QA with Peter Bogdanovich: They All Laughed

QA with Peter Bogdanovich, 92nd St. Y, Tribeca, September 21, 2012. Photo by Mitchell Fain

On Friday, September 21, 2012, Bogdanovich’s beloved and yet rarely seen film They All Laughed was screened at the 92nd St. Y in Tribeca, with a QA following with Peter Bogdanovich. I was alerted to this event because the New York-area film site Alt Screen used one of the pieces I have written about They All Laughed as promotion. Unbelievably, considering my life right now, I was free on Friday night. Not only was I free, but Mitchell was in town, and we are What’s Up, Doc? fans from way, WAY back, and so I scored us two tickets. That piece I wrote about They All Laughed (along with a second piece) got the attention of a filmmaker in Florida named Bill Teck, who is currently making a documentary about They All Laughed. He reached out to me last year, told me about the project, and asked if I would be into being interviewed. I said, of course, Of course, I would love to blabber on about this, one of my favorite films of Bogdanovich’s (and that’s saying a lot. The man made The Last Picture Show, Paper Moon and What’s Up, Doc?, after all.) Bogdanovich was aware of the project, and Teck had spent some with Bogdanovich in North Carolina, interviewing him as well. Teck had interviewed Ben Gazzara (one of the leads of the film), which is such a blessing since Gazzara passed only a couple of months afterwards. He also interviewed Patti Hansen, Colleen Camp, and as many of the other cast members as he could find. He interviewed film critic Andrew Sarris, and also wanted to get some film bloggers on the roster, fans of the film who could gush appropriately. Teck and I met up at the Soho Grand in New York last year, and I spent a glorious couple of hours blabbing to my hearts’ content to the camera about They All Laughed.

While I am in intermittent contact with Bill Teck (I reached out to him when Gazzara died), I am not sure where the project stands right now. Life has moved on for me with a vengeance. But there it all was, in that promo on Alt Screen, not to mention the exciting prospect of hearing Bogdanovich speak, and possibly getting the chance to meet him. I cannot sufficiently express what his films have meant to me, let alone his writing about films which has been almost as influential. All I can say is: when I was a kid, my parents let me and my brother stay up late on a school night only twice: Once to see The Sting and once to see What’s Up, Doc? I was probably 12 years old. I remember vividly my brother literally writhing on the floor in pain during the Chinese dragon sequence, nearly asphyxiating from laughter. I was already a movie fan at that point. I did not know that What’s Up, Doc? was consciously referencing all of these great screwballs of the past. I didn’t know anything. All I knew was that it was the funniest most entertaining thing I had ever seen, and it changed how I felt about movies, about comedy, about the cinematic experience. Mitchell said the same thing happened for him. He saw it as a kid and it instantly opened his mind to the highest levels of comedy, “and to this day it still informs my sense of humor”. What’s Up, Doc is an O’Malley favorite and Brendan has passed it on to his own son. They watch it every year together on Father’s Day. I have all of Bogdanovich’s books. Gold mines. So to be a small part of a project celebrating a project that had seemed doomed upon its opening, and is now experiencing a resurgence of long-overdue interest, is very gratifying.

They All Laughed is a whimsical, magical, fun picture with a deep heart and a keen of bittersweet longing running through it. It’s on Netflix. If you haven’t seen it, I cannot recommend it highly enough. It is laugh-out-loud funny as well as sweet, sentimental and kind. It stars (and there isn’t really one lead, it’s a group endeavor), Ben Gazzara, Audrey Hepburn, John Ritter, Patti Hansen, George Morfogen, Colleen Camp, Blaine Novak and Dorothy Stratten (who was murdered by her husband only a month after they finished shooting). The murder, of course, ruined lives. Dorothy Stratten was, by all accounts, a well-loved young woman with a good family and concerned friends. She was making interesting strides into an acting career, after hitting the big time as Playmate in the August 1979 issue of Playboy. Her story is well-known, so I won’t rehash it here. She is delicate and lovely in the film, funny and natural. It’s not a stretch to imagine her having a nice career in similar projects. Her murder put a pall over the finished product (which is dedicated to her memory in the credit sequence), and the industry backed away from it (and Bogdanovich) en masse. Again, this is well-trod ground. Bogdanovich covered a lot of this, and the aftermath, in the QA. The film did not get distribution, which killed its chances (of course) for finding an audience. Bogdanovich’s career was shipwrecked for a bit, after establishing himself as one of the hottest new directors in the world with The Last Picture Show, Paper Moon and What’s Up Doc? He attempted to distribute the film himself, and ruined himself financially. For all intents and purposes, for almost 30 years They All Laughed was a lost film. It was finally released on DVD in 2006, with a great commentary track by Bogdanovich, and ever since then, the film has been picking up steam. It’s been shown multiple times here in New York in the last year alone. To those of us who love this film (“cherish” might be a more accurate word), this is such a wonderful thing to watch take place. You want to shout, “AT LAST.”

