Posts Tagged ‘Peter Bogdanovich’

“I think The Third Man is one of the best, if not the best, non-auteur films ever made.”
Writer/Director Peter Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show)

The Third Man was never written to be read but only to be seen. Like many love affairs, it started at a dinner table and continued with many headaches in many places, Vienna, Venice, Ravello, London, Santa Monica.”
Screenwriter Graham Greene
‘The Third Man’ as a Story and a Film
NY Times—March 19, 1950

Towards the end of the Orson Welles Q&A at USC back in 1981 there is this brief exchange which says a lot about going to great lengths to get the right shot.

Audience member: An actor friend of mine once told me that he thought one of the great moments in film is in The Third Man when the light falls on you and you’re revealed —

Orson Welles: —”Oh, it is one of the great moments. (The USC audience laughs and applauds.) Remember I didn’t direct it, Carol Reed directed it. And do you know that we had that set built on another stage, and every afternoon for five days at the end of the day’s shooting we went and shot it again until Carol had it exactly the way he wanted it. Because he knew it was the key moment of the movie.”

I couldn’t find that scene online, and that’s just as well. If you’ve seen it you know what’s being talked about. If you haven’t seen it, you should (and not online). But I did find the classic short “cuckoo clocks” monologue by Welles that is often quoted from the movie. And a couple other related videos including a full audio commentary of The Third Man by Steven Soderbergh (Traffic ) and Tony Gilroy (The Bourne Identity). And I should at least mention that The Third Man—which is listed at number #94 on IMDB’s Top 250— was written by the novelist, playwright and screenwriter Graham Greene (but even he admitted, “the popular line of dialogue concerning Swiss cuckoo clocks was written into the script by Mr. Welles himself.”)

Scott W. Smith

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David Mamet 

“Storytelling without dialogue. It’s the purest form of cinematic storytelling. It’s the most inclusive approach you can take. It confirmed something I really had a hunch on, is that the audience actually wants to work for their meal. They just don’t want to know that they’re doing that. That’s your job as a storyteller, is to hide the fact that you’re making them work for their meal. We’re born problem solvers. We’re compelled to deduce and to deduct,because that’s what we do in real life. It’s this well-organized absence of information that draws us in. There’s a reason that we’re all attracted to an infant or a puppy. It’s not just that they’re damn cute; it’s because they can’t completely express what they’re thinking and what their intentions are. And it’s like a magnet. We can’t stop ourselves from wanting to complete the sentence and fill it in.

I first started really understanding this storytelling device when I was writing with Bob Peterson on Finding Nemo. And we would call this the unifying theory of two plus two.Make the audience put things together. Don’t give them four, give them two plus two. The elements you provide and the order you place them in is crucial to whether you succeed or fail at engaging the audience. Editors and screenwriters have known this all along. It’s the invisible application that holds our attention to story. I don’t mean to make it sound like this is an actual exact science, it’s not. That’s what’s so special about stories, they’re not a widget, they aren’t exact. Stories are inevitable, if they’re good, but they’re not predictable.”
Two time Oscar-winning writer/director Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, WALL-E)
TED talk The Clues to a Great Story

P.S. I think I first read that 2+2 story concept in an interview with Billy Wilder or Ernst Lubitsch. (I’ll try to track it down.)

Related Posts:
Mr. Silent Films
Emotionally Silent Dialogue
Writing “The Artist” (Part 1) “I thought making a silent film would be a magnificent challenge.”
Show, Don’t Tell (Tip #46) “One of the cardinal sins for a scriptwriter, when he runs into some difficulty, is to say ‘We can cover that by a line of dialogue.”—Hitchcock
Garry Marshall’s Directing Tips (Part 7) “The reaction to the action is critical.”—Blake Edwards via Marshall
Directing Tips from Peter Bogdanovich  “Silent looks between people—to me, that’s what movies are about.”—Peter Bogdanovich
Ken Burns on 1+1=3

Scott W. Smith

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“If you’re not hot in Los Angeles, it’s a very lonely town…It’s a lonely town even if you are hot.”
Peter Bogdanovich

“I’m not bitter. I ask for it myself. Success is very hard. Nobody prepares you for it. You think you’re infallible. You pretend you know more than you do. Pride goeth before the fall.”
Peter Bogdanovich
New York Times article: Older, Sadder, Maybe Wiser
April 07,2002

In the post The Making of Peter Bogdanovich I wrote about his rise from an early love of movies as a child, to being a teenage actor, to being a writer in his early twenties, to directing The Last Picture Show in his early thirties. After that film was nominated for eight Academy Awards, he would direct two more winners—What’s Up, Doc? and Paper Moon. At least professionally, at that moment in time, Bogdanovich had the kind of success that few filmmakers experience. But then what happened?

