Peter Bogdanovich

American Filmmaker

Through Mar 23

MoMA

What’s Up, Doc? 1972. Directed by Peter Bogdanovich. Courtesy Warner Bros./Photofest
  • MoMA, Floor T2/T1 The Debra and Leon Black Family Film Center

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The passing of Peter Bogdanovich on January 6, 2022, brought to an end a career rich in accomplishments and ripe with frustrations. In some ways that career began at The Museum of Modern Art, where in 1961 the 22-year-old Bogdanovich managed to convince MoMA’s conservative chief curator of film, Richard Griffith, to stage the first retrospective of its kind devoted to Orson Welles, whose career was then in eclipse. Equally groundbreaking programs devoted to Howard Hawks (1962) and Alfred Hitchcock (1963) followed, crucial steps in bringing the new esteem for American movies engendered by the young French critics of Cahiers du cinéma back home.

As a novice filmmaker in the late 1960s and early ’70s, Bogdanovich brought his deep appreciation of the classical studio style—with its steady camera mounts, spatial coherence, and carefully matched shots—to an industry in full economic and aesthetic upheaval. The compassionate detachment of The Last Picture Show, the clockwork gags of What’s Up, Doc?, and the carefully modulated sentimentality of Paper Moon spoke of a filmmaker who knew his audience and knew his craft, and for a while he could do no wrong.

But as his later, more ambitious films such as Texasville (1990) failed to connect with a wide public and tragedy entered his personal life, Bogdanovich found himself working with projects not of his choosing and screenplays not of his caliber. Yet he never allowed his professionalism to waver—such was the ethic he acquired from his Hollywood elders—and even his least engaged television films have moments of serendipitous beauty, when the light fills the room in a certain way and a filmmaker is there to notice.

This program matches six Bogdanovich classics with six films by directors he was close to—not so much to claim direct, one-on-a one influences as to suggest the broad outlines of Bogdanovich’s taste and the cinematic universe in which he swam. If there is one key title for Bogdanovich, it was John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley, a film that describes, though a series of seemingly unrelated anecdotes, the glorious fabric that binds a community together, and the pulls back to observe its decline and loss—a pattern repeated, on scales both small and large, in Bogdanovich films from The Last Picture Show and Nickelodeon to such overlooked television movies (unfortunately, not available for this program) as To Sir with Love II and The Price of Heaven.

The series concludes with the world premiere of Squirrels to the Nuts, Bogdanovich’s long unseen original edit (he called it “the Lubitsch cut”) of the 2014 romantic comedy that was taken out of his hands, recut, substantially reshot, and retitled She’s Funny That Way for a brief release. Bogdanovich’s original version reveals a film at once far more elegant in its execution and far more complex in its themes than the film that was released; we offer it here as a homecoming tribute to one of MoMA’s most distinguished alumni.

Organized by Dave Kehr, Curator, and Olivia Priedite, Senior Program Assistant, Department of Film. Special thanks to Peter Tonguette, Louise Stratten, Kelsy Haden, and Oren Segal.

Film at MoMA is made possible by CHANEL.

Additional support is provided by the Annual Film Fund. Leadership support for the Annual Film Fund is provided by Debra and Leon D. Black and by Steven Tisch, with major contributions from The Contemporary Arts Council of The Museum of Modern Art, Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, MoMA’s Wallis Annenberg Fund for Innovation in Contemporary Art through the Annenberg Foundation, the Association of Independent Commercial Producers (AICP), The Junior Associates of The Museum of Modern Art, the Samuel I. Newhouse Foundation, Karen and Gary Winnick, and The Brown Foundation, Inc., of Houston.

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