At last indeed.

While I have seen the movie many times, I’ve never seen it on the big screen and it was fantastic to watch it in the packed small screening room at the Y. The film plays great for a live audience and the huge thunderclaps of laughter were nearly constant. They All Laughed, while it features many kooky screwball elements, like John Ritter at the roller rink and the chaotic car chase through the streets of Manhattan, also has delicate character-based humor, like Leon, the harassed boss, doing back exercises on the floor as he bosses his employees around, and pretty much every single thing that comes out of Colleen Camp’s mouth.

Afterwards, Bogdanovich sat in the lobby signing copies of his wonderful book Who the Hell’s In It and I stood off to the side, getting up my courage to go over and talk to him. The line was coming to an end, so I got on behind everyone else. Once I reached Bogdanovich, I said (awkward as hell, but finally gathering myself together), “Mr. Bogdanovich, my name is Sheila O’Malley and I was interviewed by Bill Teck for that documentary.” He looked up at me quizzically for a minute, and my heart sank, thinking he had no idea what I was talking about (even though he had referenced the documentary in the QA). Turns out, he was just trying to place me, and then the light dawned. He said, “Oh, yes! I just saw the footage from your interview just the other day.” “You did?” His whole demeanor had changed. He is clearly a very nice man, and friendly, not forbidding at all, but there was a difference between polite gracious Book-Signing behavior and “Oh, hey, I know you” behavior. He said, and he started laughing, “Yes, it was very funny. In the interview you said, ‘Look, everyone talks about Last Picture Show, blah blah blah, but They All Laughed is the one to see.” He did a pretty damn good imitation of me and my “blah blah blah” (he’s a very good mimic). I was horrified. I have no memory of saying that. He was laughing though. I said, “Oh shit. I dissed your masterpiece. I’m sorry.” That made him crack up even more, and he said, “No, it was great. You said it just like that: ‘Last Picture Show, blah blah blah…’ and I loved it. I know he interviewed a lot of bloggers, but you were the best.” “I was?” (Is this really happening?) “Yes. Totally. He’s using you a lot. I think he’s starting off the whole thing with you, with that Last Picture Show comment.” I started laughing again and so did he. I introduced him to Mitchell. We all then proceeded to chat for about 20 minutes, about They All Laughed, and how great it was that this wonderful film is finally finding an audience. He said, “This is the most personal picture I’ve made.” We talked about different actors in the film, and I told him how much I loved Leon, the boss (George Morfogen). Bogdanovich said, “He’s one of my oldest friends. He’s going to be in my next picture.” Mitchell said, “He played the head waiter in What’s Up, Doc!” I think Bogdanovich was a bit impressed, and said, “Yes, he did!” Mitchell then said one of our favorite lines from that film, “What kind of wine are you serving at Table One?” and Bogdanovich cracked up. He said, “You know, every time you make a picture, you hope that you can capture some kind of magic.” I said, “Does that happen often?” He said, “It’s only happened to me once, on this picture.” ” Wow,” I said. It was a quiet moment and it felt very natural. A communication, an exchange. We talked about Moonrise Kingdom, which had come up during the QA. The three of us talked about how much we had loved it. Mitchell said, “You know that that was filmed in our home town in Rhode Island.” Bogdanovich got all interested, “Really??” I said, “I made out with my high school boyfriend on the steps of that lighthouse.” and Bogdanovich cracked up again. He was so nice. (Mitchell said to me later, “I couldn’t get over watching him quote you to you. That was unbelievable.”) Finally, the conversation wound down, although I didn’t want to stop talking with him. I held out my hand to him and said, “Your work means so much to me” and he took my hand, lifted it to his mouth and kissed it. Mitchell and I walked away and we talked about it the whole way home. We are still talking about it.

