Books 6: Who the — ?


NO, Mr Bogdanovich, the cravat shall never replace the eyepatch as sartorial symbol of the great filmmaker. Nice try, though.

I love interview books, oral histories, gabfests. I love The Parade’s Gone By and People Will Talk and the Backstory series on screenwriters. I may yet include one or more of those fine volumes in my ongoing series of film books I love. (I can’t call this a list of books that made me a cinephile: MOVIES made me a cinephile.)

Peter Bogdanovich has given us some fine films, as well as ILLEGALLY YOURS with Rob Lowe, and his work as a critic and pundit has also been invaluable. But his interviews I really like. He found many of the most interesting old-timers in Hollywood, and let them talk (if they were willing: Sternberg clams up sullenly), and mainly let the results speak for themselves. Of course, knowing his stuff, PB is able to nudge them along with intelligent questions, too.

Who the Devil Made It and Who the Hell’s In It? (I hear he’s working on a third, Who the Fuck did the Catering?) are great books for dipping into or devouring in marathon sessions, as suits your taste. After you’ve read your favourites, you’ll get onto the people you know less about, and find them just as fascinating. For me, the first volume, dealing with directors, is the most appealing.


Fritz Lang ~

In these days, when people are afraid about so many things — look at the newspapers — I think that a happy ending, or what we call a happy ending, is more satisfactory for an audience than a terribly sad one. The end of DESTINY, for example, is that Death guides the boy and girl up to a heavenly meadow with lots of showers and sunshine, into which they walk off together. A business friend of mine asked, “You think that’s a happy ending?” I said, “Yes.” Do you know his answer? “But they can no longer fuck each other in heaven.” That’s one attitude.

Howard Hawks (on Katherine Hepburn and BRINGING UP BABY) ~

I remember another time we were making a scene and Katie was talking so much she didn’t hear me. We called “Quiet!” She didn’t hear that. Called “Quiet!” again, and she didn’t hear it, so I just stopped everybody, and all of a sudden, in the middle of talking, she stopped and said, “What’s the matter?” I said, “I just wondered how long you were going to keep up this imitation of a parrot.” She said, “I’d like to talk to you,” and she led me around to the back. She said, “You mustn’t say things like that to me. Somebody’ll drop a lamp on you. These are my friends around here.” I looked up at the man on the lamp. When I was a prop man, this fellow had been an electrician — I’d known him for God knows how many years. I said, “Pete, if you had a choice of dropping a lamp on Miss Hepburn or me, who would you drop it on?” He said, “Get out of the way, will you, Mr Hawks?”

Edgar Ulmer ~

Outside of GONE WITH THE WIND — which is an American disease, it took the place of BIRTH OF A NATION in our heritage — all your great pictures have been originals: written, conceived, felt for the screen.


46 Responses to “Books 6: Who the — ?”

  1. Arthur S. Says:

    Bogdanovich attained the status of a Boswell in film culture with those two books and THIS IS ORSON WELLES(who is of course the greatest Dr. Johnson for the movie that never was, he and Charles Laughton). He is one of the finest journalists in the profession someone with taste, with wit and yet who is also very intelligent and canny lover of films. Like his intoduction of his interview with Lang where he quotes Lang telling hm, “Remember, you pay for what you get!” is terrific in that regard. And also how he’s able to give a different side of people who loved being bad. Like Otto Preminger.

    His interview with John Ford is of course the stuff of legend. No other writer got closer to breaking Ford’s armour than Bogdanovich. According to Peter, Ford was the only man who pronounced his name with the proper Serbian lilt on the very first attempt.

    I prefer Who the Devil to Who the Hell, the latter tends to get sentimental in its profiles though the one on River Phoenix brought tears to my eyes as did the one at the end about Marilyn Monroe and the one with John Cassavetes was filled with a profound grace and love. And even if you don’t agree with his assessment of Chaplin you have to treasure the personal retelling of Chaplin at the Oscars.

    Is Bogdanovich really working on another book. Because from the references in both books you know there’s something missing like a profile on Renoir of course.

