Friday, January 7, 2022

Peter Bogdanovich Has Come and Gone

Well, we just lost another of those daring young men who made the Hollywood films of the 1970s so exciting. Peter Bogdanovich is gone, at age 82. He broke into the industry quite young, causing many movie historians then and now to compare him to another “boy genius,” Orson Welles. Clearly relishing the comparison, he wore ascots, cultivated friendships with some of the greats of the Golden Age, and shot two of  his best films (The Last Picture Show and Paper Moon) in living black & white.

 When I think of Bogdanovich, though, Orson Welles doesn’t come to mind. Instead I remember Roger Corman, my former boss, as the man who gave Bogdanovich his first big break. The story has been told many times, but I much prefer the version of Polly Platt, Bogdanovich’s first wife, his creative partner, and the woman he dumped for Cybill Shepherd on the set of The Last Picture Show. Polly, who passed away in 2011, spoke to me at length three years earlier, about how Roger jumpstarted the movie careers of two young east-coasters who were passionate about the film medium.

 Peter and Polly first met Roger Corman at a screening. (She thinks it was Last Year at Marienbad.) Afterwards, they chatted about film over coffee, and Roger was obviously impressed by their determination to find careers in the industry. In her words, “Roger wanted to make money and we wanted to make movies. It was a perfect marriage.” One of the duo’s first assignments for Roger was to improve upon a Soviet sci-fi film he’d bought. It had great special effects (including a space ship flying through the cosmos), and their job was to make it attractive to American drive-in audiences. After they rewrote the script to include a crash-landing on an exotic inter-galactic planet, Roger allotted them one week to shoot new footage that featured sexpot Mamie Van Doren as a mermaid wearing a seashell bra.. The result: Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women.

 They were also all-purpose assistants when Roger directed his biker classic, The Wild Angels. Peter, who mid-production finagled the job of second-unit director, has said, “I went from getting the laundry to directing the picture in three weeks. Altogether, I worked twenty-two weeks—pre-production, shooting, cutting, dubbing—I haven’t learned as much since.” (Polly worked alongside him on a script rewrite, and also found herself doubling on the back of a chopper for female lead Nancy Sinatra.)

 The reward came when Roger approached them with another challenge. Actor Boris Karloff owed him two days of work from an earlier film, The Terror. This had been one of  Roger’s lesser flicks, and they were free to use its footage along with new material to make a horror movie of their own. It was Polly, still traumatized by the JFK assassination, who came up with the concept of a sniper running amok at a drive-in movie theatre. They collaborated on the script; Peter directed the film while also playing a key role. With the release of Targets in 1968. his Hollywood career was fully launched.

 Nor did Bogdanovich’s relationship with Corman end there. As my former colleague, filmmaker Joe Dante, once told me, “The thing about Roger is that you meet him on the way up, and if you’re not lucky you meet him again on your way down.” In 1979, while Bogdanovich was in a downward spiral, Roger hired him to shoot Saint Jack, about an American hustler in Singapore.. Dante remembers, “It turned out to be a good picture, and it put him back on the road.”



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