The Legendary Peter Bogdanovich Discusses ‘She’s Funny That Way’ and the State of Modern Cinema

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bogdanovich--002Going in to interview Peter Bogdanovich can be a little intimidating. Not only is he an Oscar-nominated director behind such classics as The Last Picture Show and Paper Moon, he’s also a key figure as a film historian, having done extensive interviews and documentaries on Orson Welles, John Ford, Charlie Chaplin, and countless other iconic figures in film history. He represents this bridge between the bygone era of classical Hollywood and the new Hollywood of the ‘70s. The legendary filmmaker is still at it with the upcoming release of She’s Funny That Way, a charming throwback to the screwball comedies of yesteryear.

Of course, that feeling of intimidation was amplified when I walked into the expansive conference room occupied by Bogdanovich and his assistant. A room big enough for a hundred mingling professionals was featuring three lonely chairs in the center. The slick-dressed Bogdanovich doesn’t really raise his voice, carrying himself in a cool demeanor that could easily be confused for arrogance. She’s Funny That Way is Bogdanovich’s first feature film since 2001’s The Cat’s Meow, but his time away from the silver screen doesn’t mean that he’s been resting on his laurels or having troubles securing financing – the two being the most common reasons for a filmmaker’s prolonged absence.

“I was busy. I was doing a lot of things,” Bogdanovich explained of the time between films. “I did six seasons of The Sopranos, a 600-page book, a four-hour documentary on Tom Petty that won a Grammy, a two-hour documentary about John Ford that I did in the ‘70s, but I redid it and added new interviews.” Yet that’s not all, as Bogdanovich continued, “I did two television films. One on Pete Rose and one on Natalie Wood.”


“Well, I don’t think of it as old-fashioned,” Bogdanovich says of She’s Funny That Way’s classical style of screwball humor. “I think of it as a well-constructed comedy.”

“I like certain films of the ‘30s and ‘40s – I was obviously influenced by them because I’ve seen them, but I wasn’t thinking about any particular film,” the filmmaker says of the influences on the film’s style. Explaining the thought behind his escalating farce, Bogdanovich mentions the French writer Georges Feydeau. “He wrote 28 hit stage farces and then went crazy. He invented the bedroom farce,” the director says of the turn of the century playwright. “One of his cardinal rules was the one person who must not come into the room must come into the room,” which is insightful as to the approach behind his new film, particularly in a restaurant scene when everybody enters the room.

Though he may not have set out to make something old fashioned, Bogdanovich admits that he’s not exactly a fan of modern comedies. “I have seen many comedies that I’ve liked,” he says. “Most of them seem to get laughs out of body fluid jokes, or things that are shocking, like cum in the hair,” Bogdanovich says using the 17-year old comedy There’s Something About Mary as a recent example, though he’s by no means off the mark as that film is an outlier for much of today’s gross-out comedy.


“As far as American films are concerned, it’s not a good era,” Bogdanovich says of the current state of American cinema. “Spending $150 million on a picture is looney to me,” he says of the compulsive gambler mentality of the modern studio system. “Special effects movies, superhero movies, cartoon movies just don’t interest me,” he says with a cool indifference.

But all is not bleak at the cinema as far as Bogdanovich is concerned. “I liked Noah [Baumbauch]’s picture, While We’re Young,” he says of the filmmaker who is also an executive producer alongside Wes Anderson on She’s Funny That Way. Anderson and Baumbach aren’t the only members of this next generation of filmmakers involved in She’s Funny That Way, as Quentin Tarantino makes a brief appearance. “He put They All Laughed, a film I made, as one of the ten best of all-time,” Bogdanovich says of Tarantino. “I thought it was a bit excessive, but you can’t help but like a guy who does that.”

The filmmaker has no problem heaping praise upon his star Owen Wilson. “Owen is like an old fashioned movie star,” the director says. “He has a personality that comes across no matter what he’s playing, and that’s the old fashioned kind of movie star, which I lament the loss of,” Bogdanovich says with a sense of tragic nostalgia. “Once in a while,” he added, “you find an actor who has a movie star quality, like Clint Eastwood, like Barbra Streisand. But they’re rare, and Owen has that.”

“I just wrote him a note saying he’s so good in this that he could do all the William Holden parts,” the director said of the film’s co-star Will Forte. “Orson Welles used to say, ‘It is very rare to find an actor that looked like he wrote a book.’ And Will is in that department. Jennifer [Aniston] recommended him very highly, as she did with Kathryn Hahn.”


She’s Funny That Way takes a chunk of dialogue from the Ernst Lubitsch film Cluny Brown, but my inability to track down a copy of the film prior to the interview (though Bogdanovich mentioned that Criterion was working on a DVD release) led me to ask the filmmaker and historian about the state of film preservation. “It’s better than its ever been,” he says assuredly. “I wrote a piece about film preservation back in the ‘60s. The headline was “Who Cares?” Jokingly, Bogdanovich adds, “The irony is you can get just about everything except Cluny Brown.”

But just because his friend Quentin Tarantino appears in his film, Bogdanovich isn’t adopting a hardline stance on the film vs. digital debate. She’s Funny That Way isn’t the filmmaker’s first foray into shooting digitally. “I did that Tom Petty documentary on digital,” he explains. “It’s the wave of the future. It’s a lot easier to fix things. It’s a lot easier to change the image. I like film, too, but I don’t think it’s worth a federal case.”

She’s Funny That Way didn’t always share the title with the song from the late ‘20s. It was originally titled Squirrels to the Nuts, referencing the line the film borrows from Cluny Brown. “We got maneuvered out of it because people thought it would be difficult to translate for foreign, and domestic they thought it was a kid’s movie or something. I don’t know why it just couldn’t say, ‘Not for kids.’” He later added, “I liked it better, too, but that’s how it goes.”

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