  2. Arthur S. Says:

    Just thumbed through Who the Hell’s In It? and another masterpiece is the piece on Humphrey Bogart which is actually a piece on Lauren Bacall near the end.

  3. Haven’t read these but will as they sound quite the tasty reading!

    BTW, “Who the Fuck did the Catering?” is so beautifully Brechtian a title (no, really) that I would love it to be an actual book !;D

    Arthur, you might be curious to know that Laughton was actually offered a script on Johnson’s life on the early forties, alas, he was under contract to Louie B. Mayer who’d rather cast him in less interesting ventures.

  4. She was in love with River at the time. As was half the world.

  5. Arthur S. Says:

    I prefer THE BALLAD OF THE SOLDIER’S WIFE and THE SOLOMON SONG which covers a similar theme. Marianne Faithfull (by far the best interpreter of Brecht’s songs in English) did covers of them in her live album 20TH CENTURY BLUES alongside such classics as SURABAYA JOHNNY, PIRATE JENNY, THE ALABAMA SONG and an especially shocking rendition of THE BALLAD OF MACK THE KNIFE.

    By the way, Alexander did not conquer India. He routed some of the kings in Northern India and got some of them under his control but eventually he decided he’d end up killing his troops if he stayed there and so high tailed it out of there. Pity George Bush II didn’t pick pointers. Some of the Greeks stayed behind and inter-married with the locals until Chandragupta Maurya, grandfather of Ashoka the Great, got the last of the attackers to sign a treaty. Of course Brecht was going for poetic effect there…

    I always found it strange that Korda who did all those Laughton biopics in the 30s never saw what was before his eyes. Granted getting a dramatic arc around the greatest literary critic in the English language is a hard sell but it would have been special.

    Who the Fuck did the Catering is indeed a great, great title.

  6. Oh, Gloria, you’re in for a real treat. PB’s actor profiles are a cut above the norm, but I’m inherently more interested in the directors, and there he really scores — not just great interviews with Lang and Hawks et al, but genuinely rare insights into filmmakers like Ulmer, Joseph H Lewis, and Frank Tashlin, guys who weren’t often interviewed.

    If anyone can find a 2nd hand copy of Picture Shows, also by Bogdanovich, it has different pieces on Jerry Lewis, Bogart, Wayne, and excellent articles about Sturges, Lubitsch, and many others.

    Paper Moon occupies a special place in my affections, being, apart from much else, the first film I saw with a swear word in it (“I need to go to the shit-house.”) Just got my hands on Saint Jack, which I’m looking forward to. I’d love for Bogdanovich to get another chance to really show us what he can do as a filmmaker.

  7. “Who the Fuck Did the Catering?” is a question often posed on film shoots. Making Greyfriar’s Bobby in Edinburgh, poor Sir Christopher Lee didn’t eat for three days rather than face the lunches provided.

    Laughton as Johnson could have been incredible, and it breaks my heart to think of him having to make dreck like The Canterbury Canterville Ghost instead (not that a decent film of the Wilde would be a bad idea, but THAT version, ugh).

    In the modern age, Robbie Coltraine has played Johnson twice on TV, the best version being in Blackadder II.

  8. Correct me if I’m mistaken, but isn’t that THE CANTERVILLE GHOST you’re referring to, David? Although I’m sure Canterbury has its share of disembodied spirits as well.

  9. You are, of course, quite correct. That’s one of the MGM movies Jules Dassin refused to allow shown in his retrospectives. Sorta watchable, but a waste of everybody’s talents nonetheless.

  10. As I remember, a pretty lightweight, silly film, but I do recall enjoying it as a boy. Seems I recall Laughton astride a bomb, much like Slim Pickens in STRANGELOVE, only sliding across the ground instead of plummeting from the sky.