“What happened? Three-in-a-row struck back. Mr. Bogdanovich’s three successes were followed with Daisy Miller (1974), At Long last Love (1975), and Nickelodeon (1976)–three flops.”
David Thomson

Professionally he was in a tail spin. It probably didn’t help his psyche that he turned down opportunitees to direct The Godfather and Chinatown. His private life was no picnic either. During The Last Picture Show he began an affair with Cybill Shepherd which ended his marriage to Polly Platt. After his three failed films, his relationship  ended with Shepherd and in 1979, at age 39, he began a relationship with 19-year-old Playboy centerfold Dorothy Stratten, who he cast in his film They All Laughed. Tragically Stratten was killed in 1980 by her  estranged husband who then killed himself. Bogdanovich retreated by writing a book about Stratten.

He also created a controversy when his compassion for Stratten’s 13-year-old half-sister turned into a romantic relationship sometime in her later teens. When Bogdanovich was 49 he married the 20-year-old.  They would later divorce, and along the way he’s filed for bankruptcy twice, reportedly went through psychiatric treatment, and eventually left California and returned to New York’s Upper West Side, not far from where he was raised.

“If you do not stay visible, you’re forgotten. It’s somewhat like riding a tiger. If you fall off, you get eaten, and if you stay on it’s a rough ride.”
Paul S. Sigelman (An attorney of Peter Bogdanovich’s at the time of his bankruptcy trials)

But Bogdanovich is a survivor. Heck, my favorite Bogdanvich film, Mask (1985), was made during one of the hardest periods of his life. And he’s continued to make films over the years, he had a role on The Sopranos, he’s written books (including Who the Devil Made It and one on Orson Welles), he blogs at Blogdanovich, he teaches at the University of North Carolina School for the Arts, and because of his deep film knowledge and relationship with Welles and John Ford he is a living link to the past and in demand at film festivals and doing DVD commentaries. Now at age 73 he still has films to make & roles to play, articles to write, and lessons to pass on to the next generation of filmmakers.

 “[Hollywood’s] an easy place to get fooled. There are no real seasons and you’re not aware of time going. Orson had this line: ‘The terrible thing about LA is that you sit down when you’re 25 and when you stand up you’re 62.’ He was not wrong.”
Peter Bogdanovich

The Bel-Air hacienda, the Rolls-Royce, and the servants of his past life are gone. Like John Wayne, John Ford, and Cary Grant—all just a faded remnants of Bogdanovich’s past.

But well into the future, filmmakers will learn from Bogdanovich—even if just via his writings and commentaries—about filmmaking, old Hollywood, and maybe a life lesson or two along the way.

Scott W. Smith




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Paper Moon (1973) was Tatum O’Neal’s first film and she walked away with the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. She was 10 years old, which is still the record for the youngest Oscar-winning actor or actress. And while she’s terrific the entire film, her line, “I want my $200!” (see the scene below) was her “Show me the money!”-like line from Jerry Maguire. Never underestimate the power and resonance of one emotional line on an audience.

Paper Moon was the third Hollywood studio film directed by Peter Bogdanovich and his third successful film in a row following The Last Picture show and What’s Up, Doc?  To have a streak of three critical and financial successes out of the gate was an amazing feat, but as we’ll see in tomorrow’s post, it would not last.

Bogdanovich’s life after Paper Moon, after he’d reached the mountain top, would become a cautionary tale. As the saying goes, “Success is a poor teacher.” But he’s a survivor and he still has stories to tell—lessons to pass on—which is why when the dust settles I will have written about him for two straight weeks.

At the 4:40 mark when Tatum O’Neal’s character says, “Then get it,” the direction Bogdanovich gave her was to say it like John Wayne would. Also, if you notice the up until the 2:00 mark the perspective of the scene is played from the inside looking out and then it shifts to outside (though technically inside the restaurant) looking in breaking the 180 rule. But Bogdanovich covers it “by cutting on movement”—when Ryan O’Neal leans over to get some relish— so the audience doesn’t notice the perspective shift. A trick he said he learned from Howard Hawks.

Paper Moon was written by Joe David Brown and  Alvin Sargent (based on Sargent’s novel Addie Play). It was Brown’s last film and he died in 1976, Sargent later won two-Oscars (Ordinary People, Julia) and was one of the co-writers on The Amazing Spider-Man (2012).

P.S. On the Paper Moon director’s commentary Bogdanovich says that though the novel was a southern story, he thought it would be more interesting to put it somewhere else and remembered how flat Kansas was when he once drove through the Midwest. They shot the movie in and around Hays, Kansas and St. Joseph, Missouri. The opening of the scene above was shot in  Gorham, Kansas. (Named after E.D. Gorham once described by the Kansas City Star as “the largest landowner in western Kansas, and perhpas the richest man in that part of the state.” Always comes back to money, right?) The opening title graphics were found in Kansas City by the film’s production designer Polly Platt when scouting locations.