I recorded the QA. Filmmaker Alex Ross Perry asked the questions and moderated. Mitchell and I agreed that he did a fantastic job. The questions were short and to the point, but very well-prepared, and specific. He had done his homework, but he also was openly enthusiastic and kind. The QA started off with a question about the intense and constant use of music in the film, not to mention the title which references the Gershwin tune. Bogdanovich’s answer is below, as well as the rest of the questions, from Perry as well as the audience.

The night was, as they say, One For the Books.

Peter Bogdanovich: Frank Sinatra did me a tremendous favor. It was after Dorothy [Stratten] was killed and I think he felt sorry for me. I said, “Frank, I want to use four of your songs [in They All Laughed], but I don’t have a lot of money.” And Frank said, “I’ll get back to ya, kid.” A couple weeks later he called me back and he gave me everything, all four songs, for 5 grand. It would have cost about 100 grand.

Alex Ross Perry: Did he see the movie?

PB: Yes. I had a very funny experience with him. We screened it for him at his compound in Palm Springs. He had about 5 or 6 people there. Nobody had seen it, so it started to play, and I could tell that everybody was a little hesitant. The picture opens and you don’t know what is happening for quite a while, you’re not sure what is going on, and they were a little troubled, I could feel it in the room. And then Frank says out loud, “Oh! It’s a romantic comedy!”

ARP: Was there a specific idea behind putting all this country-western music in a Manhattan movie?

PB: [In] the first version of [the script], Christy [Colleen Camp] was going to be a jazz singer, singing standards. [But] there was a short, very short, very brief, vogue of country music in New York. About 30 seconds. And so I changed it. I like country music. I fell in love with it on Last Picture Show. In fact, I wrote a couple of country songs. The phrase “One Day Since Yesterday” was something Dorothy said to me in a card. I liked the phrase.

ARP: It works great in the movie. It’s one of many things that makes the film seem as though it takes place in an alternate universe version of New York, which is still very exciting even now, because there’s a lot of locations that are still recognizable, and for a movie 30 something years old that isn’t always the case. I know there are interesting stories about how you filmed on the streets.

PB: We couldn’t afford to have any extras to populate 5th Avenue, and we couldn’t close the street down. We just shot it. We said, “We can’t have trailers here for the cast, we can’t have chairs, it’ll attract attention.” We didn’t have any of the luxuries. So Audrey [Hepburn] and the other actors waited in stores or beauty salons, whatever was around. We did everything with signals. We had 10 extras who basically blocked the camera so that people wouldn’t notice [it]. People would recognize me and ask, “Oh, what are you doing?” And I’d say, “Oh, I’m just shooting a commercial.” We laid dolly tracks and people didn’t notice. We’d signal, and Audrey would come out – we’d say Cut – we did it all with signals. The whole thing was done like that. Both Audrey and Ben [Gazzara] and all the actors were extraordinarily nice about not insisting on the luxuries. It was very funny. Audrey would come over to me and say, “Oh, look, Petah, they gave me this lovely umbrella.” “Look, Petah, they gave me this lovely handkerchief!”

ARP: That sort of spontaneity certainly shows and why the film feels so completely timeless. There are two things I wanted to read. I re-read your essay today from Pieces of Time about Q and As, so I apologize for putting you through another one. You said 40 years ago that they were excruciating, you get the same questions over and over.

PB: But I like you.

ARP: So I apologize for that. In that same essay, which is really mind-blowing how much good information is in there, you say, “If a pithy remark is good enough to be quoted, it requires no amplification.” That’s something that you say Orson Welles said to you when you would quote him to himself. I’m going to quote you to yourself, regardless of your feelings on the matter.

PB: I like your determination.

ARP: Thank you. In the essay in that same book called ‘The Best American Films of 1939’, you talk about the initial indifference to Bringing Up Baby when it was released and you say that it wasn’t until it was revived in a retrospect in 1961 …

PB: There was a great theatre called The New Yorker Theatre between 88th and 89th and Broadway and it was the first theatre in New York to show classic American movies. And I was working there.

ARP: You say that you look forward to 2006 for the definitive critical word on What’s Up Doc?.

PB: What’s Up Doc? was good for me, though.

