They say deaths come in threes. As far as legendary figures go, in the past three weeks, we lost NFL titan John Madden. Then TV icon Betty White (who was no stranger to the big screen). And, this week, film luminary Peter Bogdanovich (who was no stranger to the small screen). Update: And just today we lost another legendary Hollywood icon, Sidney Poitier.
A contemporary of such film greats as Frances Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, and a protege of Orson Wells, Bogdanovich created some of the most influential films of the '70s and '80s. Even more so, as a champion of cinema, he bridged the gap between Hollywood's Golden Age and the radical New Hollywood that developed along with him, starting in the post-60s.
To call the Oscar-nominated director a legend doesn't even cover half of it. But don't take our word for it, here are some comments from his close friends and stars of his films:
We honor the lasting legacy of Peter Bogdanovich, both as an actor and a filmmaker, with a look at his ten must-see essential movies. It's the perfect weekend binge.
The Cat's Meow
There's a bit of irony with "The Cat's Meow." Peter Bogdanovich's early-aughts historical drama covers the events of one of Hollywood's most notorious and still cold deaths. So, what's the connection? Bogdanovich was a protege of legendary director Orson Welles. Under Welles' advice, Bogdanovich shot his seminal feature, "The Last Picture Show," in black-and-white. Later, as we'll soon cover, Bogdanovich was instrumental in completing Welles' last film, "The Other Side of the Wind." Thus, the fact that Bogdanovich would turn his lens on the more notorious side of William Randolph Hearst is almost too fitting. His mentor did the same 60 years prior with "Citizen Kane."
Beyond that connection, Kirsten Dunst stars as Hearst lover Marion Davies. This was at the height of Dunst's "Spider-Man" popularity, and here she proves she's got phenomenal range. And now she's doing it once again.
The Great Buster: A Celebration
Just as much as Bogdanovich is a celebrated narrative feature director, he too has turned out some equally phenomenal non-fiction films. "The Great Buster" celebrates the life, career, and legacy of one of cinema's greatest comic stars. Along with Charlie Chaplin (who appears as a character in the previously highlighted movie), Buster Keaton was one of Bogdanovich's heroes. This doc serves as a labor of love and a solid introduction to Keaton's comedic genius and legendary filmography.
The Other Side of the Wind
As any fan of "The Sopranos" will tell you, Peter Bogdanovich is an equally accomplished actor. "The Other Side of the Wind" is Orson Welles' final film that took nearly five decades to come to screens. It's a personally-funded mockumentary-style satire of both Golden Age and New Wave cinema. The film tells the story of an aging director (John Huston) who returns to Hollywood for a comeback. Fittingly Bogdanovich plays a version of himself, even if Welles denied that he, himself, was the basis for Huston's character.
"The Other Side of the Wind" would still be sitting in storage if not for Bogdanovich. After many attempts over the years to finish it, Welles' protege finally took it to the 75th Venice Film Festival, where it premiered to praise. Beyond his role here, Bogdanovich has turned in many memorable acting roles and cameos. Most recently, he appeared in "It: Chapter Two" as a director (named Peter, no less) working to bring Losers Club member Bill's latest mystery novel to life.
Runnin' Down a Dream: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Before Peter Bogdanovich chronicled the life of the great Buster Keaton, he turned his cameras on American rock band Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Bogdanovich traced their career as it led to a 30th-anniversary concert in the band's hometown of Gainesville, Florida. Not only was the doc a critical success, but it also earned Bogdanovich a Grammy award for Best Music Film. Just don't let the film's four-hour runtime tune you out; doubly so if you're a fan of the late Petty and his backup band.
"Saint Jack" is an underrated gem, not just of Bogdanovich's career, but of the New Hollywood age in general. Following the exploits of an American pimp (Ben Gazzara) in Singapore, "Saint Jack" is just as controversial – if not more so – than Bogdanovich's 1971 coming-of-age pic "The Last Picture Show." Incidentally, the rights to the film's source novel were initially tied up with "The Last Picture Show" star Cybill Shepherd. She had sued Playboy for publishing nude photos of her from that set. Shepherd, who at this point was in a close relationship with Bogdanovich, wanted to turn the "Saint Jack" book into a film after receiving a copy from none other than Orson Welles.