Scott W. Smith

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Now on the day that John Wayne died
I found myself on the Continental Divide
Tell me where do I go from here?
Think I’ll ride into Leadville and have a few beers
Think of “Red River” or “Liberty Valance”
Can’t believe the old man’s gone
Incommunicado (written by Jimmy Buffett, Deborah McColl, M.L. Benoit)

Until I started this Peter Bogdanovich thread last week I knew him as a producer/director/writer/actor/film historian/book author, but I didn’t know he was a blogger. He started Blogdanovich in 2010 and it’s hosted through Indiewire. Here’s a sample from his post Red River & My Darling Clementine.

“It’s still impressive as hell when you realize Red River was Hawks’ first Western (out of only five), that it was the beautiful and breathtakingly fine actor Montgomery Clift’s first picture (though released second), and that it was the movie which made John Wayne a superstar, the single most defining role of his career.  As Tom Dunson, playing a character nearly twenty years his senior, Wayne went from an attractive and reliable, though mild, young leading man to the tough, no-nonsense, usually unyielding, gruffly laconic loner he was to play most memorably for the rest of his career.

John Ford, who had rescued Wayne from B-picture oblivion with the director’s first sound Western, Stagecoach(1939), and then used him on three or four pictures in the ‘40s, was amazed:  ‘I didn’t know the big son-of-a-bitch could act,’ he said, and promptly cast Wayne in an even older role for She Wore A Yellow Ribbon.  In fact, Hawks told me, Wayne was always so identified with Ford, and Ford with Westerns, that people often thought Ford had directed Red River and would compliment Ford himself on the picture; and Ford, Hawks continued, always said, ‘Thank you very much.’  Yet when I asked Hawks if he’d been thinking of Ford while making the picture, he replied:  ‘It’s hard not to think of Jack Ford when you’re making a Western.  Hard not to think of him when you’re making any picture.’”
Peter Bogdanovich

That gives you a glimpse why Orson Welles once told Bogdanovich when asked who his favorite directors were, “I prefer the old masters; by which I mean: John Ford, John Ford and John Ford.”

If you’re not up on film history, have never seen an Ernst Lubitsch movie, don’t see what the big deal is about John Wayne, or if you—to use Bogdanovich’s words— think film history began with Raging Bull, check out Blogdanovich:

The Birth of a NationCity Lights, The Art of Buster KeatonO Rare Ernst Lubitsch,The Grapes of Wrath, The Philadelphia Story,  The 400 Blows will give you a good start.

P.S. What’s great about all of this is it continues what started on this blog in January after I saw Hugo & The Artist. Here at Screenwriting from Iowa, 2012 has turned into the year of film history appreciation. And if film history doesn’t excite you, I understand, I dropped the first film history class I ever took at the University of Miami. It’s people like Bogdanovich who can connect the dots for you.

Related posts:
Writing “The Jazz Singer”
The Founder of Hollywood

The Father of Film (Part 1)
You Tube Film School (Early Film History)
Mr. Silent Films
For the Love of Movies
Stagecoach” Revisted

Scott W. Smith

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“Auteurism today? Well, everybody thinks they’re an auteur. But nobody seems to understand what the whole auteur thing was. It wasn’t a theory as far as the French were concerned. It was a political statement called la politique des auteurs. Truffaut and Godard were attacking the old-fashioned, well-made film, French or American. They thought Howard Hawks was an infinitely better director than Fred Zinnemann. They thought Alfred Hitchcock was a greater director than David Lean. They were against Marcel Carné  and for Jean Renoir. Personal films were what they looking for, where a director’s personality dominated despite who wrote it or who was in it or who photographed it.”
Peter Bogdanovich
“Everybody thinks they’re an auteur” article by Vince Cosgrove
New York Daily News/March 2012

P.S. In the interview, Bogdanovich mentions that his favorite books about movies “include The Parade’s Gone By by Keven Brownlow, The American Cinema by Andrew Sarris, Adventures with D.W. Griffith by Karl Brown and Growing Up in Hollywood by Robert Parrish.

Scott W. Smith

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“Time it was, and what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence…”
Simon & Garfunkel
What a Time it Was

“When I was a kid, I’d never seen a screwball comedy. So for me [What’s Up, Doc?] was just this mind-blowing, new type comedy. …I went bananas for it.”
Bridesmaid director Paul Feig
Watch This: Paul Feig’s Eclectic Must-See Movies on NPR

My first date movie was What’s Up, Doc? I remember it well. The date, not the movie. But cut me some slack, I was ten years old.

The 1972 film starred Ryan O’Neal and Barbra Streisand and was directed by Peter Bogdanovich, but I wouldn’t have been interested in them in fourth grade. I was much more interested in Paulette, my FGF—fourth grade friend.

