Wednesday, July 31, 2013

the films of peter bogdonavich

My father must have been a fan of the films of Peter Bogdonavich. Or Ryan O'Neal. I remember seeing both Paper Moon and Nickelodeon at the local drive-in when I was a kid. Probably neither movie was really age-appropriate for my brother and me, but when you couldn't get a babysitter and you really wanted to see a movie, you took the kids along with you. Of course that still happens these days, it's just more obvious at the movieplex.

Tatum O'Neal and Ryan O'Neal in Paper Moon
I recently re-watched Paper Moon and was struck by not only how great the story and characters were, but how gorgeous it was to look at. Tatum O'Neal was of course a cute kid, but there was nothing cutesy or child actor-y about her performance. Set during the Great Depression, con man Moses Pray (Ryan O'Neal) agrees to transport (for a fee) a young orphan girl, Addie (Tatum O'Neal) who may or may not be his daughter, from Kansas to her aunt's house in Missouri. During their road trip Addie shows a knack for pulling a con, and the two become partners. Ryan and Tatum have not just amazing chemistry but great comic timing together, each line reading a winner. Surprisingly the O'Neals were not the first actors attached to the script. Originally the project was planned to be directed by John Huston and star Paul Newman and his daughter Nell Potts.
Addie, "I want my two hundred dollars."
Moses, "I don't have your two hundred dollars no more and you know it."
Addie, "If you don't give me my two hundred dollars I'm gonna tell a policeman how you got it and he'll make you give it to me because it's mine."
Moses, "But I don't have it!"
Addie, "Then get it!"
Waitress, [walks over after Moses slams his fist on the table] "How we doin', Angel Pie? We gonna have a little dessert when we finish up our hot dog?"
Addie, "I don't know."
Waitress, "What do you say, Daddy? Why don't we give Precious a little dessert if she eats her dog?"
Moses, "Her name ain't Precious."
Tatum ended up winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress (she was the youngest ever to win an Oscar). Bogdonavich apparently consulted with his good friend on a number of things relating to the film, including the title (Welles told him that, "That title is so good, you shouldn't even make the picture, just release the title!") and the overall look of the film (Welles suggested shooting the film in black and white, with a red filter, adding higher contrast to the images, resulting in cinematographer László Kovács gorgeous images.)

Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, and Cybill Shepherd in The Last Picture Show
Paper Moon whet my appetite for some more Bogdonavich, so I recently found The Last Picture Show, at the library. This was a much more mature and bleak vision. Probably not one for the drive-in with kids. Set in a little, dying town in 1950s Texas called Anarene, right before the Korean War. The story centers on best friends Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) and Duane (Jeff Bridges) as they graduate high school and experience sex and love. While Sonny is drawn to the lonely and unhappily married Ruth (Cloris Leachman), Duane and his girlfriend Jacy (Cybill Shepherd in her screen debut) are growing apart and Jacy's mother Lois (Ellen Burstyn) warns her daughter that she may get stuck for life if she stays in Anarene. The town is held together by Sam the Lion (Ben Johnson), but how long will that last?

The Last Picture Show, made in 1971, moves slowly, but is fascinating to watch. Bogdonavich co-wrote the screenlay with Larry McMurtry, based on his novel. He also edited the movie, although the credit went to Donn Cambern. The movie won (very deserving) Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor (Ben Johnson) and Best Supporting Actress (Cloris Leachman). It is sad, and bleak, but hypnotic.

Of course what is best remembered about The Last Picture Show is how Bogdonavich fell in love with then 19 year-old model-turned actress Shepherd and the two embarked on a long affair which resulted in three movies. Daisy Miller (1974) and At Long Last Love (1975), both starring Shepherd, were box-office flops and the two eventually split in 1979.

Bogdonavich has an affection and affinity for the past, and has made many other films that play with film genres, or period drama. But no matter where (or when) the film is set, what he seems most interested in are the people. Some of his best include:

What's Up, Doc? (1972) - A rollicking screwball comedy a la Bringing Up Baby, starring Barbra Steisand and Ryan O'Neal

Mask (1985) - An earnest and touching depiction of a mother's fierce love for her son, starring Cher and Eric Stoltz.

Samantha Mathis and River Phoenix in The Thing Called Love
The Thing Called Love (1993) - A romantic comedy - or tragedy - it's about country music after all - set in Nashville and starring River Phoenix, Samantha Mathis, and Sandra Bullock.

The Cat's Meow (2001) - An amusing "mystery" set around the real-life mysterious death of film mogul Thomas H. Ince (Cary Elwes) on the yacht of multi-millionaire William Randolph Hearst (Edward Herrmann), with most of 1920s Hollywood in attendance. Kirsten Dunst plays Hearst's mistress the actress Marion Davies and Eddie Izzard plays Charlie Chaplin.

Kirsten Dunst and Eddie Izzard in The Cat's Meow
Bogdonavich is currently working on Squirrels to the Nuts, which will star Owen Wilson, Imogen Poots, and Jennifer Aniston. Bogdonavich will once again be working with Cybill Shepherd, Joanna Lumley, and tatum O'Neal who have are backing the film and taking the role of executive producers. Bogdonavich is also rumored to be writing a new film to star Shepherd, One Lucky Moon. We'll have to stay tuned, Fingers crossed.
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