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Filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich on life behind and in front of the camera

His Life in Pictures


The man behind "Mask," "Paper Moon" and "The Last Picture Show" is heading to Richmond. But infamous filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich won't be shooting a new movie, he'll be starring in the next episode of The JCC Forum. Style caught up with the Oscar-nominated writer/director by phone for this preview of his March 4 Richmond appearance.

SW: What was it about the art of filmmaking that first attracted you?

Bogdanovich: That's an interesting question because I got interested in movies because I wanted to be an actor. I didn't switch to directing until I was 19. I know that sounds funny, but I'd already been acting professionally in theatrical productions and some live TV since I was 15. Once I started directing in the theater [in 1960], I gave up acting.

SW: Why the switch?

Bogdanovich: I moved to film because it's more a director's medium. I guess it's a matter of control. Once the curtain goes up, theater is the actors' and playwrights' medium; the director is forgotten. Plus, I was also a big fan of movies, had seen movies all of my life. My father would take me to see silent movies at the Museum of Modern Art from the time I was 5. And because he was a painter, I was taught to think visually from the start.

SW: Considering the current state of cinema, would you say the director is still in the power position? Still in control?

Bogdanovich: Yes and no. What's happened since the fall of the big Hollywood studio system, starting around the '60s, is that the power has gone through a series of permutations. The young director came to the rise in the '60s and '70s and then that fades and the producer took over. Now it's the era of the star, where the actor or actress dictates everything. This is not necessarily a positive thing. Actors do not often have the objectivity required to know what would be best for them to be in.

SW: Growing up to be a filmmaker seems to have displaced the old American dream that any child could be president. Is that a positive thing?

Bogdanovich: Yes, everybody wants to make a movie now. Well, it's getting easier to make a movie for one thing. The very revolutionary filmmaker Jean Cocteau said that until movies were as accessible to the maker as pen and paper it would not be art. I don't agree with that, however. But now that anyone can get a video camera and make a movie for 1,000 or 2,000 bucks, I think there will be good things out of this new accessibility and bad things. Whenever you gain something, you always lose something. I think there has been a disastrous drop-off in the craft of making films in the last 20 years, which indicates a time of decadence. And I'm afraid that's where we're at.

SW: Perhaps then that's why you've now returned to acting, taking a recurring role as a psychiatrist in HBO's hit "The Sopranos." Is it difficult taking direction again?

Bogdanovich: No, it's like riding a bicycle; I'm enjoying it. The dialogue, the writing is so superb you just don't change a thing. You don't change a comma. If there's a dash — you pay attention to it. I'm not kidding, it's really brilliantly written. The scenes I've had have been wonderful to play: I get great lines and get to look at Lorraine Bracco all day. I do with Lorraine what Hitchcock told Eve Marie Saint to do in "North By Northwest." The only direction he gave her, which I love, he told her 'Don't use your hands and don't take your eyes off Cary Grant.' That's how I play it.

To get tickets to hear more from Bogdanovich about his life in the cinema and his most recent foray into filmmaking, directing two installments of Barbra Streisand's Showtime series on the Holocaust, "Rescuers: Stories of Courage," call 285-6500. Bogdanovich's JCC Forum presentation is March 4 at 8 p.m. in the Collegiate School's Oates Theatre. Tickets are $25.

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