But since I’ve been writing about Bogdanovich for the past week I thought I would revisit the film for the first time in 41 years. I can’t say that I remembered a single scene—or even line—from the film. And actually my viewing of movies was pretty limited in elementary school back in the pre-VHS/DVD/Blu-Ray/Cable TV days.

In 1972, I was much more focused on playing football & baseball (or watching Dallas Cowboys or  Cincinnati Reds play) than going to movies. In fact, I only remember a few movies that I even saw in movie theaters before What’s Up, Doc? But I remember fragments of all of those. The little kid looking for his friend at the end of The Green Beret, the car flying up Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the planes flying down in Tora, Tora, Tora, and the kid falling in chocolate in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.

But in What’s Up Doc?—I only remember Paulette. And how we bolted from my mom (who had driven us to the theater and stayed for the movie) and sat alone.

So last night I watched the movie and bet I loved that film as much as anyone when it first came out. The film was #3 at the box office in ’72. (Behind The Godfather and The Poseidon Adventure.) According to Bogdanovich on the What’s Up, Doc? director’s commentary it broke a 33 year old house record when it opened at the 6,500 seat Radio City Music Hall. (Imagine a screening with 6,500 people.)

It’s worth noting that when the G-rated What’s Up, Doc? premiered that three of top ten money makers of 1972 according to Wikipedia were X-Rated films. Perhaps nothing signaled the past and the future more than What’s Up, Doc? and Deep Throat being released in the same year.

“What’s Up, Doc? opened yesterday at the Radio City Music Hall, which seems a perfect place for it if the audience with which I saw it is any indication. There were lots of children on hand to fall apart with laughter during the chases and the hoverings on hotel ledges seventeen floors above the street, but the real mean age of most of the others was, I’d estimate, about fifty-two and three months. With their pearl earrings and crunchy, purple-hued beehives, they didn’t always laugh as much as they might, but they did feel secure in the evocation of a past remembered as innocent.”
Vincent Canby
New York Times review March 10. 1972

The movie was Bogdanovich’s nod back to the screwball comedies of the ’30s. The Depression era when people needed a good laugh. And while I wasn’t familiar with movies like Bringing Up Baby, I did enjoy silliness found on TV in the late 60s and early 70s such as Gilligan’s Island. The Dick Van Dyke Show, Hogan’s Heroes, The Monekees, Bewitched, Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies, Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C. and reruns of Mr. Ed, Get Smart and I love Lucy.  And characters like Red Skelton and Bugs Bunny. For me, it was in fact, the wonder years.

In viewing the film again the thing that most jumped out at me most was the contrast between What’s Up Doc? and The Last Picture Show. The Bogdanovich directed The Last Picture was a leisurely paced drama/character study shot in black and white with a small cast in a dying small town in Texas set in the 50s.  What’s Up, Doc? is a big, colorful, fast tempoed comedy set in contemporary San Francisco that employed 28 stunt men along with a large cast of characters.

A second thing that jumped out at me was the cast of characters behind the scene that I am much more familiar with now. What’s Up, Doc?  (based on a story from Bogdanovich) was written by Oscar-nominated David Newman (Bonnie and Clyde), and two-time Oscar nominated Buck Henry (The Graduate, Heaven Can Wait), and three-time Oscar-winner Robert Benton (Kramer vs KramerNobody’s Fool, Places in the Heart).  The director of photography was Laszlo Kovacs (who in 2002 won a ASC Lifetime Achievement Award), the editor was Oscar-winner Verna Fields (Jaws) and the assistant to the producer was five-time Oscar-nominated producer  Frank Marshall known now for his work on Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Goonies, The Sixth Sense, The Bourne Ultimatum, Seabiscuit and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. (And for good measure, director John Ford visited the set one day.)

So What’s Up, Doc? had some fire power. In 1973, it won “Best Comedy Written for the Screen” from the Writers Guild of America. It’s also had some staying power as it was listed at #61 on AFI’s America’s Funniest Movies. 

I must also point out the in the movie Howard (Ryan O’Neal) and his fiance Eunice (Madeline Kahn) are from Ames, Iowa, where he is a musicologist/professor. “Not at the University. The Conservatory of Music. You never heard of it? Well, it’s a small conservatory, but there are those who love it.” Wonder which screenwriter landed on Ames, Iowa and how it made it into the film. All roads lead to Iowa.

And lastly, when I started this Peter Bogdanovich thread last week I didn’t know that it would extend a whole week and land on his birthday today. So happy birthday, Peter Bogdanovich. What’s up?

P.S. For what it’s worth, What’s Up, Doc? was the last picture show that Paulette and I saw together.

P.P.S. Actors born in 1972, the year What’s Up Doc? was released; Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Affleck, Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Garner, Amanda Peet.

Scott W. Smith

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