Report by Marissa Blake:
You don’t have to read about Peter Bogdanovich’s many accomplishments – both in front of and behind the camera – to understand that he is an entertainer. You only have to listen to him for a few moments to realize it. Bogdanovich visited Tulane’s campus last week, spending the afternoon advising creative writing students (from the Advanced Fiction, Advanced Screenwriting, and Honors Colloquium in Screenwriting classes) and the night hosting an audience in Tulane’s Freeman Auditorium. When sharing tales during both talks, Bogdanovich frequently assumed the accents of famous actors and directors he has worked with during his career. The broad range and devilish accuracy of these voices kept his audiences laughing throughout the talks.
During the class visit, Bogdanovich shared how he began acting and directing. His career started at a young age, beginning with poetry recitals for his parents’ dinner guests to spending Saturday afternoons at the American Academy for Dramatic Art in New York City. His success at the AADA earned him a spot at Summer Stock, and led to classes with Stella Adler. Acting turned into directing one afternoon at Adler’s studio when the teenaged Bogdanovich directed a scene with his fellow actors. Bogdanovich explained how Adler praised his direction with, “Bravo darling, bravo!”
He talked about how he took another step as a director after persuading Clifford Odets to give him the rights to perform an Odets play off-Broadway. Why did the playwright agree to this request from a 20-year-old unknown? “I took a drop in the ocean,” Bogdanovich said in his Odets voice. After work as a film journalist, and an opportunity to write for director Roger Corman, Bogdanovich was able to write and direct his first full length film, Targets, in 1968. His second feature was the classic The Last Picture Show in 1971 and, remembered Bogdanovich, “it was smooth sailing for a while.”
The conversation in the Tulane classroom included discussion of screenplays and on-set habits. Bogdanovich said that he likes screenplays where the construction is solid, but sometimes likes to change the dialogue while shooting. Furthermore, he always knows where he wants to shoot, especially with close-ups – for example, the famous scene at the water tank in The Last Picture Show. The cloud movement and sudden sunlight while shooting made him worry about the lighting: he wasn’t sure if the scene would be ruined. However, it turned into a “wonderful mistake.” He quotes Orson Welles on the subject, complete with perfect impersonation: “You could even say that an director is a man who presides over mistakes.”
When asked about favorites among his own movies, Bogdanovich said that What’s Up, Doc? was his favorite to shoot, and that They All Laughed is the film that is most like him. Bogdanovich’s final story about going to see What’s Up, Doc? on opening night at the Radio City Music Hall. He took the advice of Cary Grant, and stood in the back, disguised and alone. He said it was like being in heaven that opening night because “there is nothing better than making people laugh – because you can hear it.”