CJAD: I've mentioned some of your credits. Some of the things you've done. You've also been a critic too.
PETER: I was for awhile. It was a way of getting on screening lists and seeing movies for nothing. And getting books and seeing plays for nothing. It was totally motivated by not wanting to spend my own money because I didn't have any.
CJAD: I've often heard a lot of actors and directors lament about what critics have to say about their work. I'm just wondering. Since you are a director and you have been a critic, do you have a different feeling towards critics then others do?
PETER: I don't think so. You know, there's good critics and bad critics. There's good directors and bad directors. Some of the critics are really conscientious and really try to do what they can popularize the work or to explain the work and so on. And then there's the critics who just wants to make a reputation by attacking. Those are the ones I'm not keen on.
CJAD: Talking about your book, WHO THE DEVIL MADE IT, which is your most recent book, your talking, basically, about some of the greatest directors of all time.
PETER: Yes, that's true. The interviews that I conducted with them, I was fortunate enough to meet these legendary figures in the 60s and early 70s. Thirteen of the sixteen have passed away. Three of them are still alive. I brought their interviews up to date. I think because I organized the book in order of the director's birth....chronological order of the director's birth, which mirrors pretty much their entrance into the film business. So hopefully you get a panoramic view of the whole hundred years of movies, since the oldest director in the book was Allan Dwan, who began directing in 1910. The youngest director is Sidney Lumet who is still directing and has two films coming out this year.
CJAD: In what context did you get an opportunity to interview these directors and by that I mean, were you working as a critic then, or were you already a director yourself and in some cases working under them?
PETER: When it started, really in 1960, I had already directed in the theatre and acted in the theatre for five years. And I was a critic too at that time. I was making some money, making a living doing some writing. But not too much. It kind of got more so in the early 60s. And I continued to do both, really. The questions were motivated at least 50%, if not more, by a desire to know how they did it. So that I could learn about directing.
CJAD: So it was more of a learning process for you. Was it ever your intention at that time to chronical these stories into a book form?
PETER: No. In some cases yes, because, for example, I organized the first Howard Hawks Retrospective in the United States, at the Museum of Modern Art, here in New York. I prepared a monograph, which consisted of an interview with Hawks, so that interview was done for a purpose, other then just asking questions. But the real underlying motive of all of them was to find out for myself about making pictures and also to popularize certain American artists that I thought were either under-appreciated, overlooked or misunderstood.
CJAD: Why write the book now. Why not do it earlier?
PETER: Well, I don't know honestly, Peter. It just kind of worked out that way. You know that line from John Lennon's song, "life is what happens when you're busy making other plans." For example two of these interviews....four of them are quite long. Two of them were meant to be separate books. One on Hitchcock, one on Hawks. And for various reasons during their lifetimes it became....life got in the way, and I didn't get to do them as separate books. And then some of the others, the Allan Dwan, the Fritz Lang, were published as small little film books that hardly anybody saw. They had been out of print for years. Then a number of them were never published at all, except little snippets here and there. At some point, a few years ago, I said, "I need to go through these interviews and see what I've got, how many I've got." Some of them hadn't even been transcribed. The George Cukor interview, which was done for a TV thing, which ended up not being done. I didn't even have a chance to transcribe that. It wasn't necessary. So I did it for the book to see if it was worth anything and it turned out to be quite a good interview. I didn't realize it was that good. So it was like that. It varied. Leo McCarey was a brilliant director who was dying of emphysema in a hospital. I took six months to arrange to meet with him and the American Film Institute actually organized it and bought the interview and it's part of their archives. Never been printed before. So each director is a different story, but I decided it was about time to see if I had a big book here that might be valuable to people and so I decided to err on the side of inclusiveness. I included everybody I had. Even a short interview, like the one with Josef Von Sternberg or Robert Aldrich.
CJAD: Sixteen directors in the book, correct?
CJAD: And there are so many different styles as far as the work is concerned. And certainly sixteen different men. I'm just curious to know, as directors, besides the fact that they are directors, is there something you found in common in all of them?
PETER: Yeah, I would say the biggest common denominator is that they didn't grow up wanting to be movie directors. They didn't grow up specializing in the cinema at an early age, as we have so many kids today. Because the reason is simple. There was no such thing as being a movie director. It was an unknown occupation when they were starting out. They kind of fell into it in a number of different ways. And that's, I think, one of the most interesting things about each of these directors. They developed a life experience, and had experiences in life that didn't prepare them necessarily for making movies, but certainly made their movies richer because they knew about people and had experiences that were outside of show business. One of the things that wrong with pictures today, I think, is that so many of the people making them started out wanting to. And so they specialized too soon and don't really learn much about what life is like.
