Peter Bogdanovich, ex-wife Louise Stratton and the makers of a documentary on Bogdanovich’s career entitled “One Day Since Yesterday,” (Director Bill Teck; Producer Victor Brazo) attended a screening entitled “Peter Bogdanovich and the Lost American Film” at the Chicago Film Festival on Sunday, October 16th. The “lost American Film” in question is Bogdanovich’s movie “They All Laughed,” which starred his then-love interest Dorothy Stratten opposite John Ritter and was Audrey Hepburn’s last film, as the love interest for Ben Gazarra.
During the evening’s presentation of the Golden Hugo Award to Bogdanovich for his life achievements in film, the Bill Teck documentary was screened and Bogdanovich answered questions afterwards from Michael Phillips of the Chicago “Tribune” and talked about his storied career. [He didn’t take questions from the Chicago “Sun Times,” as that phone interview was canceled.] But the legendary director did convey quite a bit of information to the audience.The audience was treated to clips from some of Bogdanovich’s greatest films (see chart at end of article) and interviews with those who know him well, like Jeff Bridges and Ben Gazzara.
When the portions of the film that focused on Dorothy’s heinous murder were reached in the documentary, Bogdanovich left the theater. About ten minutes later director Bill Teck followed, no doubt to check on him.
As he spoke to us, some grisly coincidences were revealed:
1) Dorothy Stratten was murdered by her psychotic husband/manager after she began her affair with Bogdanovich, seemingly ruining his life from that point on. (Dorothy’smurder was particularly brutal and heinous).
(2) “They All Laughed” was Audrey Hepburn’s last film (and that’s ignoring John Ritter’s untimely death at a too-young age)
(3) Bogdanovich directed River Phoenix’s last completed film, “The Thing Called Love,” before River Phoenix died of a drug overdose in 1993 outside the Viper Room in Hollywood; at the time, Phoenix was at work on a movie called “Dark Blood.”
(4) Ben Gazarra’s interview with Bill Teck that we saw this night was his last interview
(5) Bogdanovich, during his remarks, said that Bob Fosse’s making of “Star 80,” (which Bogdanovich objected to and said was not accurate, “killed him.” It was Fosse’s last film)
So, yikes! (Does the term “Kiss of Death” resonate, or is it just me?)
In the Q&A following the documentary, Michael Phillips of the Chicago “Tribune” asked a question that many might have posed: “How do you manage to remain friends with an astonishing number of exes?” Bogdanovich answered, “If one aspect of a relationship doesn’t work, why dump it all?”
His most lasting and well-known relationships were with wife Polly Platt, a working relationship and one that lasted from 1962 to 1971, producing two daughters, Antonia and Sashy (he put both girls in “They All Laughed”). In 1971, while making “The Last Picture Show,” he fell in love with its star, Cybill Shepherd, and left his wife. They were a couple until 1978. In 1980, while making “They All Laughed,” Bogdanovich became romantically involved with Dorothy Stratten, 1980 Playmate of the Year who was murdered in 1981. He married her younger sister Louise in 1988 when he was 49 and Louise was 20; they divorced in 2001.
Bogdanovich’s climb to director was not the traditional path through film school. Instead, he privately reviewed every movie he saw from 1952 to 1970 and sought out the great masters of film to interview them and write about them. A true student of the cinema, he has written extensively on all matters concerning film.
Hired as a film programmer at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York City in the sixties, Bogdanovich organized film retrospectives of Orson Welles, John Ford and Howard Hawks. One of those film retrospectives on Alfred Hitchcock I had the good fortune to see, taking my daughter from individual table-top computer to individual table-top computer to view such classic Hitchcock film scenes as the shower scene from “Psycho” or the attack scenes from “The Birds.”
Bogdanovich would ask publicists for invitations to movie premieres and industry party invitations. Roger Corman was sitting behind him at one of these events and, after a conversation in which Corman complimented Bogdanovich on a piece he had written for Esquire magazine, Corman offered him a job directing.
Bogdanovich accepted immediately, taking on the film “Targets” that starred Boris Karloff. Bogdanovich has said of this experience (undertaken under the pseudonym Derek Thomas), “I went from getting the laundry to directing the picture in three weeks. Altogether, I worked 22 weeks—preproduction, shooting, second unit, cutting, dubbing—I haven’t learned as much since.” (Quote from “What They Learned from Roger Corman” by Beverly Gray of MovieMaker magazine, spring of 2001.)
