Peter Bogdanovich, director, cinefil – and advocate for calendar reform?

A wonderful encounter with the famous filmmaker ten years ago revealed treats about Audrey Hepburn and a 13-month goddess calendar

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When director, film historian, former critic and storyteller Peter Bogdanovich died this week, the world lost one of its great connections to Old Hollywood. He was not quite a part of Old Hollywood himself – born in 1939 made him at least a generation younger than John Wayne (1907), James Stewart (1908) or Henry Fonda (1905), whom he all interviewed for his 1971 Documentary Directed by John Ford . In fact, his appearance as a director in the early 1970s technically made him one of the “New Hollywood” filmmakers of the time.

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But when I had the chance to sit down with him in 2012 – the occasion was a Toronto showing of his 1971 classic The last slide show – his sharp, insightful memories of famous characters from the story made it feel as if he had just had lunch with them the day before.

Take Audrey Hepburn, whom he directed in the 1981s They all laughed . “The least diva-like woman I’ve ever met,” he said. “Not a shard of diva in her.” A pause, then: “She made the best cheese risotto.” Another pause, and he added sadly, saying, “She smoked too much.”

Or Orson Welles, who instructed him The other side of the wind , an unfinished mid-1970s film that languished in legal limbo for decades until Bogdanovich spearheaded efforts to finish and release it. Welles, a friend for many years, had lived at Bogdanovich’s Bel Air mansion during filming due to financial difficulties. The Other Side of the Wind finally had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival in 2018, to positive reviews.

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“He had the ability to make you feel completely relaxed, so it did not even occur to your mind that you could do anything wrong,” he said of Welles’ instructional style. “I used to say to him: You make people better than they are.”

Bogdanovich is celebrated as a writer, director, producer and actor – one of his last roles was a cameo in The second chapter , who plays an ascot-bearing filmmaker, not unlike himself. But he entered the world of film as a programmer, writer and critic. “I started writing about movies as a way to get in to see them for nothing,” he told me. “And also as a way to learn because I wanted to make movies.” He said that in 1965 alone he saw more than 500 films; an easy fact to check as for decades he kept a map catalog of everything he saw.

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I started writing about movies as a way to get in to see them for nothing

Bogdanovich

Even as a 72-year-old when we met, Bogdanovich could sometimes seem a little angry. “They equate quality with cost,” he said of the mindset of modern studies. “If it’s $ 120 million, it must be good. If it’s $ 1.2 million, it could not be good.”

And he remembered a sinking emotion when he saw James Cameron’s blockbuster from 1997. “When Titanic was a hit, I said we were in trouble. If it was the flop, they would have said we should not do this, but because it was a success, they said here’s a solution: Spend a fortune. “When I told him the movie was about to be republished in 3D, his response was completely dry: “I can not wait.”

Bogdanovich was a man with many interests, some of them completely unrelated to film. It’s one thing to want to talk space with astronaut Chris Hadfield or comedy with Carol Burnett. But I could have spent an afternoon discussing the calendar reform with the man who in the 90s had edited and published an annual engagement diary titled A year and a day goddess’s engagement calendar , based on a year of 13 months, each 28 days long and named after a tree, plus an extra day to make 365.

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Each calendar included a handy chart for conversion to the boring Gregorian system that most of us use so you too could live in the time of the goddess and still reach your dental appointment on the right date. Bogdanovich was happy when I mentioned my interest, but there was no time to get into it.

Instead, I asked him what had been his favorite movie to direct. He named the screwball comedy from 1972 What did the doctor say? , a joyful, reverent rip-off of Howard Hawks’ 1938 film Upbringing of baby , with Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal replacing Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. It’s an insane ride, full of farcical insults, all built around series of identical suitcases with very different contents.

“The funniest thing I’ve ever had to make a picture,” Bogdanovich said. Good to know, because it’s also among the funniest I’ve ever had to see one.

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