    Re. Bogdanovich, hard to get out of my head his role as a shrink in HBO’s SOPRANOS when I see his face. Got a kick out of seeing him on the bed next to Karloff in TARGETS, that was a strange sight. I got to see THE LAST PICTURE SHOW when it was released in the early Seventies, my first time seeing it left a powerful impression on me. Let’s hope that he does get another opportunity to make a film, for his sake and ours.

  11. Christopher Says:

    …LOL!..that Hawks/Hepburn thing sounds like something right out of a screwball comedy!
    THe Bogdonavitch commentaries on any DVD is always a big Plus.I particularly like the way he takes you thru step by ,everything in his debut film “Targets”( maybe my fave!)..Strange ,he recalls almost every detail about that one but has trouble remembering things in a much later personal fave,”Mask”…He does good imitations of all the old Directors he knows too,especially Sam Fuller and Hitch..I love Saint Jack,that was a favorite from the early days of Cable..I was glad to be able to scrounge up a copy a few years back..

  12. Saint Jack is quite good, as is They All Laughed — though it’s sadly haunted by the murder of its star.

  13. I also love What’s Up Doc? — especially for the moment when Babs bursts briefly into song.

  14. David, Guy, whenever I’ve seen that Wilde travesty I knock my head because it’s essentially true that a version more respecful with the original could have been a far better film… But Mayer opted for loading Wilde’s poetic and delicately ironic tale with scabbie jokes (possibly the worst possible combination after champagne with Tabasco sauce and Fizz Wizz).

    “Targets”… possibly one of my favouritest Karloff films, which puts Bogdanovich to the heights of Whale and Freund in my book

  15. Bogdanovich was supposed to laugh when he woke up next to Karloff, but after a couple of takes was still struggling to make it work. Karloff says, “You know, Peter, just because you wrote it doesn’t mean you have to do it…” A valuable lesson!

    I think Mask was kind of traumatic for Bogdanovich, he fought with Cher in much the way he fought with Streisand. So maybe he’s blanked it out. The Cat’s Miow is quite nice.

    My fave of his impersonations is Hawks, purely because you don’t hear that one done very often.

    I saw They All Laughed when I first had a VCR in the house, and couldn’t follow it at all. Not sure what the problem was. But I’m quite keen to see it again.

  16. I had a the Devil made it on extended loan from EIFF but took it back at the end of my contract like a good girl. It was a jolly good read….

  17. I’m one of the few who saw Saint Jack as God meant it to be seen: at one of the many cheap, shabby theaters that pocked Portland, OR circa 1980, after an ice storm that cut off electricity to every other theater in town and left me ALL ALONE and WITHOUT TV for the long, long weekend.

    I remember something about a tattoo, and that it was Ben Gazzara’s finest, sleaziest hour. I’d forgotten that it was a Bogdanovich movie, though.

  18. Funny you should mention Gazzara, Katya, I’m in the midst of watching THE KILLING OF A CHINESE BOOKIE with only 20 minutes to go. Gazzara is very good in this, and this is a very good film, much better than I expected it to be.

  19. It’s a gem. Cassavetes write it for Marty 9who was hisAD on Minnie and Moskowitz) But Marty said “Really you outght to direct this yourself.”

  20. I suppose I should defer judgment on when Gazzara’s finest, sleaziest hour was until I see The Killing of a Chinese Bookie.

  21. I agree about it being a gem. I’ve watched both this and THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE recently, and while I’ve enjoyed them both, the Cassavetes is ultimately the more absorbing film. Also fascinating to see Timothy Carey in one of his slightly more subdued roles, and the great Seymour Cassel, who I first discovered in Wes Anderson’s films, having no idea of his illustrious past as an actor.

  22. Gazzara was in Todd Solondz’ film HAPPINESS too, don’t know if sleazy is quite the right word for that one, though some might think so. An uneasy mix of funny and disturbing. Hard to believe it was made over ten years ago.

