Bogdanovich on Filmmaking and `Sopranos'

Wednesday, November 08, 2006



LOS ANGELES — Peter Bogdanovich _ director, actor, film historian _ gets to wear all those various hats at various times during this year's American Film Institute Film Festival.

His classic"The Last Picture Show,"which premiered on opening night of the inaugural festival in 1971 when it was still in its earliest incarnation as the FILMEX festival, is screening again as part of a 24-hour movie marathon for charity.

AFI (running here through Nov. 12) also is screening"Directed by John Ford,"a recently updated documentary about the legendary filmmaker that Bogdanovich directed and wrote, as well as"Searching for Orson,"a documentary about Orson Welles that Bogdanovich narrated.

And he's performing his one-man show,"Sacred Monsters,"in which he tells stories about the many historic film figures he's worked with and known.

Bogdanovich, 67, sat down with The Associated Press to discuss all of that, as well as his recurring role as Dr. Melfi's shrink on"The Sopranos."

AP: You're sort of all things to all people this year at AFI, between the one-man show and the movies of yours they're showing.

Bogdanovich: The one-man show is something I've done for a few years under different names around the country and in Europe. ... It basically deals with anecdotes, things that happened to me that I observed about filmmaking, with filmmakers. I talk about and sometimes do impressions of people like Alfred Hitchcock and Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart and Otto Preminger and John Ford, etc. And it's all anecdotes of things that happened so it's not secondhand or thirdhand.

AP: The idea of looking at film history seems kind of rare amid the instantaneous nature of YouTube and blogs, and I wonder if it's lost, if anyone even cares about it as much as they should.

Bogdanovich: Well, they certainly don't care about it as much as they should. ... All of the books I've done have been an attempt to keep the flame alive of this vast treasure that the foundation of the movies is built on, which many people even in the business today are not aware of or not as aware as they should be of, because it's a great heritage. It's one of the reasons movies aren't so good today, is because not enough people seem to know how to make'em.

AP: So why do so many bad films get made then?

Bogdanovich: Ignorance.

AP: Of ...?

Bogdanovich: Of craft and of a lot of other things. If something's been done awfully well for many, many years and people loved it and went more to the movies then _ through the silent era and the talkies era up through the early `60s _ than they do now, they must have been doing something right. So it would behoove you if you want to figure out what's wrong to look at it. If you look at movies made in those days there was no nudity and there was no swearing but a lot of them seemed to be very clearly aimed at adults as opposed to movies today which have swearing and nudity but are aimed at children or teenagers.

AP: Well, also movies come out now and they're crap and they're in theaters for a week or two and then they're on DVD in a month or two.

Bogdanovich: Yeah, well, we also live now in an ever more disposable society so nothing lasts very long. That's the idea: There's more to sell because it becomes obsolete. We live in a kind of instant-gratification society where there's no, it's almost like there's no back story.

AP: What have you seen lately that you've liked?

Bogdanovich: I saw"The Queen"this weekend, which I thought was super. I thought it was terrific _ I didn't want it to end. I thought Helen Mirren _ I mean, she's extraordinary. What she does in the pauses, just the pauses, you see her thinking. Orson Welles used to say, the camera photographs thought. It doesn't matter what you're thinking, it just matters that you're thinking.

AP: I read that there was a time in which you were seeing 400 films a year. Is that true?

Bogdanovich: Yeah that's true, but that was way back before I started making them. The minute I started making them the number dropped precipitously. I think it went from something like 500 films to 120.

AP: So what is it now?

Bogdanovich: Oh, it's terrible now. I don't think I see a hundred films in a year. ... I'm also busy right now because I'm doing a documentary on Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and I'm so excited about that. Oh God, that's a trip.

AP: How did you know you wanted to make movies?

Bogdanovich: I think I always wanted to make films. I think I wrote a script when I was a kid. I wrote a lot of plays when I was younger, too. Not very good, but they were plays, full-length plays. I think I always wanted to direct, and I think I directed in the theater because I wanted to get into movies.

AP: So are you a director who acts or an actor who directs?

Bogdanovich: I think I'm really a director who sometimes acts _ or an actor who most of the time directs.

AP: What is the appeal of working on"The Sopranos?"

Bogdanovich: To be a part of one of the, maybe the best dramatic television series ever done in America, that's a great thing. I've just been thrilled to be a part of it. And it's so good _ the writing is so good, the directing is so good, the acting. It's like a movie _ it's better than a movie.


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