CJAD: Did you always want to be a director yourself?
PETER: I'm afraid so. I wanted to be an actor. In fact everybody thought I was going to be an actor, from a very young age. And I was an actor, really, from the time I was fifteen, I was acting professionally in the theatre. And even in some live television way back. Sidney Lumet directed me in a little tiny bit part in a television show. Live television way back in the late 50s. But at a certain point, and I don't really know...people have asked me this. I don't know exactly what it was that pushed me towards directing, but I think it was a naive notion that if I directed I would be able to play all the roles. A kind of greed. It backfired on me because that's not the way it works. And so I've kind of missed acting over the years. I've done it a few times, but I'm sorry I didn't act more.
CJAD: In some cases actors are often intimidated by some directors, and some of these characters you write about in your book, WHO THE DEVIL MADE IT, are certainly imposing figures. Were any of them intimidating towards you? Were you intimidated by them, I should say.
PETER: Oh sure. Quite a bit. Von Sternberg, Lang....all of them, really, to a degree were intimidating. Because of their experience, if not there personalities. Some of them were very outgoing and warm like Allan Dwan. Some were rather somewhat more elusive and aloof like Von Sternberg. Some, as I say, were quite friendly, like Don Siegel. But there was an interest in talking to me from all of them that was an invaluable thing for me. That was I was able to share that time with them. That's one of the reasons I did the book, was I wanted to get it out there. Particularly at this time when the craft of movies seems to be in eclipse.
CJAD: You've made two references now to current films. I take it you're not too happy with what's going on on the screen right now.
PETER: I don't think anybody is. I mean, I talk to people and they say, "what happened to the movies?" I'm afraid that's how I feel.
CJAD: Well, what do you think is wrong with them.
PETER: Well I think the basic thing that's wrong....you might laugh at this, because it's a wild assumption....but you see, movies were founded in silent movies in which the image....in which telling the story through pictures, was everything. And although there cards, you know, title cards in silent pictures and so on....there was writing in them, but the basic discipline amongst all picture makers, in the first thirty years of movies was to try to convey the story, the characters, the nuances, everything, through visual means, without the use of written or spoken words. That discipline, which almost all of the directors in the book either grew up with....they all grew up with silent movies.....at a certain point, whenever movies started, they were silent....that discipline of how do we convey this visually, as opposed to with dialogue, informed all their movies. And as they progressed into talking pictures that still was their main credo. Despite the use of dialogue. So that's a huge difference. We are so far away. All of those directors who started in the silent era and went all the way into the talking era up till about the middle to late 60s....almost all of them have passed away. And even the second generation, who kind of came in in the 30s, but had grown up with silent movies, that's all gone too. So what you have today are a bunch of people who have very little connection, if any, to the foundation. The very foundation of the medium.
CJAD: Is it also difficult to make a film today as a director? From what I gather, in the heyday of films, a director had a little more control of what his or her final product is, but now you have so many people involved from agents of actors, to the studios, to marketing.
PETER: Yes, to be candid, it's gotten out of control. Because everybody is a director, everybody is a producer, everybody knows everything. Nobody is under contract anymore. It's all independent. Since there is no studio structure, I mean there is a bunch of studios but they are essentially banks that finance pictures and put together some packages, but it isn't like the old days where everybody was under contract. I mean, you had contract directors, contract writers, contract actors, mainly. And all the rest of the personnel that make pictures. They were all under contract to the individual studios. Each studio had their own people, right. Well, there's a certain security to that and a continuity to that. It was a well oiled machine and it worked. It worked very well and it produced an extraordinary number of good pictures. And a lot of junk, but the emphasis was definitely positive and that was the whole.....you know, Hawks says in the book that during the 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s...less in the 50s, but still through the 50s, you had the greatest array of stars in the history of the world. And very few of them had anything to say about what roles they were going to play. So it tells you a lot if you compare that with today where the actors are in control, getting outrageous amounts of money. The reason they're getting this kind of money is because the studios don't know what else to do. They don't have a clue about what to do except to pay an actor a lot of money.
CJAD: In talking to the directors that you spoke to write the book, WHO THE DEVIL MADE IT, did you get an opportunity, especially those you talked to more recently, to look back and compare, as you have just done, the movie business from when they were working full time to later in life?
PETER: How do you mean.
CJAD: Well, you just mentioned, for instance, Hawks who was talking about how it was a little different earlier, and I'm just wondering if anybody else reminisced about the so-called good old days of movie making.
