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Peter Bogdanovich talks about why ‘The Last Picture Show’ still plays

First Published      Last Updated Nov 11 2016 11:31 am

Interview » The director, visiting Salt Lake City on Thursday, talks about making an American classic.

Peter Bogdanovich recognizes that, no matter what else he does in life, the first paragraph of his obituary likely will mention the movie he made in 1971, "The Last Picture Show."

"You're only discovered once," he said in a phone interview this week, "and people discovered me, so to speak, with that picture."

Bogdanovich will be in Salt Lake City for a red-carpet event Thursday at the Broadway Centre Cinemas. After an onstage discussion of his work, a digitally restored version of "The Last Picture Show" will screen.

Bogdanovich, 77, said he's gratified that "The Last Picture Show" has endured. "It's just nice to make a couple of pictures that people still like," he said.




He was 31 when he made "The Last Picture Show," an actor and film journalist who had a couple of low-budget films under his belt (most famously, the 1968 thriller "Targets," with Boris Karloff). The movie put him in the list of "New Hollywood" directors of the 1970s, alongside Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Brian De Palma and George Lucas.

The movie, adapted from Larry McMurtry's novel, captures a year in a north Texas town, from the end of 1951 through most of 1952. It focuses on high-school friends Sonny Crawford (Timothy Bottoms) and Duane Jackson (Jeff Bridges) and their romantic and sexual experiences. A rundown movie theater serves as a symbol of the dying town's fortunes and the boys' coming of age.

"I got the impression that it spoke to a lot of people," Bogdanovich said. "People have told me that it reminds them of their hometown, so I think it has a certain universality to it. Young love, and sex and all that, is pretty universal."

The cast included Cybill Shepherd (in her first movie), Eileen Brennan, Ellen Burstyn and Randy Quaid. The movie's two older stars, Ben Johnson and Cloris Leachman, won Oscars for their supporting roles. The movie received six more nominations: Best Picture, director for Bogdanovich, adapted screenplay (for McMurtry and Bogdanovich), cinematography, and supporting nods for Bridges and Burstyn.

"Roger Ebert said it was the best movie of 1951," Bogdanovich said. "But you couldn't make a movie like that in 1951, with the candid conversations about sex. I think it's the tension between the subject matter and the classic American storytelling technique that makes the picture work."

Part of that technique was filming in black and white. "Orson Welles says every performance looks better in black and white," Bogdanovich said. "It's the fact that you don't see blue eyes and blond hair. You focus on the performance, not the look of the people. And it enables you to capture the period better."

Bogdanovich has tried his hand at many genres: screwball comedy ("What's Up, Doc" in 1972), period dramas ("Daisy Miller," 1974), musicals ("At Long Last Love" in 1975), family drama ("Mask" in 1985), a country-music romance ("The Thing Called Love" in 1993), a Hollywood mystery ("The Cat's Meow" in 2001) and modern romance ("She's Funny That Way" in 2015).

He's also kept his hand in as a film historian (notably in his 1997 book "Who the Devil Made It: Conversations with Legendary Film Directors") and as an actor, most famously on "The Sopranos," playing the psychiatrist of Tony Soprano's shrink, Jennifer Melfi (Lorraine Bracco).

He is in pre-production on a comedy-drama with fantasy elements, with the working title "Wait for Me." The story revolves around several characters who are ghosts, so it will be the first time Bogdanovich has used computer-generated effects.

Through his career, he said, it's been difficult to separate his films from the memories of working on them. "That's why I never see my pictures alone," he said. "I always make sure I see it with an audience."

movies@sltrib.com

Twitter: @moviecricket

 

AT A GLANCE

‘A Conversation with Peter Bogdanovich’

Director Peter Bogdanovich sits for an onstage interview, moderated by Salt Lake Tribune movie critic Sean P. Means. A screening of “The Last Picture Show,” digitally restored, follows the conversation.

When » Thursday, Nov. 17, 7 p.m. (Red carpet begins at 6:30 p.m.)

Where » Broadway Centre Cinemas, 111 E. 300 South, Salt Lake City

Tickets » $30; slfs.org


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