DEAR MR. BOGDANOVICH

Gear Head Peter

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,

loveb

CONTINUITY CHILDSPLAY

I got chillllls, but I dont got trees, the background guys gee-gawking with their arms up and the same hue of seafoam green

My parents didn’t take us to the movies as much as I would’ve liked, but a couple of those early screenings have stuck with me as filmic comfort food.  After the daily stress of the world on hold and nightly chores on the farm, 2020 has been the year of classic cinema. Not meaning highbrow, just old!

Grease is the word! Or it was last night, streaming into our living room.  Way back, when movies stayed in the theater for months, I did get to see this film projected a couple times.  That year a friend and I danced and sang our little girl heads off to the soundtrack. And when it later came out on VHS, and when my family eventually (better late than never) got a VCR, teenage me maybe might’ve rented it once, or twice, until someone down the road gave me a tape of my own. Never got around to a DVD copy.

So my hub and I watched, in HD on a decent sized flat screen. And during the climactic final duet, some childhood cinematic memory urged, “was I right?” There was something that I remembered feeling off about that part of the song where Sandy and Danny move their way up the zig zaggy stairs of a carnival attraction.

And there it was. The close ups didn’t match in continuity, the backdrop didn’t quite match, and were (now quite obviously) filmed on stage. I felt that as a kid!  But I’ve seen this on tape several times since then, and thus knew this already no? No. Poking around versions of the scene on Youtube it became clear. After seeing it in the 1970’s theater, the other viewings were on a squarish TV, the image severely cropped (unless there’s a letterbox version out there), with the softer focus and drained color saturation of a film on tape.

Good grief, who knew then that seemingly useless observational sense would apply to decades of work as a script supervisor!

As an aside, in mentioning this to a friend, she brings up the cringiness of some of the sexist dialogue and lyrics in my beloved Grease. Well, I look at it as a film about the 50’s made during the 70’s. Context people! BTW what kind of example are today’s big name musical artists promoting? I will take my hand jive and pussy wagon all day long over a degraded twerking Cardi B or Miley Cyrus.

the wideshot

MEDIA CIRCUS, FILM INDUSTRY?

balancing act

The tension of not knowing what the film production future will look like, as in jobs, as in when, as in being decades invested in such a niche industry, and the thought of trying to make a living at something available and new, deep into middle age, finally got to us. Fighting over planting the green beans. At one point the words “breaking up” were uttered, and not by me.

That night I did not want to hear another word, no syllable nor peep, and stumbled upon a silent film from 1928, Charlie Chaplin’s The Circus. CC can be a little syrupy for my taste, but after reading that he had pulled this movie out of circulation for nearly 50 years, rereleasing it in 1969 (to an audience both sophisticated enough to appreciate a master in film history, and perhaps exhausted from the hippy beads of culture shock confusion mixed with a deepening march of war), I hit play.

In an exaggerated way the Tramp lives out our primal fears – homeless, jobless, alone and hungry. But he holds his head up. Given a chance to work at the circus, stumbling through various jobs and actual circus acts, one could cynically say he is taken advantage of, used, and placed in danger.

But it doesn’t actually feel this way to watch. Despite his misadventures the Tramp can love, share, protect and sacrifice, maintain more dignity and grace than those who have a flush wallet and a full belly. And now, here on Earth 2020, our circumstance may change but it needn’t change who we are. It can’t.  What makes us “us” are internal qualities, not possessions or positions, no matter how entrenched we seem to have become with such. In trying times we see what we are made of.

By the film’s climax my husband and I were laughing out loud, tears running down my face (and I am a hard nut to crack), as the Tramp fills in for the Tightrope walker. I wont describe it for hoping someone here will actually watch the WHOLE film, but lets say its an allegory for how some of us may feel a this time – safety line snapped, a monkey on our back, being out of balance, caught with our pants down.  Tears of laughter are better than tears of fears.