Wednesday, March 05, 2008

façade: At Long Last Peter!

Peter Bogdanovich, the "It" filmmaker of the 1970s, is being honored at San Francisco's grand Castro Theater in a three-day retrospect gloriously titled "A Genuine Tribute to Peter Bogdanovich," beginning Friday, March 7th. The program is being presented & hosted by Jesse Hawthorne Ficks of SF's "MiDNiTES FOR MANiACS."

Seven Bogdanovich films will be screened and, as Dave Kehr so aptly put it, the charming and charismatic man himself will lend his "radiant presence" to the proceedings, appearing at each screening for Q-&-A sessions and to demonstrate his love of the film medium. The tribute will include World Premiere screenings of his new director's cuts of "Nickelodeon" and "Mask."

But more exciting is the news that Bogdanovich will host a rare screening of his sublime homage to the '30s film musical, "At Long Last Love." Criminally maligned - and mostly by people who haven't even bothered to see it - Bogdanovich's gem, being screened at the Castro at midnight on Friday, is ripe for a little rediscovery and some decided re-evaluation. Here, at long last, is its chance - and Cybill Shepherd, Bogdanovich's one-time muse and star of the film, will be on hand to introduce it.

Driven by a rich Cole Porter score (of familiar standards and melodies more esoteric) and filled with an affable cast of good sports - Shepherd, Burt Reynolds, Madeline Kahn, Dulio Del Prete, Eileen Brennan, John Hillerman and Mildred Natwick as playboy Reynolds' dowager mother - the film is a classic still waiting to be discovered.

But this is unlikely to happen, given that its releasing studio, 20th Century-Fox, has kept the film buried and off home entertainment for more than three decades now.

Bogdanovich was arguably at his most creative on this movie, filming it in color but designing it largely in black-and-white, so that the only colors in the film are his actors' skin tones. He also enlisted his cast of game, nonprofessional singers to perform their songs live, every one of them, and despite the hasty assumptions that were made at the time of the film's release, the singing is fine here - more than fine actually, given that Shepherd, Kahn and Del Prete all sport trained voices, while Reynolds affects a soothing Dean Martin-style croon.

To complement the stress-free singing, choreographer Rita Abrams kept her dance routines light and easy-going. The result is that the dancing here has the off-the-cuff, scratch-pad casualness of the in-between numbers in the Astaire-Rogers films. The film doesn't feel choreographed.

"At Long Last Love" is clearly an attempt to impersonate the movies of Fred and Ginger, with Bogdanovich affecting the unobtrusive directorial style that George Stevens and Mark Sandrich brought to the dancing team's films. It is decidedly old-fashioned in its artificiality, but "At Long Last Love" is also post-modernist, mixing in a neo-realist musical style pioneered by both Vincente Minnelli and Stanley Donen. It's a daring experiment that works - again, despite what you've heard.

Curiously, several versions of the film exist. Under the gun to get "At Long Last Love" out in the summer of 1975, Bogdanovich delivered a print clocking in at 118 minutes. Following the disasterous critical reaction, the film was cut down to 105 minutes. Two versions of it, in fact, played Radio City Music Hall. The film that opened there was not the same movie that closed. (Regarding the critical reaction, I hasten to add that there were/are several reputable critics who actually like "At Long Last Love.")

The syndicated TV version is even shorter, although it reinstates some fleeting, charming musical bits that were originally cut for time. The 16mm version of the film, which runs roughly 130 minutes, presents "At Long Last Love" in its most complete form and includes the two numbers that originally opened the film - a terrific "Down in the Depths" by Kahn and Del Prete's "Tomorrow." (As conceived, each of the four lead characters had an introductory song, although Kahn's and Del Prete's were excised just before the film's release.) Still missing, however, is Mildred Natwick's "Kate the Great" number.

Given that Fox has no interest in the film, it would be great if it handed it over to Criterion, so that Bogdanovich could put together a definitive archival edition.

If only. End of diatribte. As for the rest of the program. ALLL will be preceded on Friday with a 7 p.m. screening of "Targets" and, at 9, "The Last Picture Show."

Saturday will bring 1:30 and 5:30 p.m. screenings of "Paper Moon"; "What's Up, Doc?" at 3:30. and of special interest, "Nickelodeon" at 7 p.m., presented in an extended cut and, for the first time, in black-&-white as it was originally conceived. This difficult-to-see love letter to the early film industry stars Ryan O'Neal, Burt Reynolds, Jane Hitchcock, Tatum O'Neal, Stella Stevens and, in one of his first film roles, the late John Ritter.

Sofia Coppola's 14-minute short, "Lick the Star," which features a cameo by Bogdanovich, will also be screened.

On Sunday, at 2 and 6:50 p.m., the Director's Cut of "Mask," containing seven minures of new footage and the Bruce Springsteen score that was originally tended for the film, is being shown. ("Mask" was released with a score by Dennis Ricotta.) The 1980 film, of course, features Cher in the role that won her the best actress award at Cannes.

At 4:30 and 9:10 p.m., the program concludes with the sublime "They All Laughed," starring Audrey Hepburn, Ben Gazzara, Dorothy Stratten, John Ritter, Colleen Camp, Blaine Novak, Patti Hansen, Linda MacEwen and George Morfogen. Bogdanovich's take on Max Ophuls "La Ronde" interweaves eight characters in romantic escapades. It will be preceded at the 4:30 screening by a conversation between Bogdanovich and Louise Stratten (the late Dorothy Stratten's younger sister).

Alas, not all of Bogdanovich's films are represented in the program. Among those missing titles are the atmospheric "Saint Jack" (with a memorable Gazarra and the great Denholm Elliott); the underrated "Texasville"; the charming "The Thing Called Love" (with a knockout young cast consisting of the late River Phoenix, Sandra Bullock, Dermot Mulroney and Samantha Mathis); "Noises Off," a minor masterwork of antic comedy; the obscure "Illegally Yours" and, most conspicuous of all, Shepherd's delectable "Daisy Miller." Also, his intriguing three-hour 2004 biopic, "The Mystery of Natalie Wood."

But the title to remember next time is "Daisy Miller."

(Artwork: Bogdanovich in his prime, with Cybill on the cover of a '74 People magazine; original artwork for Fox's "At Long Last Love"; Burt & Cybill in ALLL; Ryan & Tatum in "Paper Moon"; John Ritter with Ryan, Tatum and Burt in "Nickelodeon" and Cybill as "Daisy Miller")

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Anyone interested in perusing some 2060 of my film reviews, dating back to 1994, can do so by simply going to RottenTomatoes.Com


Anonymous said...

I made that screening and I'm a new of fan of this film! It was wonderful! I applauded after about four of the musical numbers because I was so exhilirated!

And thank you Passionate Moviegoer for the spirited defense, very well done!

-Chris Baker

TALKING MOVIEzzz said...

I saw AT LONG LAST LOVE sometime in the 90's on a rare cable airing (Fox Movie Classics possibly) and also have to defend it. A very good, highly underrated film.

Bogdanovich from the 70's to early 80's had one of the most interesting careers going.

Anonymous said...

Would love to see ALLL. And I never knew Nickelodeon was intended to be printed B&W! Maybe the American Cinematheque down here in L.A. will program this stuff some day.