M
Bogdanovich’s directorial debut is an unconventional horror film starring Boris Karloff as an ageing actor tired of playing ghoulish roles. Loosely based on the 1966 Charles Whitman murder spree, it cleverly explores the ethics of violence by counterposing Karloff’s screen monster against the young sociopath. Bogdanovich also makes an appearance as a director working for a hack producer (paralleling his relationship with Roger Corman), who, at one point, watches Hawks’ The Criminal Code – featuring a psychopathic Karloff – on TV! This moody critique of American society is brilliantly shot by László Kovács.
8:50pm THE LAST PICTURE SHOW
Peter Bogdanovich (1971) 126 mins – M
Arguably his masterpiece, Bogdanovich’s second feature adapts Larry McMurtry’s coming-of-age story set in a dust-blown 1950s Texas town. Featuring a sensitive ensemble cast (many in breakthrough roles), this tender elegy was nominated for eight Oscars and won two (for Cloris Leachman and Ben Johnson). While acknowledging its homages to Hawks, Ford and Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons, David Thomson argues that the film’s real flavour is French; he compares its warmth for “so many clearly defined characters” to the work of Jean Renoir. With Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, Ellen Burstyn and Cybill Shepherd.
7:00pm WHAT’S UP, DOC?
Peter Bogdanovich (1972) 94 mins – G
Bogdanovich’s exquisitely paced screwball comedy is a loving homage to the genre’s classical era, particularly Hawks’ Bringing Up Baby. Barbra Streisand stars as the warmly exasperating Judy who will stop at nothing to win over Ryan O’Neal’s dithering musicologist. Adding to the chaos are absurd subplots involving mistaken identity and misplaced luggage, a note-perfect feature debut performance by Madeline Kahn, and dynamic San Francisco location cinematography by László Kovács. With Kenneth Mars, Austin Pendleton and Michael Murphy.
35mm print courtesy of the National Film and Sound Archive, Australia.
8:50pm SQUIRRELS TO THE NUTS
Peter Bogdanovich (2014/2022) 113 mins – Unclassified 15+
In 2014, what would turn out to be Bogdanovich’s final fiction feature (starring Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston and Imogen Poots) was released in a bowdlerised form as She’s Funny That Way. Plot twist: in the year prior to Bogdanovich’s death in January 2022 the original cut was rediscovered, its title an homage to Ernst Lubitsch’s final completed film, Cluny Brown. With a vibrant New York City as a backdrop and some key players from the director’s oeuvre, including Cybill Shepherd, Tatum O’Neal and Austin Pendleton, this is the resurrected film’s first scheduled screening in Australia.
With a video introduction by James Kenney, who found the lost version.
7:00pm SAINT JACK
Peter Bogdanovich (1979) 112 mins – MA 15+
Ben Gazzara gives one of his greatest performances as the titular Singapore pimp with a heart of gold, who finds time during his various schemes to develop a friendship with Denholm Elliott’s uptight English accountant. Bogdanovich’s adaptation of Paul Theroux’s novel struggled to find its audience at the time of release but was an assured return to form after several misfires. Eschewing his earlier reliance on genre homages for something more open and ambiguous results in a somewhat Cassavetesian vibe, bringing the director’s facility with actors to the fore. With Bogdanovich and George Lazenby in supporting roles.
9:05pm AT LONG LAST LOVE
Peter Bogdanovich (1975) 118 mins – G
Pauline Kael called it “vapid”, Jonathan Rosenbaum derided it as “an eccentric misreading of Lubitsch”, and Roger Ebert dubbed it “a light, silly, impeccably stylish entertainment”. Bogdanovich’s first major flop has gained a cult reputation as a fascinating addition to the director’s revisionist work with Hollywood genres in the 1970s. Set on Broadway during the 1930s, the film is a musical comprised of songs by Cole Porter. Difficult to see for many years, it was eventually recut by Bogdanovich in a version closer to his intentions. With Burt Reynolds (yes, he sings!), Cybill Shepherd and Madeline Kahn.