Skip Navigation

Frame by Frame

Posts Tagged ‘Peter Bogdanovich’

Peter Bogdanovich’s Targets (1968)

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

The recent wave of gun violence is impossible to ignore.

Since the shootings in Colorado, Newtown, CT, and elsewhere, the gun debate is now front and center in American national politics. In 1968, long before the problem became epidemic, director Peter Bogdanovich made one of the most insightful films about this problem with Targets, a film that among other things traces movie violence to gun violence, and presents a picture of cultural emptiness and societal freefall which is more timely today than it was even upon its initial release.

As I write today in the journal Film International, Peter Bogdanovich got his start as a critic and historian, conducting interviews with some of cinema’s most illustrious directors in their twilight years, which were published first in a variety of books and magazines, and finally collected in his volume Who the Devil Made It: Conversations with Legendary Film Directors in 1998. But Bogdanovich wanted to do more. He moved to Los Angeles and fell in with the Roger Corman circle at the height of its creative brilliance, and soon found himself working on such landmark exploitation vehicles as The Wild Angels (1966), in which he did double duty as an Assistant Director and an extra.

The next logical step was directing a movie himself, and Corman, then able to green light films with modest budgets that would actually wind up in a theater, as opposed to going straight to tape, VHS, DVD, Blu-Ray or VOD, famously offered Bogdanovich a deal. Boris Karloff owed Corman two days work on a multipicture deal, and he offered the fledgling director two days of Karloff, twenty minutes of footage from the recently completed film The Terror (1963, ostensibly a Corman film, but one which nearly everyone in Corman’s circle had a hand in directing, including Francis Ford Coppola, Monte Hellman, Jack Hill and Jack Nicholson), with a minimal budget and shooting schedule. Corman told Bogdanovich that if the finished film was any good, he’d distribute it through Paramount; if not, he’d dump it in drive ins through American International Pictures.

Absorbing this, Bogdanovich went home, and working with his then-wife, Polly Platt, and an uncredited Samuel Fuller, who contributed considerably to the final script, drafted a screenplay about the last days of a aging horror star, Byron Orlok (Boris Karloff), who wants to quit the business because he’s sick of starring in one rotten horror film after another; in addition, he feels that his brand of Gothicism is out of date, and that he should quit the business gracefully while he’s still in demand.

At the same time, in a parallel story, young All-American Vietnam veteran Bobby Thompson (Tim O’Kelly, in a terrifyingly realistic performance) is having trouble readjusting to society after his hitch in the service, and goes on a murderous rampage as a sniper, picking off unsuspecting people from the top of a huge oil refinery tank, and later, from behind the screen of a drive in theater. He does all of this quite casually, as if the entire rampage was simply a sporting event, which, of course, it is for him. He has no empathy for his victims; he has no feeling for anyone. All of his victims are simply targets, as the title states with succinct finality.”

You can read the entire article here; this is a problem that simply must be solved.

Guest Blogger: Gwendolyn Audrey Foster on The Last Picture Show

Friday, December 23rd, 2011

Gwendolyn Audrey Foster, the film theorist and historian, has graciously agreed to do four short essays on some of her favorite films for this site.

The Last Picture Show

“Peter Bogdanovich began his filmmaking career as an actor, and a film critic of the auteurist school, conducting a lengthy series of interviews with the filmmakers who had defined classical 20th century cinema, such as Howard Hawks, Fritz Lang, Samuel Fuller and Orson Welles. In his early years, he worked at the Museum of Modern Art in New York as a film programmer, and also wrote film-related articles for the magazine Esquire.

Moving to Hollywood with his then wife Polly Platt, Bogdanovich drifted into “B” movie director Roger Corman’s circle, and soon was working for Corman on a variety of assignments, culminating in his writing, producing, directing, editing, and starring in Targets (1968), a landmark film about an aging horror star, Byron Orlok, who clashes with a young psychopathic sniper on a killing spree at a drive-in movie theater.

The film generated extraordinarily positive reviews, and Bogdanovich was launched as a director. His next film was Directed by John Ford (1971), a tribute to the legendary film director, with interviews from many members of the Ford “stock company” of actors, including John Wayne, Henry Ford, and James Stewart. But this was just a stepping-stone on the way to his next film, The Last Picture Show (1971), which Bogdanovich co-wrote with novelist Larry McMurtry.

Set in the fictional west Texas town of Anarene (actually Archer City, Texas, McMurtry’s home town) in 1951- 1952, The Last Picture Show is a coming of age film, a valentine to a vanishing era, an elegy for small-town life, and a showcase for the actors who bring the film to life, most notably Ben Johnson as Sam the Lion, owner of the local movie theater, and Cloris Leachman as Ruth Popper, the wife of a high school basketball coach.

In addition, the film has superb contributions from Timothy Bottoms and Jeff Bridges (as two young men growing up in the desolate milieu of postwar society), Cybill Shepherd (in her film debut), as well as Eileen Brennan, Ellen Burstyn, Clu Gulager, and Randy Quaid. Most of the action revolves around the town’s pool hall and theatre; as the title implies, when Sam the Lion dies, the theatre dies with him.

To effectively convey the despair and isolation of the world these characters inhabit, Bogdanovich made the sensible but resolutely uncommercial decision to shoot the film in black and white, and hired the gifted Robert Surtees to photograph the film. Scored almost entirely with contemporary pop songs of the era, The Last Picture Show comes across as an authentic, if resolutely downbeat, slice of Americana, and catapulted Bogdanovich into the “A” list of directors.

An immediate critical and commercial success, The Last Picture Show was honored with eight Academy Award nominations, including Best Director, winning two awards for Cloris Leachman and Ben Johnson as Best Supporting Actors. Perhaps the definitive film about the loneliness of small-town American life, The Last Picture Show is emotionally searing and brutally honest, and thus endures as a classic American film.” — Gwendolyn Audrey Foster

You can access Professor Foster’s website directly by clicking on this link.

About the Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. All comments by Dixon on this blog are his own opinions.

In The National News

Wheeler Winston Dixon has been quoted by The New Yorker, The New York Times, the BBC, CNN, The Christian Science Monitor, US News and World Report, The Boston Globe, Entertainment Weekly, The Los Angeles Times, NPR, The PBS Newshour, USA Today and other national media outlets on digital cinema, film and related topics - see the UNL newsroom at for more details.

RSS Recent Frame by Frame Videos