During his remarks this night, Bogdanovich articulated his dislike of numerous, obvious cuts, a style in vogue today (think Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon’s “Bourne” movies), which Bogdanovich called “the MTV School of filmmaking.”
Bogdanovich’s opinion: “I don’t like that. You cut for emphasis. I believe in the intelligence of the audience, (originally an Otto Preminger quote).”
When asked about how he developed his own style, he replied, “I never thought about style. I was interested in telling the story and using the craft to make the film the most effective way possible. I saw a lot of pictures and I’d say, ‘Why is the camera there?’ I was told always cut on movement. Then they’ll never notice the cut. The MTV influence, which I despise but which is in vogue nowadays, they want you to notice the cuts.” To make his point, Bogdanovich offered up Ginger Rodgers/Fred Astaire musical numbers or Gene Kelly’s dance numbers.
Asked if he had ever considered following some other notable directors into directing for television, Bogdanovich said, “I directed an episode of The Sopranos in the 5th season. But, to do the job right, you have to be in charge. I don’t look forward to it when you don’t know your cast, but I did know the cast of The Sopranos.” (from his role as Dr. Melfi’s psychotherapist, Dr. Elliot Kupferberg.)
Bogdanovich noted of his Sopranos time, “We couldn’t change a word of dialogue on The Sopranos without consulting the director. If you wanted to change anything, you had to call him (David Chase) up and ask him.” Given those strictures, he was told to ask Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco) a question, but no question had been written for him. He improvised a question. The director said, “Ask a better question.” Laughing, Bogdanovich said he told the director that if he wanted a better question, he should write a better (expletive deleted) question for his character to ask.
Throughout the evening’s question and answer period, Bogdanovich, an avid film historian, kept repeating how much he had learned from studying other great directors. He repeated this nugget of information from an interview he did with Howard Hawkes in 1962. Hawkes told him, “It’s not about plot. The plot is people either getting together or not. Hawkes wanted to focus (in Rio Bravo) on the characters. I loved him. I learned so much from him and from Ford and Fritz Lang, Otto Preminger, Renoir, Alfred Hitchcock. I was so lucky. And they were all my friends. Well, maybe not Fritz so much.” (laughter)
Asked about his collaboration with Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal in 1972, “What’s Up, Doc?” (and, especially, about Barbra’s reputation as a prima donna), Bogdanovich said that Barbra had seen an early cut of “The Last Picture Show” and wanted to work with him. He recalled mentioning to her how Barbra might read a certain line in the script (which Bogdanovich had written) and Barbra saying, “Oh, so now you’re going to give me a line reading?” Later, when Barbra was singing “As Time Goes By” in the film, he mentioned to her that she might put more emphasis on the word “can” within the lyric “on that you can rely” and Barbra retorted, “Oh…so now you’re going to give me line readings for the song lyrics?” He added, “She was fun to work with. I really loved her.”
Bogdanovich quoted Jimmy Stewart, whom he interviewed for the 1971 AFI documentary “Directed by John Ford:” “If you’re good and you’re lucky enough to have a personality that comes across, a good film is like giving the audience back little pieces of time.”
Here are the film “pieces of time” Bogdanovich has given us since 1968 (and he has written extensively):
1968 Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women Alternative Title: The Gill Women of Venus and The Gill Women. Credited as Derek Thomas
Targets Alternative Title: Before I Die
1971 Directed by John Ford Documentary
The Last Picture Show Also WriterBAFTA Award for Best ScreenplayNew York Film Critics Circle Award for Best ScreenplayNew York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Director
Nominated – Academy Award for Best Director
Nominated – Academy Award for Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
Nominated – BAFTA Award for Best Direction
Nominated – Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing – Feature Film
Nominated – Golden Globe Award for Best Director
Nominated – Writers Guild of America Award for Best Adapted Screenplay
1972 What’s Up, Doc Also Writer/Producer
1973 Paper Moon Also Producer
Nominated – Golden Globe Award for Best Director
1974 Daisy Miller Also Producer
1975 At Long Last Love Also Writer/Producer
1976 Nickelodeon Also Writer Nominated – Golden Bear
1979 Saint Jack Also Writer Venice Film Festival for Best Film
1981 They All Laughed Also Writer
1985 Mask Nominated – Palme d’Or
1988 Illegally Yours Also Producer
1990 Texasville Also Writer/Producer
1992 Noises Off Also Executive Producer
1993 The Thing Called Love
2001 The Cat’s Meow
2007 Runnin’ Down a Dream Documentary
2014 She’s Funny That Way
The documentary “One Day Since Yesterday” was directed by Miami native Bill Teck and produced by Victor Brazo. It focuses on Peter Bogdanovich’s film “They All Laughed.” This was the Dorothy Stratten film. Said Teck of Bogdanovich, “I never met a more brave human being. He gave us unprecedented access to everything.”