Sappy and sentimental, "Mask" tends to be the brunt of many jokes. But this biopic of a real boy who endured a short life with a real and rare bone disorder finds all its heart in its cast. Despite a rocky production in which Bogdanovich clashed with his leading lady, Cher, Sam Elliott and Eric Stoltz would earn accolades for their performances. The film itself won the Oscar for Best Makeup.
Technically, the Roger Corman sci-fi adventure "Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women" is Peter Bogdanovich's first feature film. Bogdanovich, however, made the wise decision to leave his name off that B-movie. As such, "Targets" is, in actuality, his sophomore film. But for cinephiles, "Targets" is Bogdanovich's true directorial debut. With its parallel narrative and thrilling climax, it's no surprise that filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino praise the film. Fitting in with the running theme of the movies on this list, horror icon Boris Karloff (in his last dramatic role) stars as a version of himself. Karloff plays an aged horror star whose life converges in the crosshairs of a deranged gun enthusiast. Of course, Corman likely had no hard feelings when Bogdanovich opted for a pseudonym on "Voyage." The prolific director and producer, himself, helped produce "Targets."
What's Up, Doc?
This scene between Wayne and Garth in "Wayne's World" hits a little differently after watching Peter Bogdanovich's 1972 screwball romantic comedy. The character Judy Maxwell, played by the young and alluring Barbra Streisand, is an homage to Looney Tunes' gang leader, Bugs Bunny. Along for the ride is the hot actor of the day, Ryan O'Neal, who aptly plays the straight man to all the wacky shenanigans thrown at him. "What's Up, Doc?" with its mile-a-minute gags, is the perfect antidote for all the troubles we're facing today. Who would have thought a plaid suitcase would be so popular?
Peter Bogdanovich brings back his "What's Up, Doc?" leading man, and pairs him with his real-life daughter Tatum, in "Paper Moon." It's another comedic adventure, as the father-and-daughter duo con their way across 1930s Middle America. Also returning from "What's Up, Doc?" is Madeline Kahn as the awesomely named burlesque dancer Trixie Delight, who gives the duo a run for their money. "Paper Moon" was a big success and even led to a short-lived TV adaptation starring a young Jodie Foster. It was also a star-maker for the young O'Neal. She still ranks as the youngest Oscar-winner in history for her supporting role against her dad.
The Last Picture Show
No doubt, "The Last Picture Show" is Peter Bogdanovich's seminal work. Ironically, when Bogdanovich first came upon the movie's source novel, he felt it wasn't for him. But the title and the book itself kept calling. Bogdanovich and his then-wife and frequent collaborator Polly Platt selected a principal cast of then-newcomers Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, and Cybill Shepherd for the lead roles. Also captivating with much-lauded supporting performances were Ellen Burstyn, Cloris Leachman, and famed Western star Ben Johnson. It's here in "The Last Picture Show," where Johnson delivers one of the best monologues in movie history. Both he and Leachman won Oscars for their roles. Twenty years later, in 1990, most of the original cast and crew reunited for a follow-up called "Texasville." Like many belated sequels, the continuation could not recapture the original's lightning in a bottle.
The black-and-white tone was a bold move in its day, befitting the story's time and place – a small and dying 1950s Texas town. As critic Roger Ebert noted in his "Great Movies" review, it's "The Last Picture Show" that connects the bold New Hollywood era back to its Golden Age roots. As Ebert explains, "["The Last Picture Show"] has an unadorned honesty that came as a jolt after the pyrotechnics of the late 1960s. While the 'Easy Rider' generation was celebrating a heedless freedom, Bogdanovich went back to the directness and simplicity of Ford, who he admired no less than Welles."
Matt Lissauer is a writer & data manager for Noovie. When he is not busy writing listicles, Matt is enjoying life in New Jersey with his lovely wife and three kids.