  23. One of the suggestions for a future Film Club was Anatomy of Murder, which has some good Gazzara sleazing in it.

    Gazzara seemed to disappear for quite a while — some of us thought he was dead. I watched The Big Lebowski with my friend Lawrie when he was 80.
    “Look, Ben Gazzara.”
    “Ben Gazzara’s dead.”
    “No, John Cassavetes is dead.”
    “John Cassavetes is dead, but Ben Gazzara’s dead too.”
    “No, look, there he is.”
    “I know.”

    I really really like Eddie Coyle. Yet to see Bookie. I have some kind of odd inertia that’s been keeping me from getting into JC. Maybe I need an ice storm.

  24. Christopher Says:

    Having been to Singapore many times as a kid in the late 60s ,living abroad due to my Dads Geophysist work conditions,the thing I think I like most in such an odd duck as Saint Jack,is the air of easy going pleasentness,common around Malaysia at that time..Its also a quality that finds its way into a few other bogdonavitch pictures too

  25. Gazzara is great in HUSBANDS.

  26. He’s one of the best!

    Bogdanovich is an odd duck himself. He gets a real feeling of “easy-going pleasantness” in They All Laughed and some of his other films, and then there’s What’s Up Doc? which I find a little strained and artificial. I mean, I still laugh in all the right places, but it doesn’t feel entirely natural. That movie probably has a lot to do with the dismissal of his talent as being essentially imitative. Plus he suffered a lot from being the first filmmaker to talk so extensively and generously about his influences.

    Nickelodeon isn’t as good, but it feels more comfortable in its overall tone.

    Are there any fans of At Long Last Love here?

  27. Arthur S. Says:

    One of my favourite of Peter Bogdanovich’s is TEXASVILLE, his much misunderstood sequel of THE LAST PICTURE SHOW.

    I don’t think Bogdanovich is in any way imitative. He has a real gift for a certain lightness that is impossible to teach. He’s closer to George Cukor or Leo McCarey in that sense than Welles and Hitchcock.

    Whether he is a master film-maker is disputable but I think he was a creative talent of the 70s and that’s no mean achievement considering how awesome the 70s were.

    NICKELODEON released itself in the original black-and-white cut recently on DVD, I haven’t seen it yet but maybe it can be a subject for further research.

    One problem with Bogdanovich is that a lot of his films exist in multiple versions and there are a lot of director’s cuts circulating the orbit. So you need research to get to see which is which.

  28. Apart from Nickelodeon, which P-Bogs exist in multiple edits? I know Mask was taken away from him, but it was mainly a question of music rights, so it seems unlikely that a version with the Springsteen song will appear, unless in fan edit form.

    I agree that prime Bogdanovich has its own unique flavour and, while its informed by his love of old movies, he’s no more derivative than any of his contemporaries. He’s practically DW Griffith compared to DePalma.

    I’ve never seen Texasville, having heard bad things and not wanting to spoil my memort of LPS, but maybe I will now.

  29. I always liked Peter Bogdanovich’s role in THE SOPRANOS. As Clive James wrote, The Sopranos was better than The Godfather.

  30. Arthur S. Says:

    Clive James can jump a cliff. THE SOPRANOS is an okay parody of GOODFELLAS at best but people take that show too seriously. No way it’s near THE GODFATHER PARTS I&II.

    Of course I never saw more than seven episodes. Having just spent the last two weeks experiencing BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ, I hereby declare all other TV shows worthless.

  31. I think with something like The Sopranos it does gain weight and value through it’s very long run, something that even a big movie can’t do. So in a way the comparison is worthless. How can we say The Godfather is a better or worse movie than The Sopranos is a TV show? Apples and oranges.

    I do need to see Berlin Alexanderplatz, but I despair of getting started. I’m pretty sure I’ll be watching Kobayashi’s The Human Condition first, that’s only about nine hours.

  32. Arthur S. Says:

    Some have suggested watching the Fassbinder in a single sitting, I personally don’t recommend it. It should be seen one-per day over two weeks and maybe somedays you see two more than one and in ten days it’ll be over.

    It’s really something else. It’s totally cinematic, exquisitely composed and beautifully lit but it’s also a novel length narrative that needs the length to really give a sense of how people lived in late20s pre-Nazi Germany. And it has chapters and the epilogue to end all epilogues.

