Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
George Hickenlooper, the maker of the terrific docu on the filming of
Apocalypse Now, Hearts of Darkness,
took on another famous production with this look at The Last Picture Show, roughly twenty years
after the fact. Short and to the point, it's a pleasant enough examination of the subject, but doesn't
have the tall-tales to tell that Apocalypse did. Hickenlooper's candid commentary on this DVD helps
fill in some gaps in the fabric of this docu.
Using the occasion of the re-invasion of Archer, Texas to film the belated sequel to
The Last Picture Show, we witness the changes in the two intervening decades that have
come about in the town, the director, the author, and the actors that the first film made into stars.
The bulk of the footage is spent with director Peter Bogdanovich, whose personal life was as stormy as
anything in the movies - on the first film he broke up with his wife, production designer Polly Platt,
for love of leading lady Cybill Shepherd.
Peter Bogdanovich in person may be the most soulful, sincere man on the planet, but his on-camera
persona has not served him well, especially back in the middle 70s when he deemed himself the
personification of the New Hollywood. His abysmally egotistical stints as guest host on the Johnny Carson
show presented a pompous fellow who couldn't say ten words without mentioning his personal relationship
with Orson Welles ... in contrast to the honest and clear-headed filmmaker who brought all three of his
first movies for us to see at UCLA, and charmed us all with his lack of pretense.
He comes off even better in this rather laid-back docu, not once mentioning Orson and instead reflecting
on the job of being a director. He's still prone to want the center of attention, but when he tells the
stories of the major trials of his life - some problems of his own making, and a tragedy he couldn't
avert - you get the feeling he finally has some perspective on himself. He admits he's no longer the
'gotta direct' nervy firebrand of his early years, but when he works now he's found balance in his
direction and his life.
The Last Picture Show made the careers of almost every cast member and got an Oscar for good 'ol Oklahoma
boy Ben Johnson; Bogdanovich began a short string of hits that ended, not because of industry jealousy, as
we hear in this docu, but because he lost all sense of proportion when he put Cybill into Daisy
Miller, and completely lost touch with his audience in At Long Last Love. Everybody's jealous
of everybody in Hollywood.
Hickenlooper's interview with Bogdanovich is thorough and all-encompassing, and the complimentary footage
spent with his first wife Polly Platt is remarkable in that we find out she continued to work on the
film and support her husband's work - even doing Cybill Shepherd's hair every day - after the on-set
affair began. Ms. Platt comes off as ethical, intelligent and self-possessed, and by far the most admirable
person in the show.
For most everyone else, the coverage leans toward the superficial side, just slightly more incisive than a
featurette interview. Ellen Burstyn, for instance, looks like a fascinating opportunity for a deeper look,
but she mostly just comments on the director. Randy Quaid says how he was hired out of the blue, and Jeff
Bridges mentions a broken romance that happened to help him with his part. We do see author Larry
McMurtry, rather remotely. His mother talks about his early ambition to write. There are some good moments
with townspeople, some of whom may have been models for the randy teens pictured in the movie. But other
portraits of the locals don't add up to much, unless we want to jeer at the obnoxious guy who thinks
he ought to be in Texasville because, "I really live here!"
The main theme, that the turbulence of the story of Last Picture Show spilled over into the private
lives of the filmmakers, goes only so far. Hickenlooper has the good judgment not to force the
isue, but the film seems unfocused just the same.
The docu spends far too much time with the moody Tim Bottoms. The actor becomes petulant over the
fact that he had a big crush on Cybill Shepherd back in 1970, and now she's not paying any attention to
him. When the credits roll, it's revealed that Bottoms and his younger brother Sam were the producers of
the film. This tempts us to jump to conclusions as to why there's so much of Tim Bottoms on view. Because
it was instigated by one of the actors, and depended on clearances from Bogdanovich and Shepherd to even
be allowed to be shown, we wonder how much of Picture This was self-censored, just to get
finished. These problems come with every 'documentary' made about films from major studios ... when the
major studio is the producer, there's usually not much freedom to express any viewpoint but theirs.
Vanguard Cinema's DVD of Picture This - The Times of Peter Bogdanovich in Archer City, Texas is just
a so-so presentation. The interview photography is variable but not very attractive. The behind-the-scenes
action on the streets of Archer for Texasville looks fine, but all the film clips appear to have been
transferred from film to video and back to film again - or from video to film and back? They don't look
George Hickenlooper's deceptively intriguing audio commentary tells the full tale of how he gravitated to
Hollywood after Yale and basically got going through a personal relationship with Tim Bottoms while working
for Roger Corman (who conned him into doing gardening). We can see where Hickenlooper's adroit
handling of the Bogdanovich - Platt relationship attracted Eleanor Coppola to hire him for Hearts of
Darkness, another docu where the subject controlled the content.
Hickenlooper's since gone on to a busy career in narrative features (Dogtown, The Big Brass
Ring). When he says in his commentary that documentaries are harder than fiction, I think he has good
reason. I recommend his commentary to anyone contemplating a 'Hollywood' career, even in small docus.
Hickenlooper isn't that dynamic a raconteur, but what he says is right-on: "Trying to make it in Hollywood,
is a strong lesson in Social Darwinism".
The two extra short Hickenlooper docus are about directors as well. The Monte Hellman piece appeared
before on the Anchor Bay Two Lane
Blacktop; it's a nice career piece that presents Hellman as an overlooked master. The second short on
Hopper is a crude video interview that gets better toward the end as Hopper warms up. Its titles say it
was shot for and produced by Image Entertainment in 1988; it's Hickenlooper's first effort, made after he
talked Image into letting him try his hand at early 'added value' content.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Picture This - The Times of Peter Bogdanovich in Archer City, Texas rates:
Supplements: Director Commentary, trailers, two shorter docus: Monte Hellman: American
Auteur; Art, Acting & the Suicide Chair: A Conversation with Dennis Hopper
Packaging: Clear Alpha case
Reviewed: July 5, 2002
1. In contrast to the other film-school directors of his generation, Bogdanovich
took to directing as had the French New Wave film critics - first starting as a respected critic of classic
directors. But it took plenty of moxie and gall to propel himself into the director's chair. He was a
production associate on Roger Corman's The Wild Angels. At MGM they keep bound keysets of all the
photos released to promote the old AIP films, and the book for Angels has a fat section of on-the-set
pictures. Looking at them, it becomes obvious that Bogadanovich roped the still photographer into his
corner, because in every still with Corman, Peter is nearby acting more 'directorial' than the
director, and a number of other bts stills show him as if he's directing!
2. Even to the extent of hiring another writer to finish the job. I met Fax Bahr
around 1990 through another writer friend; he said that he had been brought in to 'give Hearts of
Darkness some shape'. I'm glad Hickenlooper's credit wasn't reassigned as well ... a typical thing that
happens in this town.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2002 Glenn Erickson
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