HFA Series Honors the Films of Director Peter Bogdanovich

Harvard Film Archive Showcases the spectrum of Bogdanovich's oevre

Boasting a number of famed director Peter Bogdanovich’s most beloved movies, including “Paper Moon,” “The Last Picture Show,” and “What’s Up Doc?,” the Harvard Film Archive’s (HFA) newest series, entitled “Peter Bogdanovich, Between Old and New Hollywood,” explores the director’s penchant for classic Hollywood style. The festival, which began on January 29th and will continue until February 8th, also delves into some of his lesser-known works, including the dislocation-noir “Saint Jack” and his debut feature, “Targets.” HFA will host nine films in total, ranging in genre from slapstick comedy to horror-based thrillers.

According to HFA director Haden Guest, the festival drew its inspiration from another HFA series celebrating John Ford, the director of classic American westerns like “The Searchers.” When analyzing Ford’s influential and inspirational work, the directors of the HFA considered his considerable impact upon Bogdanovich. A devoted cinephile, Bogdanovich venerated Ford and released the tribute “Directed By John Ford” in 1971. After considering the connection between Ford and Bogdanovich, the HFA decided that an exhibition of Bogdanovich’s films would provide a perfect complement to Ford’s wide body of work. As Guest explains, “We called it ‘Between Past and Present’ partly for that reason. Bogdanovich’s cinema references quite clearly classical Hollywood cinema, and at the same time, points forward towards the new Hollywood, which was America’s equivalent of the French New Wave.” The Ford festival will screen twenty-two films at its initial presentation this winter, and forty more movies in the next six months.

In the earlier stages of his career, Bogdanovich served as a film critic for “Esquire,” and also profiled and orchestrated tributes to some of Hollywood’s finest directors, including Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles, as a worker in the Film Department of the Museum of Modern Art. Making his directorial debut in 1968 with “Targets,” Bogdanovich quickly established himself as one of the industry’s brightest new talents. A string of tremendously successful films in the early 1970s, including “The Last Picture Show,” “What’s Up Doc?,” and “Paper Moon,” firmly solidified his place in cinematic history. While not all of his later films matched the tremendous financial success of his previous efforts, Bogdanovich remained a remarkably consistent and vital force in 1970s cinema.

While students may be quick to recognize titles such as “Paper Moon,” known for Tatum O’Neal’s Oscar-winning performance, Guest encourages students to seek out the lesser known works in the collection, especially “Targets” and “Saint Jack.” “Targets” documents the life of a crazed serial killer in a reinvention of the thriller genre. Simultaneously, Bogdanovich presents a parallel story line in which the director himself profiles aging horror film legend Boris Karloff in the twilight of his career. Guest feels that while the sensationalism of the former plot line and the bittersweet sentimentality of the latter may appear diametrically opposed, they nonetheless work together nicely as a tribute to the classic Hollywood style Bogdanovich emulated.

Another undiscovered gem, the Hugh Hefner-produced “Saint Jack,” tells the story of a pimp trying to find his way in Singapore. Guest believes that students will really appreciate the visual style of the film, and while it is a bit over the top at times, “Saint Jack” has an inherent appeal to college students.

Guest considers the upcoming festival to be enormously important in understanding not only the classic cinema of old Hollywood and its stylistic revitalization in the 1970s, but also contemporary cinema. Guest feels that “the 70s continue to be, among young audiences, quite popular. So much of contemporary cinema today is referencing the 70s.” Bogdanovich’s films reinvent many classic genres— the musical, the western and the thriller—still accessible to a younger generation. As a student of popular cinema and an enthusiastic film critic, Bogdanovich reflects his considerable knowledge in his films. Guest says that current Harvard students will find a great deal to appreciate in “Between Old and New Hollywood.” He feels that “in terms of their visual panache, their incredible style, and their sophisticated narratives, I think there’s a lot for younger audiences today.”