ARP: 2006 was the year They All Laughed came out on DVD. You talk about the reception to Bringing Up Baby 30 years apart. I feel like in 2006 to people who first discovered this film on DVD it was an incredible revelation and it has now received the reputation and critical acclaim that those of us who love it feel that it definitely deserves.

PB: Well, thank you. It’s a certain cult picture to the point where a filmmaker from Florida is making a documentary about this film. He interviewed Ben Gazzara before he died, Andrew Sarris, he interviewed Cybill Shepherd even though she has nothing to do with the picture, he interviewed everyone. [He certainly did.]

ARP: I’ve already expressed my opinion of how lively and vibrant and exciting it is to see New York filmed in such a way. Did you expect at the time that this film would mean so much to people 30 years later? Were you put off by the way that people treated it like Bringing Up Baby initially?

PB: It was a nightmare. Dorothy was murdered and I went crazy. I decided I would buy the film back from Fox and I lost my shirt distributing it myself which was insanity. Unfortunately, nobody stopped me. So it didn’t get great distribution because you can’t self-distribute. It’s impossible. For example, we played 15 weeks at the Music Hall in Beverly Hills. It was a huge success. We got a great theatre in Westwood and it broke all the records, and they pulled it right out because Paramount wanted the theatre for Reds.

ARP: Had you not taken that risk yourself, would it have gotten out there at all?

PB: I don’t know. If more people had wanted to distribute it, it would have been distributed.

ARP: Were you later thankful that you owned it?

PB: I didn’t end up owning it. I couldn’t pay for it.

ARP: But it did get out there, fortunately, because of you wanting to distribute it yourself.

PB: And I lost my shirt.

ARP: Quentin Tarantino put it on his Top 10 list.

PB: Quentin loves this film.

ARP: So that must feel gratifying.

PB: Filmmakers like this movie a lot. It’s interesting. Wes Anderson loves it. Noah Baumbach.

ARP: Because what you’re describing, walking down the street, ducking into stores, shooting when you’re ready, is kind of a filmmaker’s dream of how to get all those locations that you couldn’t get otherwise. And I think that comes across in the filmmaking which is very exciting.

PB: I had made enough films that I wasn’t worried about how to make a movie. I took certain risks. No scenes were completely written until just before we shot it. It was there, but it wasn’t final. Some scenes were rewritten just before we shot it. I’d come into the beauty salon and say, “Here are the lines, and you can’t learn them, I am just going to tell them to you.” We did that quite a lot.

ARP: That performance-based character-driven storytelling – obviously the roles in this film, I am led to believe, were largely created for the actors.

PB: Every part was written for who played it.

ARP: And then you write it while you’re working with them on set. That comes across.

PB: Some of it. Or rewritten. The scene with Dorothy and John Ritter on the steps, where she says, “What do you do?” And he says, “Travel agent” and she says, “How weird.” That scene was 2 different scenes that we put together, and we figured out how it would go just before we shot it. It’s one of my favorite scenes.

ARP: You can tell the scenes are developed to the particular performer’s strengths.

PB: I had worked with Ben on a picture we had made, Saint Jack, and Blaine Novak was not even an actor. He was a distributor. Patti Hansen. And Colleen’s part, Christy – that is Colleen Camp.

ARP: Were the hand gestures planned in advance or were they spontaneous? They’re very specific and mannered.

PB: They’re following people across streets.

ARP: And you were signalling people to come out of the stores. It seems like it arose very naturally.

PB: For example, the scene – every time I see it, I don’t know how we did it. The scene in Times Square with John and Blaine – they’re following Dorothy. You got them crossing 44th Street going to the Algonquin, the middle of Times Square, and nobody noticed us. We just shot it, with hand signals.

ARP: Do you ever go by any of the old locations?

PB: I’m not living in New York right now, but I passed a few today. You know, I grew up in New York. This is my hometown. People say, “Has New York changed?” I say, “No, it’s the same old town. It’s a little faster.”

ARP: You mentioned that just before you made this film, you had made Saint Jack with Ben Gazzara.

PB: In Singapore.

ARP: I know that obviously you had a good relationship with him and the chapter you wrote about him in your book Who the Hell’s in It about working with actors is very exciting. It has some good anecdotes. I wondered if you could share some of the tales working with him in Singapore. I’m sure that everyone would be interested in hearing about working with Ben Gazzara.