PETER: I think they all do in the book. I mean they don't necessarily reminisce about it that way, but they all felt that things kept getting worse and that the business was better when it had a system. And the system had it own drawbacks and there was a lot of idiocy. The production code and all of those things. But nevertheless, if you look back, the proof is in the pudding. If you look at the movies, by and large, they were infinitely better then what we're doing today with all the freedom from censorship and all the money in the world. It doesn't buy talent.
CJAD: What about yourself? What about your own directing? Will we be seeing something new from you?
PETER: I've got two features that are in the can. One for SHOWTIME, which was produced by Paramount and Barbra Streisand's company, about two Catholic women who saved Jews during World War II. It's a true story. Two true stories combined into one picture called RESCUERS. Two women. That'll be on, I think in November, with Sela Ward and Elizabeth Perkins. We shot that up in Toronto, by the way, and in Quebec, late last year. And then there is another show I did in South Carolina, which is going to be on CBS I believe, called BLESSED ASSURANCE with Cicely Tyson and Grant Show and Lori Loughlin. I'm not sure when that's going to be on. It's a touching story about some very poor black people and some very poor white people in a Southern town in the 50s. So those are two shows of mine that are in the can, but haven't been seen yet. And then I'm preparing to go to Cannes on Monday to shoot some background for a little picture about movies. I'm preparing a couple of comedies as well that I hope to do in the next year.
CJAD: Some of the great films that were made in the days gone by are, I think, reminiscent of some of the stuff you see today on cable. You mentioned SHOWTIME. There's a lot of quality stuff on cable these days.
PETER: It's true. The director has more freedom. There isn't much money, but there's an enormous amount of....you know, they let you do it if you can do it in the time and with the budget, they're pretty good about letting you do it the way you see it. And SHOWTIME is particularly that way. I've done three things for them. This is the longest thing I've done. I've done a couple of short 40-minute things for a couple of TV series that they did. PICTURE WINDOWS, which was produced by Norman Jewison and a series called FALLEN ANGELS, produced by Sidney Pollack. I did one episode of each for them. That was fun. I like shooting. I like the actual process of shooting a picture, so I try to keep busy with the shooting, rather then preparing and cutting. Those are not as much fun.
CJAD: In doing the book, WHO THE DEVIL MADE IT and in talking to these directors, was there anything interesting you found out on a personal level about any of these characters, beside their professional work?
PETER: Oh I think in each case there was a lot of revealing comments about their personal lives. Not so much really about their personal lives, but you get a sense of their personal lives and their personality from the questions. That was really the intention of the book and the intention of most of the interviews, which was to find the person in the films and the films in the person. That's why the title, WHO THE DEVIL MADE IT. It comes from a remark that Howard Hawks made when I asked him which directors he had most like over the years. He said, "I liked almost anybody that made you realized who in the devil was making the picture." Because the director is the storyteller and ought to have his own way of telling it. That's about it. That's sums it up.
CJAD: Maybe it's time to get back to that and let the directors tell the stories again.
PETER: Well, if they know how. That's the problem. You see so many movies....the younger people who are coming from MTV or who are coming from commercials and there's no sense of film grammar. There's no real sense of how to tell a story visually. It's just cut, cut, cut, cut, cut, you know, which is pretty easy.
CJAD: These directors all have their place in history, and you're helping by putting them all together in one book. What about your place in history?
PETER: Well that's not up to me, is it? That's up to other people to talk about. I made a few pictures. Some of them worked and some didn't and I hope to make a bunch more. I'm more excited about making pictures now then I ever have been. So I think I have some good work ahead. People say they want to give me some kind of an award for my career, I say "geez, it's just in the middle of it. I don't want to get an award for that yet."
CJAD: I didn't mention off the top, but we should mention for those who don't know, and they should, movies like MASK, PAPER MOON, THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, TEXASVILLE. You did all those movies.
PETER: And a little picture called WHAT'S UP DOC?, which is the most popular movie I made.
CJAD: Exactly. But I mentioned before we went to air and I'm going to mention it to you now. Two of the films I really enjoyed didn't get a lot of the critical success, but I saw them as an usher and that's AT LONG LAST LOVE and also DAISY MILLER.
PETER: Well thank you very much, Peter. I liked DAISY MILLER quite a bit. AT LONG LAST LOVE was very personal, but it got traduced and reduced in the version that was released. The television version is actually better. It's alright. As I said, it has a kind of cult following. I prefer the pictures to have success in the box office then to have a cult following but I'll take whatever I can get.
CJAD: Well I'm looking forward to seeing more of your work.
PETER: Thank you.
CJAD: The book is called WHO THE DEVIL MADE IT, by Peter Bogdanovich. It features sixteen directors. It's published by Knopf. Peter I thank you for talking with us this evening.
PETER: Thank you so much.