Peter Bogdanovitch Interviews edited by Peter Tonguette (book review).

It might seem an odd choice to include a book of interviews, a couple not seen print before, with director/scriptwriter/sometimes actor Peter Bogdanovitch here. After all, other than getting his career jumpstart with Roger Corman when he worked on ‘Voyage To The Planet Of Prehistoric Women’ (1968) and directed a couple days with Boris Karloff, owed by the actor to Corman, on ‘Targets’ (1968), most of his material would be considered more mainstream. However, having been looking at various film books and their techniques over the years, having a look at the director’s view of things has been an interesting experience.

Bogdanovitch’s background as a writer, film director interview and film expert does firmly place him as a geek and one of us. Reading the introduction, one can draw some comparisons to QuentinTarantino, sans the violence as he doesn’t like using it, in their love of film that drives them. Quotes from his favourite films pop up in his films. It’s also interesting looking through his filmography and how he has a reliable regular group of good actors that he uses regularly across his films. Seeing the other names he uses is a Hollywood who’s who as well as he gave many significant actors and actresses their first big breaks. That’s also a good sign that he runs a happy set. If you own a DVD copy of his screwball comedy ‘What’s Up, Doc?’ (1972), you’ll know there’s a funny extra where Bogdanovitch plays Barbra Streisand’s role in the piano scene to show Ryan O’Neal how he wants it. The interviews go back and forth over his career. There’s a very telling point where Streisand doesn’t think she’s funny person.

Although he doesn’t describe it as mentoring his close contacts with directors John Forde, Howard Hawks and Orson Welles shows he learnt a lot by observing them and asking questions. His reflections on directing itself is a learning experience. Bogdanovitch says filming in black and white for two films, ‘The Last Picture Show’ (1971) and ‘Paper Moon’ (1973), sets a better atmosphere for period pieces from the 1950s than in colour which makes a bad situation look not so bad is very telling. I mean, when you consider most horror films are more effective when filmed at night proves the point. Who’s going to be scared in a well-lit room?

The same applies to stuntwork. All the preparation and camerawork is done to ensure its done in one take. Volkswagen beetle cars also sink like a stone.

His reminisces of working in Singapore with on the film ‘Saint Jack’ (1979) where they didn’t like the author of the original book and he had to lie throughout an interview over there might explain why this particular interview was never published before but a good demonstration why filming is never easy. Well, not unless you want a Ferris wheel in a film.

Something that comes out very strongly about contemporary directors from Bogdanovitch from the 1980s is that they have little if any sense of film history. I had a think about that and, although I doubt even he would expect them to be film historians, you don’t hear much about references to early film pioneers when asked about their tastes. It’s also far worse for the studios heads and reading about their interference on ‘Mask’ (1985), like having the film lab brighten the colours is very telling. Changing the music by them also changed the tone of the film as well.

I found this a fascinating book into aspects of directing and it will certainly make you look at some of the problems associated with it as well. Bogdanovitch doesn’t take himself too seriously and his interviews are certainly candid. A great learning experience.

GF Willmetts

March 2017

(pub: University Press Of Mississippi. 184 page indexed enlarged paperback. Price: $ (US), £25.50 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-4968-0964-3)

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