Peter Bogdanovich

He was a self-satisfied blowhard, but he had a window…

You had to see “The Last Picture Show.” Not because of any special effects, not because of the look, but because of the performances, because of the story. “The Last Picture Show” impacted the culture. Today’s superhero comic book movies do not. It’s kind of like music. They’re still making it, there’s a business, but it doesn’t even resemble the heyday.

At best we’ve got “The Sopranos” and other extended TV series. But movies? There’s the occasional foreign film or indie flick, but no matter how good these movies are, they don’t have the reach of the films of yore. Few see them, most don’t care about them, and the only thing that counts is…MONEY!

When did this start.

You can talk about Steven Spielberg, with “Jaws.” Spielberg is a fine-tuned machine, he knows how to create tension, drama, but he’s not an auteur. He’s a television director, isn’t that how he made his name, with “Duel’?

But George Lucas was something different. “American Graffiti” captured the zeitgeist of the early sixties. And then it was the look and feel of “Star Wars” that was such a breakthrough. The dirtiness, the grunginess, it wasn’t made to be loved by everyone but that’s why it was. The more personal you make it, the more you go inside, the more it resonates with the public.

Lucas burned himself out. But before both he and Spielberg, we had Francis Ford Coppola. I don’t know a single person who hasn’t seen “The Godfather,” it’s embedded in American culture. And I’m of the belief that the second is better than the first, I’m of the belief that “Godfather II” is the best film ever made. “The Godfather” had everything: the look, the feel, the story… Unfortunately, Coppola could never reach that height again He came close with “Apocalypse Now,” but the freedom of the cash, owning his own studio, getting invested in technological breakthroughs, trying to always top himself, ultimately detracted from the product, and he never could get himself back to the garden.

And then came the eighties.

I’ve been trying to think when all this nonsense began. It’s easy to say it was with Trump, then again was he a symptom or a cause? Actually, I don’t think we’d be in this democratic crisis if it weren’t for Trump. He has turned the election process into a farce. When the Republicans win the presidency in 2024 the Democrats will accept it. And believe me, the Republicans will win, because otherwise the Republicans won’t accept it, but the truth is they’ve rigged the system, so they can’t possibly lose.

But before Trump we had Mitch McConnell, who broke the country by refusing to hold hearings over Merrick Garland’s nomination for the Supreme Court. Mitch is of the belief that he’s winning, but he’s losing. Do you have faith in the Supreme Court? I certainly don’t, especially not one that has thrown out the bedrock legal concept of stare decisis and is about to get rid of Roe v. Wade, even though the majority of the public wants abortion rights.

But then before that we had Newt Gingrich in the nineties. Let’s not even talk about Bush II…where Gore was gracious and conceded. Never mind the fact that Saddam Hussein had no WMDs.

And before Newt we had Ronald Reagan. Who told us that government was evil and we were on our own. It’s Reagan who started breaking the country, but let’s be clear, the public was for it, the boomers wanted their educations turned into riches. Reagan is responsible for income inequality, the scourge of our nation, even though he’s got endless edifices bearing his name.

So it became about money. Quick, how much money did “The Last Picture Show” make? NO ONE HAS ANY IDEA!

And the truth is there was publicity about the grosses of “What’s Up, Doc?,” but if you weren’t a student of the game, you were unaware.

As for “Paper Moon”… Tatum O’Neal and her two hundred dollars, that’s what you remember, from an era where lines uttered in movies became legendary.

So there was a schism. In the late sixties, the directors took the power from the studios, just like the musicians took the power from the labels. But by 1980 the execs had regained power in the film business. Too many auteurs had spent too much money on flops. And why go for the small money when you can go for the big? That’s what amateurs don’t understand, studios don’t want to make $5 million on your $10 million picture. Forget the opportunity cost, never mind the marketing cost, the profits are just too low. They don’t pay for private jets, they don’t pay for the LIFESTYLE! And that’s what everybody is competing on today, lifestyle. That’s what you post to social media, not your possessions, and it takes a lot of money to keep up with the Joneses.

So when “The Last Picture” show came out, most Americans had not been to Texas, flights were still expensive, airline fares were regulated by the government. So, you got insight into a whole ‘nother world, in addition to getting insight into your own.

But Peter Bogdanovich broke the moral code, leaving his wife for Cybill Shepherd, and then the public was out to get him, they couldn’t accept it, never mind ultimately having a thrice-married presidential philanderer. And when he misstepped with “Daisy Miller,” it was over. Not only did the film miss the mark artistically, Cybill Shepherd was not up to the part, she didn’t yet have the acting chops she displayed in the eighties in “Moonlighting.”

“At Long Last Love” was another turkey, Bogdanovich was too far from his element, and although he came back with “Nickelodeon,” the buzz was done, he’d been superseded, and since it took a lot of money to make movies, his opportunities diminished greatly.

So then Peter returned to his roots, with the smaller picture, “Saint Jack,” but it was for believers, and there weren’t that many of them left.

