Dear Mr. Bogdanovich,
Over 20 years ago you spoke at the SXSW festival in a smallish room that held 100 or so people. Though familiar with a couple of your more comic films from my childhood television viewing, I was not familiar with you. Upon seeing your initially dour expression and that neckerchief, well, who knew what to expect.
But then you painted the room with fascinating stories and loving observations of films and filmmakers of yore. Though just a festival volunteer, I was placed in the front row with Albert Maysles, who gently punched me in the arm with unfettered laughter during your talk. He punched me a lot.
Since then I’ve caught up with most of your films, and learned more of your personal story with the theater, acting, critiquing, as well as the triumphs and heartbreaking trials both in film production and in romance.
As innovative and enjoyable as most everyone’s favorites Paper Moon and The Last Picture Show were, it is your early film Targets that brought me to tears. It wasn’t over the ending of the Old Horror type genre, nor the beginning of the new horror of real life violence, shootings and mass murder portrayed with the sniper in your film.
While tension builds towards the climax, car loads of innocent families and couples pull up to the drive-in for a night at the movies, unaware that a shooter lurks behind the giant screen, waiting for the right moment to unleash further bloodshed and bullets.
While waiting there is a quick camera shot of one of the sedans, of a little boy in the backseat, bouncing up and down, anxious and excited for the movie to begin.
And I wept. Not from concern of this little character getting caught up in the coming slaughter. I wept because that is how I used to feel about going to the movies. And that delicious, sweet anticipation tingling through my body dried up after too many years of disappointment and downright disgust at what more often than not junk was being presented to us from the movie making leaders. Profit at the expense of story, in the mainstream.
My final fizzle was in 1999 with Star Wars IV or Star Wars I or whatever it’s called. I was actually excited to reconnect and further explore that world that had enchanted and moved me so as a child. After the heart pounding thrill of that famous opening theme music blasting through the darkness, and the familiar prelogue scrolling away into the sky, the movie began. And I did not know what I was looking at, with so much modern CG, using animated effects instead of a compelling story to try to whisk me away. Then Jar Jar Binx came out and I knew I, and millions of others, had been had. All the way to the bank.
This wariness of commercial films is not a rejection of all. I have still gone out of my way to see intriguing work, and have a few contemporary directors that I keep up with. My love and appreciation of film is not less, just my expectation of what it could be/ has become.
I believe you felt the same way, and that this dejection from the general lowering of the bar actually inspired you to keep telling those personal stories of the great films and filmmakers, to spread a little of that fire, that creative passion that used to light up the screen, reminding us of the rich cinematic history and lineage waiting to be rediscovered and explored.
Thank you! Bon voyage,