Peter Bogdanovich perfected the art of looking backwards and forwards at the same time. One of the vanguard filmmakers of “New Hollywood” in the 1970s, two of his best-known films, the 1971 romance drama The Last Picture Show and the 1973 road comedy Paper Moon, period pieces shot in black and white, are considered to be among the essential masterpieces of ‘70s cinema.
Instantly recognizable in his signature ascot and heavy-framed glasses, Bogdanovich was a revered cinephile. He was a director, producer, writer, and actor. An obsessive student of the artform, he was a champion of the people who made movies.
Bogdanovich died on Jan. 6 in his Los Angeles home of natural causes. He was 82.
Born just two months after his parents emigrated to America from Europe, he grew up in New York City in the 1950s, where he watched some 400 movies a year growing up, meticulously taking notes on all of them. He drew on this deep knowledge when he later curated film retrospectives for the Museum of Modern Art, focusing on Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Howard Hawks and John Ford at a time when those directors were considered more populist than important parts of the cinematic cannon.
“There are no 'old' movies really—only movies you have already seen and ones you haven't."—Peter Bogdanovich
As a director, he got his start working for legendary producer Roger Corman, who is famous for mentoring young directors including Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, James Cameron, and Jonathan Demme.
Having trained as an actor, he worked with the same cast members again and again, forming an informal company that included Cybill Shepherd, Jeff Bridges, Madeline Kahn, Ryan O’Neal and Tatum O’Neal.
He also put that early training to use as he frequently acted in his own and in others’ projects. He had a recurring role as Dr. Elliot Kupferberg on David Chase’s groundbreaking series The Sopranos, and even did a sendup of himself in the spoof series Documentary Now!
As if all of that weren’t enough, Bogdanovich was also an accomplished writer. As well as the Oscar nominated screenplay for The Last Picture Show, he covered film for Esquire and was the author of a number of books, including Who the Hell’s In It: Conversations with Hollywood’s Legendary Actors and Who the Devil Made It, a collection of conversations with great directors both famous and lesser known.
With the passing of Peter Bogdonavich, cinema has lost a true champion, but he leaves behind a remarkable legacy that will surely carry on for decades to come.