What's Up, Peter?

Peter Bogdanovich will be in town to introduce separate screenings of John Ford’s The Searchers (this Friday) and Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (this Saturday) at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

Bogdanovich knows his subjects – the films as well as the directors – because he interviewed them for separate books and articles, and directed a classic documentary on Ford in 1971 in which the veteran cinema icon answered the questions posed by the young, fledgling director with monosyllables, and bided time by nibbling on his favourite hanky.

As a director, Bogdanovich went through the Roger Corman School of Filmmaking, working on the re-edits and reshoots of Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women (1968) before making his own striking debut with Targets (1968) about an extreme fan, Boris Karloff, and a high-powered rifle.

For years he’s written about classic Hollywood in print, and during the seventies he dramatized his nostalgia for the works of Howard Hawks, John Ford, Ernst Lubitsch, and Leo McCarey in a string of films, of which two are packed with visual, dialogue, and stylistic nuances and elements from said filmmakers: the screwball comedy tribute What’s Up, Doc? (1972), and the urbane, slick music fable At Long Last Love (1975).

Doc was recently released on Blu-ray via Warner Home Video [WHV], and replicates the content from the 2003 special edition DVD that came in a boxed set of Barbra Streisand films. (The single DVD edition will be reissued this November.) Doc has fans and detractors, and I’m sort of in the middle. Loved it as a kid, but 25 years later, it doesn’t hold up so swell. Here’s (subjectively) why.

Love has only appeared on rare TV airings because it’s an orphan film. A $6 million production that was pulled by studio Fox in 1975, this salute to thirties musicals features a libretto almost entirely based around 16 Cole Porter classics crooned and kicked to life by Madeline Kahn, Cybill Shepherd, Duilio Del Prete, and, uhm, Burt Reynolds.

It is not a good film, and deserves the nomenclature of dud and bomb. Not all of the songs are classics, and years ago the Medved Bros. awarded the film a Golden Turkey Award. The lengthy review covers the plot, the score, and the reasons this earnest salute to fluffy thirties music-fantasies just doesn’t work.

Most of Bogdanovich’s films are on DVD, and while The Great Professional: Howard Hawks (1967) is still unavailable (though probably appears on TCM now and then), Directed by John Ford (1968) is out on DVD via WHV separately, or as part of the John Wayne-John Ford Film Collection, released in 2009.

Amazon.com lists a number of books about Hollywood by Bogdanovich, but my favourites include Pieces of time: Peter Bogdanovich on the movies, 1961-1985 (originally published by Timbre Books), and This Is Orson Welles (first published in 1992).

The Welles book is a fat tome of transcribed conversations between the two directors, and it covers several of Welles’ classic, maligned, unfinished, and unrealized films, and those wanting a real treat should search for the original book on tape version that features extracts of the pair’s discussions.

Now if only Bogdanovich can get Welles’ The Other Side of the Wind out.

Mark R. Hasan, Editor


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