PB: Benny is a wonderful actor. The genesis of They All Laughed was that Benny and I talked a lot about romances and affairs and the battle of the sexes. John Ritter and I knew each other for years. I knew him since he was 19 and he auditioned for The Last Picture Show. He should have gotten the part, but that’s another story.

ARP: Which part?

PB: The lead. But anyway, I adore John. He was one of my dearest friends. So we had all talked about our personal problems with love and sex and all that, and so I wanted to make a movie that was very personal to me and the other people that were in the picture. Audrey Hepburn’s story in the movie is Audrey Hepburn’s story in life. She was living with a man, her second husband, he was cheating on her, and she basically stayed with him because of the child. She had two children, unlike the [character] in the movie. Her little boy that she has in the movie was about the age that her son was at that time. And of course her other son played Jose in They All Laughed, Sean Ferrer. That’s Audrey’s son, the guy with the beard. He was wonderful. So the genesis of the picture was to try to make a personal picture but not a personal picture like an indie prod. I wanted to hide it, like the old filmmakers in the studio system did. Hide it behind a genre. The genre was private detectives. Now, I didn’t give a shit about private detectives. I didn’t even do any research. I didn’t visit any detective offices. As far as I was concerned, they just followed people. It wasn’t important to me. But everybody enjoyed the way we made it. It was casually done. Now Saint Jack is a whole other story. We didn’t have a script that was right at all. We really wrote most of it on location. It was a fair book by a very good writer named Paul Theroux. The book had some problems, one of them was that it was a story about pimps and hookers but there were no hookers in the story. So Benny and I did a little research. Let’s just let that sit there. A big Benny pause. And we found out a lot of things about women in Singapore. The ladies of the night ended up in the movie and they were very good, too, and we paid them quite a bit of money and they stopped being escorts. Anybody seen Saint Jack? Three of you, that’s good.

ARP: It’s very hard to find a print of that movie.

PB: I can’t find one either. That’s Roger Corman. He doesn’t believe in making prints. I had made a few successful pictures and then I made a few unsuccessful pictures and the unsuccessful pictures were unsuccessful because I had compromised, I was maneuvered, I was fooled, I was wrong. The pictures cost too much money. I said, “The hell with this.” I stopped making pictures for 3 years, went around the world twice, said, “I’m going to make a picture exactly the way I want it. Not going to compromise it at all.” I wanted to do Saint Jack and I wanted to do it with Ben Gazzara. Paramount said, “You can do it but not with Ben Gazzara. Do it with Warren Beatty.” I said, “No, I’m doing it with Gazzara.” But they wouldn’t do it. So I went to Roger Corman. I didn’t want to argue about it. I said to Roger, “I’ll make a picture for you but I want to do it with Ben Gazzara.” He said, “I don’t have a problem with Ben Gazzara.” Of course we didn’t get a lot of money, but we got enough to make the picture. We got a million dollars. Roger said it was 2 million, but …. 1 million went [gesture of hand into pocket]. Studios do that all the time. Overhead, it’s called.

ARP: Did you take the same approach of doing the movie exactly the way you wanted to?

PB: Yes, those two movies, Saint Jack and They All Laughed, were exactly the way I wanted them to be. No compromise. I’m proud of them and I think they’re two of my best pictures.

ARP: Two of my favorites. Absolutely.

PB: I think of the relationship of Ben and me on Saint Jack, it was the closest I’ve ever been to an actor. He was a great actor. I saw Ben Gazzara in the first thing he ever did. I was a kid, I was in high school. It was a play called End As a Man, which became a movie called The Strange One. I saw him do Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, that Kazan directed, and Hat Full of Rain. He was an extraordinary stage actor. You could not take your eyes off him. Everybody would be standing around talking and he would be standing over by a window saying nothing and you would just watch him. He was electric.

ARP: Did you ever try to work together again? Was there hope of another collaboration?

PB: I was hoping he would play a part in [my next picture], but I didn’t get it done, I didn’t get it ready fast enough.

ARP: Well, it will be in his honor hopefully. Any questions?

Audience Member 1: I loved Robby Müller’s cinematography. He did Saint Jack and They All Laughed, and I was just wondering how you hooked up with him.

