It is not always a wise choice to meet your idols. Especially when they have the reputation of not willingly enduring fools, as Peter Bogdanovich most certainly did. So, I’m sure my hands were literally shaking when I went to introduce myself to him on a warm Sarasota evening.
It was the closing gala of the Sarasota Film Festival. Tom Hall had invited me as a juror, thank goodness, and Peter as a special guest. We stayed at the opposite ends of the VIP section for at least an hour in our respective spring suits and ties, sipping champagne and gazing at the Florida stars, before I finally found the courage to walk over to him.
If this all sounds like the start of a Hollywood romantic comedy, it’s actually not far from how I felt, at least to me (and trust me, Peter would have loved it anyway; he was particularly passionate about romantic films). My greatest hero is my father. His favorite movie of all time is The last picture show. So the name Bogdanovich was sacred to me from an early age. My admiration only grew as I explored his other films—What’s up doc?, Moon paper, damn it, I even liked the ones the critics sniffed at, like Daisy miller. What about once I find out about his handwriting? I passed out positively in front of Peter Bogdanovich.
So that night under the Florida stars, I put my most confident face together, walked over and said, “Everything I try to do in my career, Peter Bogdanovich already has it. looks bigger and better. ” It was one of my stock lines, even before I met the big man. Peter was a critic, interviewer, curator and filmmaker. Exactly the four roles that I play in my own, much more modest cinematic life. To my relief, he chuckled slyly.
We immediately hooked. We started talking about classic movies, and his face lit up. I asked what he was currently working on, and he told me about a new project he was putting together (She is funny like that, which he ended up doing, and which I found delightful). He asked me questions about my own cinema. He asked me what I thought of the movie he was playing in who was playing at the festival, Cold turkey, and I really listened and considered my responses (loved it, especially the performances by Peter and the wonderful Alicia Witt). In fact, from the start of that initial conversation, once he made sure I knew what I was talking about, he treated me not like a fan but like a true colleague. From that day forward, for the rest of our friendship.
It was something exhilarating for a young filmmaker. Imagine Toni Morrison asking how you developed the characters in your novel, or Keith Richards sitting down to compare blues hits with you. This is what I felt.
But it might not even fully capture what the experience of knowing Peter was like, as in addition to being a legend himself, he had encyclopedic knowledge, appreciation, and insight into all of America’s great filmmakers. Many of these great filmmakers were his friends. He went on to become one of the New Hollywood directors of the 1970s, of course. Coppola and Scorsese and De Palma and Spielberg and Lucas and Cimino and Friedkin and the others were his contemporaries. But his closest friends in the industry dated back to well before his time – Welles and Hitchcock and Ford and Hawks, among others. These are the giants with whom he drank, learned, discussed with, wrote. He was our last direct connection to that time.
For years to come, whenever I was in Los Angeles, I would visit Peter and have the kind of conversations most moviegoers can only dream of having. I think he always appreciated our symmetry; he was constantly looking back to filmmakers two generations older, and now here I was looking back almost two generations on him. Peter was a master storyteller both verbally and cinematically, and he was also a great impersonator. It was really like being in the same room with Orson, or Hitch, or whoever he was channeling. Sometimes he would tell me stories that I had already read in his books. Sometimes he would tell me stories that he had already told me. I never, ever stopped it. How can I?
One of her favorite stories to tell involved having lunch with her friend Jimmy Stewart. A man walked over to the table and briefly explained to Stewart how much his career had meant to him, and specifically about a favorite scene in which Stewart had played a key role. After the man left, a thousand-yard gaze crossed Stewart’s face and he said to Peter, “See? We give people these little bits of time. And they keep them forever.
At least that’s how the story appears in Peter’s book – this book is even titled Pieces of time. But whenever I heard him tell the story in person, he didn’t say “chunks of time.” Whether he remembers poorly, whether he corrected his memory or – who knows? – that he has long exercised the prerogative of a screenwriter to hang a line, he would rather say “jewels of time”.
I love this little phrase: Jewels of time. Peter gave me a jeweler’s case worthy of these, at the time I knew him, through his stories and his memories and his ideas and perhaps, above all, through his defense of me and of my vision as a critic and filmmaker. He even graciously agreed to appear in Six love stories in LA, my first scripted feature film, produced by his daughter Antonia, my friend and collaborator and a hell of a filmmaker herself. He was perfect in his role, of course. And when he told me he liked our movie (and those who know Peter know he’d rather stab himself in the eye than give a bad faith compliment), it’s no exaggeration to say that it is. t was a pivotal moment in my life.
I don’t want to overstate how well I knew Peter. Others knew him much better. And of course, most never had the chance to meet him in person. But I know this: in his articles, his books, his interviews, his documentaries and his transcendent films, he has left us all with a treasure of these gems of time. May we keep them forever.