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Peter Bogdanovich Packs the House at the John Ford Ireland Film Symposium
The Irish Film Institute was the place to be Friday night, where renowned director Peter Bogdanovich gave a public lecture and interview as part of the inaugural John Ford Ireland Film Symposium in Dublin.
Mr. Bogdanovich, who has written extensively about Ford's directorial career, regaled the audience with a variety of stories and personal anecdotes about the director.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Bogdanovich also introduced a screening of his highly acclaimed documentary Directed by John Ford, which was initially released in 1971 and reissued on DVD in 2009 by TCM and Warner Home Video in an expanded version containing additional material, to finally give Ford fans a definitive “director's cut”.
The two men first met in 1963 in Monument Valley, Utah, during the filming of Cheyenne Autumn. Ford was 69, Bogdanovich was 24, and had come to interview Ford for a piece he was writing for the American magazine Esquire.
But as the young journalist and aspiring director soon discovered, Ford was no easy mark for interviewers trying to discover the inner workings of the man behind the camera, or even when it came to asking his opinion of his own films. And there is perhaps no finer example than this exchange between Ford and Bogdanovich many years later during the filming of the documentary, which shows Ford at his best in deflecting questions:
NARRATOR (ORSON WELLES): Monument Valley. John Ford has shot nine movies here. It's become so identified with him, other directors are convinced that using it as a location would be plagiarism. Surely this would be THE place most conducive to getting Mr. Ford's own thoughts on his craft and art.
SLATE-BOY: Eleven - Take One.
FORD: Take One? There won't be more than one take, will there? Shoot!
BOGDANOVICH: Mr. Ford, you made a picture called Three Bad Men which is a large scale western. You had a - quite elaborate land-rush in it.
FORD: Mmm hmm.
BOGDANOVICH: How did you shoot that?
FORD: With a camera.
BOGDANOVICH: Isn't The Sun Shines Bright kind of a little picture that you made for yourself? Wouldn't that-
BOGDANOVICH: - fall in the same -
FORD: Uh huh!
BOGDANOVICH: ...Mr. Ford I've noticed that the, uh, that your view of the West has become increasingly - sad - and melancholy over the years. Uh, I'm comparing for instance Wagon Master to The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Have you been aware of that -
BOGDANOVICH: - change in mood?
BOGDANOVICH: Now that I point it out, is there anything that you'd like to say about it?
FORD: I don't know what you're talking about.
BOGDANOVICH: Can I ask you what - what particular element about the Western appealed to you, from the beginning?
FORD: I wouldn't know.
BOGDANOVICH: ...Would you agree that the point of, uh, Fort Apache was that the tradition - the tradition of the Army was more important than one individual?
Over time though, Bogdanovich developed a rapport with Ford and a close friendship. However, even among friends, Ford still delighted in playing little mind games. Once, Bogdanovich recalled, when he was at Ford's house, as the older director was lying in bed relaxing, watching television, he said to Ford, “You know it's Duke's [John Wayne's] birthday next week. I thought I'd give him a present. I thought I'd give him a book."
“Huh?”, replied Ford.
“Now it's true Ford was a little deaf. But when he wanted to make trouble for you, he'd pretend to be stone deaf.”
Making Bogdanovich repeat the question many times in ever increasing volume, after the fifth or sixth attempt, Ford paused and replied, “He's already got a book.”
Bogdanovich also shared stories about Ford's influence on his own career as a filmmaker and how it took a phone call from Ford to finally convince a reluctant Ben Johnson to appear in Bogdanovich's film The Last Picture Show. The actor had previously turned down the role twice, claiming that it had “too many words” and that he thought it “a dirty film”. That is, until Ford, with whom he had worked extensively, called him up and twisted his arm in his own unique way, chiding him “What do you want to do, play Duke's sidekick your whole life? Do the picture.”
Minutes after the call, Johnson called Bogdanovich and said, “You put the old man on me.”
“Ben,” said Bogdanovich, "If you do this picture, you can win the Academy Award.”
“Why the hell do you say that?”
Eventually, Johnson relented, saying “All right, I'll do the god damed thing”, and ultimately ended up winning the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance.
Bogdanovich's latest directorial project is entitled Squirrels to the Nuts, which he describes as a screwball comedy. The film will star Owen Wilson and is scheduled to begin production early next year.
For further symposium programme information: www.johnfordireland.org
My website: www.bodrog.com
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