Printing the Legend and Honoring Peter Bogdanovich

Indiana University
IU Cinema
Bloomington, Indiana
January 27, 2011

Toast

It is my great pleasure to welcome you all to this evening of celebration in honor of our distinguished guest and honorary degree recipient Peter Bogdanovich.

As many of you know, Peter is an award-winning director, producer, and actor, whose career has spanned over forty years and also includes extensive scholarship on the world of film.

Would you please join me in raising your glasses to a living library of Hollywood history and one of the most tenacious and dedicated cinematic artists of our time:  to Peter Bogdanovich?

Thank you very much.

We will have more formal remarks after dinner. Please enjoy your meal.

1941: A Watershed Year

In 1941, the University Theatre was completed as part of the Auditorium complex. This evening, seventy years later, we are gathered to celebrate and dedicate the IU Cinema and to welcome one of our newest alumni. The year 1941 also marked one of the pinnacles in the age of American cinema. Films directed by John Ford, John Huston, William Wyler, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, and Orson Welles were nominated for Academy Awards. Ford’s How Green Was My Valley won. It is astounding to think that films by these six remarkable directors were nominated in the same year.

And that year, our honored guest Peter Bogdanovich turned two. Years later, he would turn to these cinematic luminaries for his own inspiration as he directed, produced, and acted on stage and screen. Mr. Bogdanovich began his career as a writer, and both his writing about film and his films themselves offer testimony to the lasting impact he has made on American cinema.

Training for the Spotlight

Peter prepared for his career in the public spotlight from the very start. Born and raised in New York City, he talked his way into one of Lee Strasberg’s acting classes and sat in front of Marilyn Monroe when he was just fourteen.1 At sixteen, and tall for his age, he convinced Stella Adler to take him on as a student.2 And at nineteen, he sent Clifford Odets a letter asking for permission to produce The Big Knife off-Broadway. Odets agreed, and the production received good reviews and had a two-month run.3

Mr. Bogdanovich pursued his interest in the cinema with equal tenacity. As a child, he accompanied his father to the Museum of Modern Art to watch the classics of silent cinema.4 Described as “a man with a calling,” Bogdanovich kept a file of index cards detailing every movie he saw over the course of eighteen years, from age twelve to age thirty. Those cards contain five thousand, three hundred, and sixteen entries and include repeat viewings.5

In his early twenties, Bogdanovich programmed a series of film retrospectives for the Museum of Modern Art. These led to the publication of his monographs on Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks, Orson Welles, and Fritz Lang, and Bogdanovich parlayed his expertise into a position writing about Hollywood for Esquire.

He writes with ease about his encounters with the glitterati:  In April of 1972, he wrote, “Cary Grant was the first superstar I ever met.”

In May of ’72, he wrote that he “first met John Wayne six years ago while he was on location in Old Tucson for Howard Hawks’ El Dorado.”

And finally, he wrote, “One afternoon a couple of years ago, Orson Welles and I got just a little soused in an elegant bar near Guaymas, Mexico  . . .”6

From Peter Bogdanovich, this is more than name-dropping. This is simultaneously research and evidence:  exactly what a journalist needs for success.

But Peter has always been more than a journalist. He was one of the leading American proponents of the auteur theory. Put simply in an article about Peter’s work, “A director can be considered the true author of a film, and the best director is the one who leaves his personal stamp on his work."7

From the Page to the Screen

Influenced by the French critics of the 1950s, Bogdanovich followed in the footsteps of critics-turned-directors like Truffaut, Godard, and others when he turned to directing.8  He trained under Roger Corman, King of the B-Movie, whose other students include the likes of Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, and John Sayles, to name just a few. Corman has famously joked that once his students succeed they will never work for him again. This was certainly the case with Bogdanovich, who released his first film, Targets, in 1968 to positive reviews.

In 1971, Bogdanovich ensured his graduation from the Roger Corman Film School with The Last Picture Show. Released to widespread acclaim, it garnered a host of awards. It was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won two. It won both a British Academy of Film and Television Arts award and a New York Film Critics Circle award for Best Screenplay. In 1998,the Library of Congress selected The Last Picture Show for preservation in the National Film Registry because of its cultural, historical, or aesthetic significance. And in 2007, it was ranked among the one hundred greatest American films of all time by the American Film Institute.

Mr. Bogdanovich followed The Last Picture Show with What’s Up, Doc? in 1972 and Paper Moon in 1973. These are the three films that would make his name in Hollywood. Since those early days, he has continued directing and acting in a steady stream of film and television productions, including his recent work in The Sopranos.

From The Last Picture Show to The Cat’s Meow, every Bogdanovich film is richly allusive, drawing on the works of the directors he most admires. Such allusion comes naturally to Peter and reinforces his deep knowledge of Hollywood history. As he put it early in his career, “I think too many critics write about a movie as though it exists alone in time. . . .You have to take every movie not only in the perspective of the other films of that director, but also in the whole context of film history.”9

That Peter refers to critics and directors in the same breath should come as no surprise. Just as he has continued to act and direct, so has he maintained his work as a writer and critic. The author of thirteen books and monographs on film as well as a great many articles, his work has been described as “instantly indispensible,” “stylishly clever,” and “insightful.”10 So powerful is his criticism that Clive James once said that “if Peter had never made a film, he would still be one of the most important writers about film that we know of.”11

Presenting Peter Bogdanovich

It is my great pleasure to welcome Mr. Peter Bogdanovich to Indiana University, to greet him as this university’s newest alumnus, and to present him to you this evening.

We are greatly looking forward to his talk with Jon Vickers following tonight’s screening of The Last Picture Show.

Now it is my pleasure to introduce Provost and Executive Vice President Karen Hanson.

Source Notes

[1] James, Clive. “Interview with Peter Bogdanovich.” The Guardian 30 Nov. 2004. http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2004/nov/30/features.

[2] Yule, Andrew.  Picture Shows:  The Life and Films of Peter Bogdanovich.  New York:  Limelight Editions, 1992.  Page 8.

[3] Harrison, B. G. “Peter Bogdanovich Comes Back from the Dead.”  Esquire Aug.1990: 96-98+. Page 153.

[4] Hornaday, Ann. “At Last, a New Picture Show; With ‘Cat’s Meow,’ Bogdanovich Claws His Way Back.” The Washington Post 5 May 2002: G01.

[5] Herman, Jan. “The stars according to Bogdanovich.” Chicago Sun-Times 12 Sept. 2004: 13.

[6] These references come from Bogdanovich’s 1972 Esquire “Hollowood” articles, April, May, and January, respectively.

[7] Watters, Jim. “It Won’t Be HIS Last Picture Show.” Life 26 Nov. 1971: pages 43-44+. Page 48.

[8] Watters, op. cit. Page 48.

[9] Sherman, Eric and Martin Rubin. The Director’s Event. New York:  Signet, 1969. Page 91. Quoted in Sobchack, Vivian. “Tradition and Cinematic Allusion.”  Film Literature Quarterly 2.1 (Winter 1974): 59-65.  Page 64.

[10] The first reference comes from Hornaday and the second two from Herman, op.cit.

[11] James, op cit.