Legendary director Peter Bogdanovich, who came to prominence amid the Hollywood Renaissance of the ’70s, has died at the age of 82. He leaves behind an astonishing film legacy, with the likes of Paper Moon, Daisy Miller, and his Oscar-nominated hit The Last Picture Show having an immeasurable imprint on Hollywood history.
Bogdanovich was also a legend on the international film festival circuit, winning a swathe of wins and nominations at Cannes, Venice, and the Berlinale across the ’70s and ’80s, from 1976’s Golden Bear nominee Nickelodeon, to the George Lazenby-starring Saint Jack, for which the filmmaker took home the Golden Lion in 1979. But undoubtably Bogdanovich‘s greatest legacy lies with Picture Show, which film historian Peter Biskind describes in his book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-and-Drugs-and-Rock ‘n’ Roll Generation Saved Hollywood as having “delivered a European frankness that was new to the American screen”.
Indeed, like many of his peers within the New Hollywood movement — from John Carpenter, to Mel Brooks, to Sidney Lumet and George Lucas — Bogdanovich was a cineaste first-and-foremost, bringing to the filmmaking craft a then-rare attitude of auteurism, inspired by his peers in the French New Wave. Like François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, and Éric Rohmer, Bogdanovich morphed his knack for film criticism and scholarship into a directorial career, bringing with him the approach of his European friends and colleagues. This was part of a broader revolution, certainly, but there’s no doubt that Bogdanovich will be remembered as one of New Hollywood’s most prominent pioneers.
Against the regular grain of jingoistic studio filmmaking established in the wake of the Second World War, The Last Picture Show captures an America left behind with irregular candour, and profound emotionality. Set in a declining north Texas oil town in the early-fifties, Bogdanovich sought to tell the stories of both those left behind, and those who yearn to escape their smalltown shackles: from Timothy Bottoms‘ Sonny Crawford, to Jeff Bridges‘ Duane Jackson. It exists, too, as a heartfelt love letter to cinema itself, the eponymous “picturehouse” a spurned relic of the dwindling community.
In his glowing 2004 retrospective review of The Last Picture Show, the emblemic critic Roger Ebert wrote this of the film: “Today, seeing Bridges, Bottoms, Burstyn, Leachman, Brennan, Quaid, Johnson … and the others 33 years later, the images in the credits have a sharp poignancy. There is a line from Citizen Kane that comes to mind: “I was there before the beginning … and now, I’m here after the end.”
The passing of Bogdanovich feels like an epochal moment: one of the greats of Hollywood’s most shining era, gone at a time which has never been more uncertain. Ebert‘s chosen quote, then, feels all the more pertinent.