Legendary instructor Peter Bogdanovich, who became prominent in the midst of the Hollywood renaissance in the 70s, has died at the age of 82. He leaves behind an astonishing film heritage with e.g. Paper Moon, Daisy Miller, and his Oscar-nominated hit The last slide show have an immense imprint on the history of Hollywood.
Bogdanovich was also a legend on the international film festival circuit, winning a number of victories and nominations at Cannes, Venice and the Berlinale in the 70s and 80s, from the 1976 Golden Bear nominees Nickelodeon, to George Lazenby– contributing Saint Jack, for which the filmmaker took home the Golden Lion in 1979. But Bogdanovich’s greatest legacy undoubtedly lies with Picture show, which film historian Peter Biskind describes in his book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-and-Drugs-and-Rock ‘n’ Roll Generation Saved Hollywood as having “delivered a European openness that was new to the American screen”.
In fact, like many of his peers within the New Hollywood movement – from John Carpenter, to Mel Brooks, to Sidney Lumet and George Lucas – Bogdanovich was first and foremost a filmmaker who added to the film craft a then rare attitude of auteurism, inspired by his peers in the French New Wave. Like Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, and Erik RohmerBogdanovich turned his ability to film criticism and scholarship into a directorial career, bringing with him the approach of his European friends and colleagues. This was certainly part of a broader revolution, but there is no doubt that Bogdanovich will be remembered as one of New Hollywood’s most prominent pioneers.
Towards the regular grain of jingoistic studio filmmaking established in the wake of World War II, The last slide show captures an abandoned America with irregular openness and deep emotionality. Bogdanovich, set in an oil town in northern Texas in decline in the early fifties, sought to tell the stories of both the bereaved and those longing to escape their small-town links: from Timothy Bottoms‘Sonny Crawford, til Jeff Bridges‘Duane Jackson. It also exists as a heartfelt love letter to the cinema itself, the eponymous “picture house” a despised relic of the dwindling society.
In its glowing retrospective review from 2004 of The last slide show, the emblematic critic Roger Ebert wrote this about the film: “Today, when you look at Bridges, Bottoms, Burstyn, Leachman, Brennan, Quaid, Johnson … and the other 33 years later, the images in the credits have a sharp gripping effect. There is a line from Borger Kane that comes to mind: “I was there before the beginning … and now I’m here after the end.”
Bogdanovich’s passing feels like an epoch-making moment: one of the greats of Hollywood’s brightest era, gone at a time that has never been more uncertain. Ebert’s chosen quote feels so much the more relevant.
When humanity first dreamed of the silver screen, there is a 99% chance that the dream also included a lot of butts.
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