Much like the French critics turned New Wave phenoms, Peter Bogdanovich was a student of the American classics. Beginning as a historian, Bogdanovich expanded his knowledge of the medium by chronicling the words of these directors through various books, interviews, essays, and documentaries. He took their sagely advice as inspiration for his own career, carrying the torch of the Old Guard into a New Generation.
At first, he considered himself a failure, falling short of making his own Citizen Kane by the age of 25. Instead, it was at 27 when he got his first big break, working for Roger Corman’s low-budget outfit first by building a new Boris Karloff project around the few remaining days the elder horror icon owed to Corman. Targets made enough of an impact within Hollywood to get Bogdanovich some notice, establishing important connections and opening the way for a much larger opportunity as his next undertaking. The Last Picture Show made Bogdanovich a bonafide sensation, solidifying the young upstart’s reputation as an inspiring new talent comparable to the very masters he admired and studied under when they made their debuts. The bleak, black-and-white cinematography and pervasive sense of malaise resonated deeply in 1971, garnering Bogdanovich’s sophomore work great critical and audience praise alike.
Before the notices were even in for his second film, though, Bogdanovich was already working on his next feature: a vivid and characteristic homage to the slapstick and screwball comedies of his youth. What’s Up, Doc? is maybe the most characteristic film of Bogdanovich’s whole career; wielding the saber of homage and influence as a powerful tool of nostalgic revival while simultaneously modernizing its universal appeal. Paper Moon proved to be a heartwarming combination of both the dramatic and comedic skillset exemplified in by his previous two films. The story of an unscrupulous conman and his surrogate daughter traversing the Depression-era South became Bogdanovich’s third smash hit in three consecutive years – the world was all but his for the taking. All of this success and glory would prove to be fleeting, though. Just as quickly as his self assurance rose him to the top, arrogance would bring him crashing back down, in life and in the movies.
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