PB: We were in Singapore and we had a French cameraman, I believe. He was going to fly in and a few days before he was supposed to arrive we got a telegram saying, “Sorry, Truffaut wants me. I’m staying in France.” So someone suggested Robby Müller. I hadn’t seen anything he’s done. I was talking to Cybill Shepherd, who was one of the producers of the picture. She was in Memphis, her home town. I asked her, “Is there a picture playing in Memphis called The American Friend?” She said, “Yeah, it’s playing.” I said, “Go see it, will you, and tell me how the photography is.” Cybill called me back and said, “I didn’t like the picture very much but the photography’s great.” So I said, Oh great, let’s get Robby over here. And he was terrific. One of the best I’ve ever worked with.

ARP: He was comfortable coming not from the Hollywood system, shooting on the street quickly?

PB: In Singapore we actually had an operator. In New York we had an operator but the operator wasn’t very good, so I kept saying, “You shoot it, Robby. This guy can’t frame right.” The guy who was the operator became a Director of Photography.

Audience Member 2: I have two questions. The first is about John Ritter. His physical comedy in this movie is fantastic and I am curious to know how much of it is improvised. How much freedom did he have?

PB: Well, we would plan. I would say, “Trip here.” “Do a schtick here.” John would say to me, “Should I do something here?” He had great physical movement. He was comparable to Buster Keaton. So I used that. He was wonderful. When he puts the swizzle stick up his nose – [that took] 37 takes. It was not easy to get it up his nose without looking. So the waiter came in, gave him his drink, and he would miss – nope. 37 times. It was worth it for the joke.

Audience Member 2: My other question was about the dialogue. It’s stylized but not so much that it’s tiresome or isolated from the film and I wondered if you could comment on that.

PB: We tried to keep the dialogue somewhat oblique, so it isn’t so on the nose. I learned that from Howard Hawks. Hawks used to say, “I like dialogue that’s three cushion dialogue.” I said, “What does that mean?” And he said, “Well, it hits three cushions before it goes in the pocket.” It’s going around something, not quite coming out and saying it. I like that a lot. You leave a lot of it up to the audience. They All Laughed was very much written for the people playing the parts. We winged a lot of it. Like the scene on 5th Avenue, when John and Colleen Camp get out of the cab. She says, “You’re impulsive, Charles.” He says, “REpulsive, did you say?” “No, not repulsive. Impulsive. I’d like a very LARGE orange juice.” All of that was really just ad-lib.

ARP: I thought it was an intentional joke because then when she gets the orange juice, it’s like [shows how tiny the cup was].

Audience Member 3: I was just wondering how difficult sound [design] was.

PB: We didn’t loop much. I hate looping. I like natural sound. The big scene with Ben and Audrey when they’re walking down the street near that Chinese restaurant. It was Chinatown and they’re walking and talking and there was a lot of noise in the background but I didn’t want to loop it because it would lose something. It feels like you’re in a vacuum. Looping is putting the dialogue in afterwards, replacing the bad sound. I didn’t want to do that.

Audience Member 4: I was curious, I know that romantic comedy is important to you and I was wondering what your thoughts were on the current state of American romantic comedy and where it might go.

PB: All they do is dirty jokes. Something About Mary, the big joke is she’s got come in her hair. And then Ben Stiller gets his schlong caught in the zipper. Jerry Lewis used to say, “Let’s face it, people. These are the jokes.” We’re not making romantic comedies anymore. I thought Wes Anderson’s picture this year, Moonrise Kingdom, which wasn’t really a romantic comedy but it was the best comedy I saw in a long time. I’m going to make one in New York in March and April, knock wood. It’s called Squirrels To the Nuts. So far the cast includes Owen Wilson, Olivia Wilde, Brie Larson, Jason Schwartzman … It’s a screwball comedy, again on the New York streets. We don’t have a lot of money for it.

ARP: The less you have, the more you can have Owen Wilson waiting in a store until you need him.

Audience Member 5: Is the title from Cluny Brown?

PB: Very good! Give the man a silver dollar! That’s right. It’s from Ernst Lubitsch‘s last film, Cluny Brown.

Audience Member 6: This is just a comment. [Ben Gazzara] looks like he was a great kisser.

PB: I couldn’t speak to that. But it looked good.

ARP: He probably had lots of practice. He loves ladies, you can tell.

PB: He definitely was a ladies man. He and Audrey had a thing, actually. Not on this picture, but on a previous picture. But then he fell in love with somebody else. Audrey was great. She handled it very well. She was a real lady.