Teck explained his fascination with Bogdanovich’s film work this way: “When I was 13 I went to the Art Theater in Miami and saw ‘They All Laughed.’ My movie is about that movie. I don’t know that anyone else embodies old Hollywood combined with the new more than Peter Bogdanovich. ‘They All Laughed’ is a valentine to love: love of his art, movie love and true love. I call it ‘The Lost American Film’ because it was Audrey Hepburn’s last film role, co-starred John Ritter and Ben Gazarra and, of course, Dorothy Stratten.”
Following the showing of the film, Bogdanovich commented on directing Audrey Hepburn in her final film.
Q: Why did Hepburn take the role?
A: “I think she did it because I told Audrey that Sean, her son, could be my assistant. But she was paid $1 million for 6 weeks’ work.” Said Bogdanovich of Hepburn: “She was very apprehensive, very shy, sensitive. In front of the camera, however, she had a steel-like intensity; it was all there. We had a limited budget for this movie. We couldn’t shut down 5th Avenue, so all the trailers and trucks were blocks away. She had no trailer. No chair. No dressing room. She was great. She was just great. She’d go inside the store and we’d use hand signals to let her know when we needed her to come out for shooting a scene and she’d come out and say, “Oh, look, Peter. They gave me this lovely umbrella.” (mimicking Hepburn’s accent)”
Ben Gazarra plays Hepburn’s love interest in the film, and documentary director Teck was fortunate enough to be able to record Gazarra’s last interview about making both this film and Saint Jack with Bogdanovich.
Tabloids buzzed after the brutal murder of Playmate of the Year Dorothy Stratten by her estranged husband/manager Paul Snider, who then committed suicide. The murder, in 1981, sent Bogdanovich into a tailspin from which he seems never to have fully recovered. His marriage to Dorothy’s younger sister Louise in 1988, when he was 49 and she was 20, did nothing to cause the memory of the brutal murder to recede into the past for the public nor, it would seem, for Bogdanovich to fully recover.
In fact, both with his master plan to buy back the film from the studio and distribute it himself through a distribution group he dubbed Moon Pictures, his actions since 1981 seem to have produced a long period of grieving for what he has lost in life. Descriptions of how distraught Bogdanovich was after Dorothy’s murder include his daughters testifying that he couldn’t walk, but crawled to them. Ex-wife Polly Platt, mother of his two children, thought that writing The Killing of the Unicorn: Dorothy Stratten 1960-1980 was probably good therapy for Peter at the time.
Bogdanovich addressed the Bob Fosse-directed picture “Star 80,” (based on Pulitzer Prize-winning articles in the Village Voice) which featured Eric Roberts as Snider and Mariel Hemingway as Dorothy. When the film came out, Bogdanovich called up Bob Fosse, its director, whom he knew personally. “‘Why are you doing this, Bob?’ I asked him. Fosse said, ‘We think it’s a good story.’ It was Bob Fosse’s last picture. It killed him. All I know is that if this had happened to Bob, I wouldn’t have made a film about it.”
More studio problems presented themselves when Bogdanovich helmed “Mask” in 1985 with Cher and Eric Stoltz. He became embroiled in a dispute with the studio over the replacement of Bruce Springsteen’s songs in the film with songs written by Bob Seger.
Whatever ups and downs Bogdanovich’s career and personal life have had, his 3 hits in a row (“The Last Picture Show,”1971, “What’s Up, Doc” in 1972, and “Paper Moon” in 1973) alone will forever cement his reputation as once being among the best of the best.
His extensive writing about film, preserving the wisdom of previous great directors whom he personally knew and interviewed, also justifies awards like the Gold Hugo Lifetime Achievement Award, bestowed upon the 77-year-old Bogdanovich in Chicago on Sunday, October 16th, 2016.