Yes, Peter Bogdanovich really does wear an ascot in real life. And somehow, the 72-year-old gentleman makes it work; it suits the image he's cultivated as a living link to golden age Hollywood.
A generation knows him as Dr. Elliot Kupferberg, Dr. Melfi's confounded therapist on The Sopranos, but to another generation, Bogdanovich is the man who pushed American filmmaking forward while looking fondly backward with self-consciously retro features like The Last Picture Show, Paper Moon, What's Up, Doc? and Nickelodeon. And it's in that capacity that he'll be at the TIFF Bell Lightbox Saturday night, when Turner Classic Movies hosts a free screening of his 1971 breakthrough The Last Picture Show as part of its Road To Hollywood series. (For tickets, download this PDF - and be sure to arrive early. The show starts at 7:30 pm, but it'll probably fill up well before that.)
We sat down in the screening room at the Hazelton Hotel to talk about nostalgia, melancholy, and the unexpected resurrection of one of his long-lost pictures, At Long Last Love.
What can you tell me about the Road To Hollywood series?
It's a preamble to the Classic Film Festival they do in Los Angeles. This is the second year they're doing it, and it's a sort of a buildup to that. They do 10 cities. And I was thrilled that they picked Picture Show to do, so I said "Sure, great, I'll come up to Toronto!" I've been here before, I've shot films here [including Hu$tle, starring Tom Sizemore as Pete Rose], I've been to TIFF a few times. It's just nice to have a picture you made still be relevant.
TCM's built an interesting little series. To Kill A Mockingbird in New York, Marnie in Minneapolis, The Birds in Chicago --
What they're doing with these classic films, showing them on the big screen to audiences, giving out free tickets, it's wonderful. I think it's also important for younger people to see older films on the big screen. That's why they don't respond as well to them; they haven't seen them on the big screen. I've talked to people who haven't seen What's Up, Doc? or Picture Show on the big screen. I said, "Jesus Christ, you haven't seen it, then."
I find there's a melancholy to The Last Picture Show that gets deeper every time I see it. And what's amazing is that the film itself isn't any more sad; it's just how I relate to it.
Yeah, that happens with films. You get older, you get more experienced, and suddenly a given film becomes deeper and more meaningful. I enjoy seeing films by directors whom I knew, because it's like being with them. Particularly a director like Orson Welles - or John Ford, who had such a good sense of humour. You know, some things make me laugh because I know that he put them in there. It's very clear with Ford. And [Howard] Hawks.
It must have been fantastic, getting to know these filmmakers.
Well, you know, I was really lucky that they were all alive and willing to talk to me as much as they were.
Are there any filmmakers you particularly enjoy today?
I like Wes Anderson's movies, and I like Noah Baumbach, I think he's good. I think Wes is one of the best directors around; you feel you're in the presence of somebody telling the story. You feel that way with Noah, with Quentin [Tarantino]. I'm talking about the younger directors; I mean, [Steven] Spielberg and [Martin] Scorsese certainly know what they're doing.
Speaking of John Ford and Spielberg, War Horse certainly seemed like a tribute from one to the other.
Yeah, he said that to me. I saw Steven in Hollywood recently, and I said, "I haven't seen your film yet." He said, "It's the most John Ford movie I've ever made, the way your Paper Moon was." I don't think Paper Moon was particularly John Ford, but that's his comment.
Huh. I don't see it.
I don't either, but it was something to say.
You've spent much more time acting in recent years than you have directing - was that a conscious choice, or did appearing on The Sopranos lead to a whole new career?
I wish I had done more acting in the earlier years; that was a mistake I made. Like the Charles Anzavour song, I didn't see the time go by. I made some mistakes in terms of turning down pictures I should have done as an actor. I started as an actor when I was 15 - I wrote a letter to a relative in the former Yugoslavia when I was 10, and recently I went over there to get an award at the Belgrade film festival and this relative gave me back the letter I had written him. I'd said "I'm gonna be an actor. When I play a detective, my name is Steve Colt. When I play a cowboy, my name is the Cross-Draw Kid." It's just weird, that I knew what I wanted to do. It changed, and I decided to direct, but I didn't ever decide not to act; I just moved into directing. I acted in my first picture, Targets; I acted here and there. My most important performance, probably, is in a film nobody's seen: Orson Welles's The Other Side Of The Wind.
I'd love to see that.
[laughing] So would everybody.
It's been regarded as one of the great lost Welles projects for decades. What happened there?
Legalities, ownership, ego, confusion...
Is there any chance it'll make it to a screen somewhere?
Yeah, I think so. I think The Other Side Of The Wind will be available within a year or two, I hope. Knock wood - somebody was here before and said that I predicted it would be shown at Cannes in 2010, what happened? I said, "Well, I was wrong." But we got into the vault last year and I actually re-edited some scenes that he had shot but hadn't actually cut together; there's some great stuff there. That's the main job, completing the cutting.
And then you can start working on a theatrical campaign for the restored version of your own lost project, At Long Last Love.
What happened was, somebody said "Did you know that they're streaming At Long Last Love on Netflix?" And I said no, so I looked at it, streaming, on my computer, and I said "Where the fuck did they get that scene? I thought I cut that out! But it's good, why did I cut it out?" And then another scene: "Where the fuck did they get that?" It was a completely different version of any version, except for that it was very much like the original preview cut. Somebody went back and fixed it. Somebody who liked Cole Porter had a musical background, he saw the picture and probably said "This is a good picture, and we've slowly fucked it up." So he put it back, and I didn't know. It'll be out [on disc] in September. Have you seen it?
Years ago, on cable.
Well, then you don't know which version you've seen. There's three versions that have been out in the world that I know of; it was kind of a favoured project [at Fox], and it got so destroyed that I thought it was hopeless. But Cybill [Shepherd] and I saw this cut and said, "Jesus Christ, it's like having a mutilated child come back to you whole." It's quite a good picture; there are scenes in there that I can believe we did. All these musical numbers without a cut. It's amazing, it's really quite good; I'm proud of it.