ARP: The way that he glares at women throughout this film doesn’t seem like something an actor could do unless he felt it in his heart. Every time he lays eyes on a woman, it comes from his insides.

PB: Great actor. Great guy.

ARP: Hopefully we’ll see Saint Jack at some point on the big screen.

PB: I’m trying to get the Criterion Collection to put it out. Quentin has my print. He loves the picture so he has my print in storage for me. I have to borrow it from him on occasion. I am hoping that somebody will make a good print of it.

ARP: Would you be opposed to someone making a digital copy of it to be projected in theatres?

PB: No. I don’t mind the digital thing. I don’t think it looks bad. We have a brand new digital transfer of Last Picture Show and, I’m sorry, it’s better than we had originally. It’s just fabulous. The things you can do in digital, and the speed you can do it, it’s amazing. We had a couple of opticals, dissolves, in Picture Show, that had deteriorated over the years, and doing it digitally it looks brand new. So today when we screened Last Picture Show, it looks better than when it opened. So I think digital has its uses. I think it’s going to be all right.

ARP: You’re shooting your new film digital?

PB: Probably. The Alexa, I hear it’s the best thing in town. The good thing about digital is that they haven’t changed the lenses. The lenses are the same. So if you know your lenses, you’re not going to be thrown which is very helpful.

ARP: I also brought from your book your Sight and Sound poll Top 10 list from 1972, which you pointed out was absurd at the time, but I thought it ws pretty fun today because we just saw the new one and not many people picked multiple films from the same directors as you did in 1972.

PB: I have a blog on the internet, called Blogdonavich. Sight and Sound does a poll every 10 years, they poll critics and filmmakers and professors of film and ask them what are the 10 greatest films ever made. So Citizen Kane was considered the greatest film ever made since 1962. They asked me to contribute. And I tried, I really tried to give them 10. I said This is ridiculous. It’s like apples and oranges. How are you going to compare How Green Was My Valley with The Awful Truth? It’s stupid. I wrote the editor and said, “I find this to be an anti-cultural enterprise, it’s anti-film, it’s absurdly reductive, and I’m not going to contribute to it.” He was a very intelligent English editor and he said could you elaborate on your point and we’ll print it. I put it on my blog, and they’re printing it as well. So many people responded saying we agree with you. Because there’s been so many great films made, particularly between 1915 and 1962. Particularly that period was extraordinary. And how are you going to compare? Let’s say you make a list of the top 10 directors. I said in my piece, if someone put a gun to my head, what are the top 10 greatest directors of all time, then I would ask, But which film of theirs would be the best one? If you like John Ford, what do you put on there? The Searchers, or How Green Was My Valley or The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance or Young Mr. Lincoln? Or Howard Hawks. Which Howard Hawks? To Have and Have Not, Sergeant York, Bringing Up Baby, His Girl Friday? It’s stupid.

ARP: Do you remember your 1972 list?

PB: No.

ARP: Do you want to remember it?

PB: Yeah. What did I say?

ARP: You said a lot of the same stuff. You said you were drawn to filmmakers and within that, how do you even pick?

PB: Yes. That’s the point.

ARP: Your top 10 from 1972 were Young Mr. Lincoln, Only Angels Have Wings, Magnificent Ambersons, Red River, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, The Searchers, Touch of Evil, Vertigo, Rio Bravo, and North by Northwest.

PB: Wow. That is a perverse list. I stand by all of them. Those are all good films. I might have included Anatomy of a Murder. It’s really a masterpiece. 1959 was a great year. Rio Bravo, North by Northwest, Anatomy of a Murder.

ARP: And Shadows.

PB: Yes, that’s right. Shadows.

ARP: Thank you for coming.

PB: Let me tell you one last story. I will leave you with this. I was sitting with Jimmy Stewart one time in his living room. I was doing a piece about him for Esquire. I said, “What is it, Jimmy, that makes movies so special?” We were trying to put our finger on what it was about the movies that make them so intoxicating and memorable. And Jimmy said, [Bogdanovich is an uncanny mimic] “Well, y’know, I tell ya, I was shootin’ a Western in Colorado and, uh, we broke for lunch. The usual terrible box lunch. And this guy that had been watching the shooting came over to me, an older guy, and he said, ‘Are you Stewart?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘You said a poem in a picture once. That was good.’ And I said, ‘Oh, thank you.’ And that’s all he said. And I knew just what he meant, because it was a poem I said in a bar in a picture, it must have been 20 years before. Just a short scene. And he remembered it all these years and I thought – Now that’s the wonderful thing about the movies, because if you’re good, and God helps ya, and you’re lucky enough to have a personality that comes across, then what you’re doing is giving people little tiny pieces of time that they never forget.” That’s the best definition of movies I’ve ever heard. So we try to make some good pieces of time for you.

