Peter Bogdanovich, ‘Last Picture Show’ Director, Dies at 82
One of the great directors of the New Hollywood era of cinema has died. Peter Bogdanovich passed away “shortly after midnight Thursday of natural causes at his home in Los Angeles,” according to his daughter Antonia Bogdanovich (via The Hollywood Reporter). Bogdanovich was 82 years old.
Before he broke through in Hollywood, Bogdanovich first worked as a film critic. He was a programmer at the Museum of Modern Art in the 1960s, and through his writing and programming, he met and interviewed many of the great directors of Hollywood’s Golden Age, including John Ford and Orson Welles. Through his work as a critic, Bogdanovich also met exploitation producer Roger Corman, and he gave him his first directing jobs.
He made Corman’s Voyage to the Planet of the Prehistoric Women under a pseudonym, and then the remarkable thriller Targets — which is all the more impressive given the conditions under which it was made. Actor Boris Karloff owed Roger Corman two days of work, so Bogdanovich convinced Corman to let him make a movie that recycled old footage of the Corman-Karloff horror film The Terror, new footage of Karloff shot in those two days, and a totally different storyline about a young man on a shooting spree, which was inspired by the real life killings of Charles Whitman. The film’s various storylines merge in a shocking climax.
Targets got Bogdanovich noticed around Hollywood, and his next film was his true breakthrough: The Last Picture Show, based on the novel by Larry McMurty. The black-and-white drama about life in a small Texas town wound up getting eight Academy Award nominations and two wins, for Best Supporting Actor (Ben Johnson) and Best Supporting Actress (Cloris Leachman).
As he often did throughout his career, Bogdanovich followed Last Picture Show with something completely different: An old-fashioned screwball romantic comedy, with Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal. What’s Up, Doc? is still one of the funniest films of the 1970s.
Bogdanovich’s early hot streak continued through the father-daughter drama Paper Moon. But then a string of flops followed. While Bogdanovich’s career continued through the present day, he never quite regained his status as a top Hollywood director. Even so, his less successful films always remained interesting; his other works as director include Daisy Miller, Saint Jack, They All Laughed, and Noises Off.
Bogdanovich also made documentaries about John Ford, Buster Keaton, and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, wrote non-fiction books (including an acclaimed volume of conversations with Orson Welles), and acted in other filmmaker’s productions. In recent years, he may be best known as Dr. Melfi’s therapist, Dr. Elliot Kupferberg, on The Sopranos.
As one of the elder statements of Hollywood, he also befriended many younger directors. On Twitter, Guillermo del Toro wrote that Bogdanovich was “a dear friend and a champion of Cinema” who “single-handedly interviewed and enshrined the lives and work of more classic filmmakers than almost anyone else in his generation.”
Bogdanovich leaves behind a large and fascinating body of work, most of which is available for streaming or rent online right now. If you’ve never seen Targets or The Last Picture Show, you’re really missing out.