    And it has a cast of practically every living Fassbinder player in Germany at that time and Gunther Lamprecht plays the saddest sack since Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp or even Vivien Leigh’s Blanche duBois.

    I get irritated with THE SOPRANOS because all people keep talking about it is going on about gangster life being about middle-class American life. I say, I liked that story when it was called GOODFELLAS and THE SOPRANOS basically hijacked the cast of that film for much of it’s action anyway. Still I didn’t mean to insult Peter(who I like posting with) with that. Just when people say it’s better than THE GODFATHER that’s giving it entirely too much credit. And it was Clive James(who I DO NOT like) who said that first.

    After I saw Bela Tarr’s SATANTANGO, I figured I could see anything. I am angling up to seeing OUT 1 someday in case it comes my way. I’d like to see THE HUMAN CONDITION though.

  33. The Sopranos was much more influenced by Berlin Alexanderplatz that it was by Goodfellas. Marty refuses to discuss it — and I don’t blame him. But it’s not without its pleasures — particularly Gandolfini and Edie Falco. And it’s got one of the best ending EVAH!

  34. You know, the idea of a mob boss who gets crying jags and has to see a shrink, the starting point for The Sopranos AND Analyze This, first appears in Maurice Zolotow’s biography of Billy Wilder, as one of the ideas Wilder had but never finished.

  35. Interesting.

    Wildfer would have liked The Sopranos. But had he done it himself he would have added more gags.

  36. What’s offensive is that nobody credited Wilder on either project. I must write something about Wilder’s other unmade idea quoted in that book, which he pitched to Charles Laughton — who ended up rolling on the floor, tears pouring down his face, in an agony of laughter. “Genius, genius…”

  37. Another big fan of The Sopanos is Irish novelist John Banville. He called it a great work of art.
    I agree it is a bit silly comparing TV and film. On a personal level, I engaged with The Sopranos, watching it over the years, at a deeper level than I do with most film.

  38. You can really get to know the people in a TV show, in a way that few films even touch on. You need to have at least three hours running time to even touch on that, I think.

    I do like the variety of watching a whole different movie every night, I must admit, but once in a while I’ll get hooked on a show.

  39. I’m another great fan of Who the Devil Made It, particularly the Leo McCarey interview, which contains a hilarious anecdote illustrating McCarey’s assertion that Laurel & Hardy’s early films were practically documentaries. The fact that McCarey was so ill at the time that he could only gasp out one word a minute is almost unbelievable, so fluid is his storytelling style in this piece.

  40. He’s quite the raconteur, and I’m sure many of his stories had been honed over the years until their resemblance to fact was slight at best… but it’s fabulous to have this record of the man in full flight.

  41. I’ve said on more than one occasion that I’ve watched things on television that were just as satisfying if not more so than quite a few of the films
    I’ve seen in my lifetime. This specifically applies to a few of the series I’ve watched from HBO, THE WIRE, DEADWOOD, SIX FEET UNDER and of course THE SOPRANOS. People have likened watching them to reading a lengthy novel, and while I’m not in the habit of doing so I understand what they mean.

  42. Have you tried Veronica Mars yet? Such a crafty show!

  43. SIX FEET UNDER was a great series too. Another one I quite liked was BAND OF BROTHERS.

  44. peter,
    I’ve seen four out of SIX FEET UNDER’s five seasons, looking forward to watching its finale one of these days, maybe soon. Very well written, very well cast, many very talented people involved. Kathy Bates directed a few episodes, as well as played a character in a few, her talents definitely lent something to the proceedings at times.

  45. “Having just spent the last two weeks experiencing BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ, I hereby declare all other TV shows worthless.”

    Hmm,I wonder whether u have seen ‘The Singing Detective”,Arthur…

  46. Guy, I agree with you about Six Feet Under. I’m also very fond of the comedy series Curb Your Enthusiasm. There is another very well written comedy series called Malcolm in the Middle.

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