Peter Bogdanovich‘s The Last Picture Show opened a half-century ago plus a day — 10.22.71. Bogdanovich was 32 when it opened, and in the weeks that immediately followed he became the hottest director on the planet. Or certainly one of them. He owned everything, ruled the realm…he planted his feet, looked people in the eye and told the truth.
One, the smug and arrogant thing, which seemed to intensify after Peter and Cybill Shepherd were the focus of a 5.13.74 People cover story. Two, Bogdanovich seemed to give up on the idea of substantive, reality-driven subjects after The Last Picture Show (post-’71 he never delivered another poignant scene that touched bottom and emotionally penetrated like “Sam the Lion at the swimming hole”). Three, he concurrently began to over-invest in the mythology of nostalgia and old-time Hollywood — the result was a one-two-three punch (Daisy Miller, At Long Last Love, Nickelodeon) that totally took the wind out of his sails.
Saint Jack, They All Laughed and Mask (a director-for-hire gig) restored some of the lustre, but the magic dust had evaporated.
If Bogdanovich had decided to switch horses right after Paper Moon and directed a couple of films that delivered reality currents (some kind of divorce drama or a paranoid political thriller or maybe a Rainman-type family thing) that were tethered not to the ’30s but the ’50s, ’60s or ’70s, things might have turned out differently.
Plus for all his acumen as a director-writer and film historian, Bogdanovich’s social-political instincts were not brilliant.