“They All Laughed” had a bigger budget, but less critical success, and then came “Mask,” a return to form, but the credit went to Cher and the film didn’t push the envelope like Bogdanovich’s earlier work and that was it. Peter made some more movies but the impact was low. And word started to spread that it was Polly Platt, his original wife, who made his initial films so great.

And then there was the soap opera of Dorothy Stratten, never mind her sister, and Bogdanovich became a pariah.

Oh, but those early movies.

Eventually Bogdanovich was given some airtime, he got a reprieve, since his buddy Orson Welles was now dead and he could tell stories about him. And just like Orson, when you can’t get a film made, you rely on your stories. And then the film business changed so much Bogdanovich was called in to testify about the old days, when we all still believed in the power of movies.

That’s not to say we don’t have cutting edge art forms today. But they’re not movies and music. Once again, the excellence of movies has moved to TV, the art conforms to the medium, and on the flat screen you can go deeper, do ten hours instead of two. Meanwhile, albums with only one good track conformed to the CD and got longer and longer, to the point where it became about the single and only the single and the internet blew up the whole business.

And today the public are the stars. The world has changed, and those who don’t change with it are left behind.

That’s what’s confronting us today, the changed world.

And it changes when you’re not paying attention. Read this article by Indi Samarajiva. He lived through the Sri Lanka civil war, in many ways it was business as usual, just like in America today.

“I Lived Through Collapse. America Is Already There. Living in Sri Lanka during the end of the civil war, I saw how life goes on, surrounded by death”:

But even more, you must read this article in “The Guardian” that delineates today’s America, to oblivious Democrats who believe the system still works, but it doesn’t.

“The next US civil war is already here – we just refuse to see it”:

Today when people talk about old films, they talk about pics from the late nineties and early two thousands. Kind of like oldies radio, the sixties are in the rearview mirror, as are the seventies. Everyone says what is made today is just as good, but they’re just convincing themselves, it’s totally untrue. Computers are better. There’s been a communications revolution, but now politics has the public eye…think about it, name one major musician who’s aligned with a political vision, who is trying to move the ball forward? I can’t think of one. As for those on the right side of the fence, they just want to jet back to a past that never even existed in the first place. Country music is not only rearguard in belief, but sound… It sounds like the rock music of the seventies, albeit with lamer lyrics. And the heroes of the younger generation? THE KARDASHIANS! Forget the music competition shows, the Kardashian family knew their show had to be all about them all the time, to make them household names. And they glommed on to every publicity opportunity. It was all about mindshare and money, and now everybody is trying to replicate their paradigm, but in music? Everybody’s bitching about TikTok and social media and stating that the album cycle must be maintained, just like the inane “Billboard” chart… Our country is not about albums whatsoever, but you wouldn’t know that by reading the music press, never mind listening to most of the musicians.

As for doing it yourself, Max Martin is the biggest star in America. He’s the Idolmaker, we’re living in the early sixties. Bobby Rydell sold records too!

But once upon a time…

You went to the movie theatre and…

It was far from expensive. And the lights went down…

Nobody had a cellphone. And most people didn’t talk, because the films were seen as art, you bathed in the experience, and you talked about the pictures for years thereafter. It was about social impact, not grosses, and the movies had an impact, art drove society, it does not today.

For a while there, technology drove the culture. And just like with music, you can’t tell the techies their days are done. No, the public is in charge today. And people are oftentimes misinformed, but in a culture where you tell people what they want to hear, they’re convinced their opinions are right. Proud To Be Dumb, that’s the motto of today’s America.

And America itself isn’t even the same. The self-professed Greatest Country in the World”? Er, no. We’re less vaccinated, upward mobility is lower and the minority either rules or prevents the majority from enacting legislation. You can argue, but that just proves my point. Where have you been? Been to Canada? Scandinavia? They don’t want you, but they know they’ve got it better than you do.

Everybody keeps fighting yesterday’s war. Like arguing about Spotify payments and talking up vinyl, even cassettes. Most people don’t even know how Spotify pays, they’re unfamiliar with publishing splits, never mind on demand versus radio, and know nothing about record royalties. But that does not mean they don’t have an opinion, which they get from the ill-informed whose message is spread by websites for traffic, because to learn that making bucks in music is just too scary and difficult…no one wants to hear that.

But I lived through the golden era of art.

And I lived through the golden era of the internet.

And despite all the wankers saying they don’t want to hear about politics, they don’t want to hear anything negative, I’m doing my best to pay attention to what is going on, because that’s all that’s going on, we’re in a fight for democracy, our American way of life.

But we used to have time for art, we could take our eye off the ball. Except when our heroes said to pay attention. These artists who could not be influenced by the man and his money.

I remember yesterday, and I remember Peter Bogdanovich, and he made some of the greatest films ever, I’ll certainly always remember them. They were anything but disposable.

But today most of America has no idea who Peter Bogdanovich was. They’re living in the present, refusing to comb the past for lessons and experiences.

But Bogdanovich left us the bread crumbs, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the movies, they’re there to partake of if you wish.

You should.

Comments are closed