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23 Responses to QA with Peter Bogdanovich: They All Laughed

  1. Vanwall says:

    Thanks for posting this, it was hilarious and touching. I like how an audience member knows their ‘Cluny Brown’. PB imitating Sheila O’Malley – is this on video somehow?

  2. Dan says:

    Peter Bogdanovich quoted you ANDimitated you blows my mind. So. Awesome.

  3. sheila says:

    No video – but Mitchell and I will never forget it!!

  4. sheila says:

    Oh, and he said he had read both of my pieces on They All Laughed, too. It was seriously a great night.

  5. Ian W. Hill says:

    I hope someday someone asks PB about the Masonic stuff in this amazing movie — the pendant hanging from the mirror in Hansen’s cab and the talk about being a “Traveler” from that scene between Stratten and Ritter. So glad that I was finally able to get this (and its brilliant flip side Saint Jack) on dvd this year. I don’t think I’d watched it since I saw it over and over again on cable about 30 years ago, and I was worried it wouldn’t hold up, but it sure did.

  6. sheila says:

    Ian – where did you get the copy of Saint Jack?

  7. Ian W. Hill says:

    Amazon. Cheap when I got it ($13 bucks), and I didn’t know it was from 2001 and out of print until now; I thought it was a new release. –now that I look again at Amazon, new copies are going for $26-70 dollars. I got lucky.

  8. DBW says:

    I hope you don’t mind if I just say you are my hero.

  9. allison bennett says:

    Sheila! What an amazing experience. And I love Mitchell getting such a kick out of “you being quoted back to you”. Wow what a trip that must have been. The man, the myth, the legend. You introduced that movie to me…we watched it on one of our epic sleepovers and you knew every last detail of what was going on … not just the plot and the actors and their backgrounds, but all the behind the scenes stuff. I remember you saying, “see that pedestrian that so and so just ran into? That was real pedestrian. Just happened to walk around the corner while the were filming and they kept it in!” I love that stuff and I love watching movies with you for that reason…no one I know inhales and movies the way you do. I can’t wait to hear more about the PB exchange blah, blah, blah.

    love you!

    • sheila says:

      “blah blah blah” Ha! Yes, I remember being like, “Allison you HAVE TO SEE THIS.” It was so fun!! Yes, I will tell you more.

      I miss you – when can we get together? Email me.

  10. I too love this movie. I first saw it when it was first released in the spring of 1982 or 1983 and have enjoyed it ever since. I own it on VHS but not DVD, yet. A pity so few people have seen or even know about this movie. You’re so lucky to have that exchange with Bogdanovich. Nice to see he seemed to be an ordinary guy. Always cool when the people you admire seem so….nice and regular. Love the ‘ blah, blah, blah ‘ bit about Picture Show. Another fave of mine is the underrated Texasville. Ever see that?

  11. Jane says:

    Such a great post! Thanks.

  12. anonymous says:

    Think Dorothy Stratten. Then think about the “life line” scene. Then think about
    the “angry jealous husband in the townhouse window” scene. Then think about 1973’s “Daisy Miller” and the lyrics of the song Cybill Shepard sings at the piano and the DVD commentary about how “a strange feeling” came over Mr. Bogdanovich when he shot the funeral sequence at the end of that film. Think about the white dress in”Daisy Miller” and the white dress that Stratten wears. Think about PB’s
    obsession with Robert Grave’s ” The White Goddess”.

    The motto of the French village of Èze is the phrase “Moriendo Renascor” (meaning “In death I am Reborn”), and its emblem is a phoenix perched on a bone.

    Such is “They All Laughed”.

    • sheila says:

      This is your second condescending comment. Mansplain much? Do you even hear yourself?

      Stop telling me what to think about. I’ve been writing a long time, thinking a long time. I enjoy a participatory conversation, not being lectured to by someone who signs themselves “anonymous”.

      Adjust your tone or you will no longer be welcome here.

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