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Peter Bogdanovich's "At Long Last Love"
May 19, 2012 7:02 PM   Subscribe

I got an e-mail from a friend asking if I wanted to attend a screening on the Fox lot of Peter Bogdanovich's original cut of At Long Last Love. And the answer in a case like should always be yes.

For me, then, since alienation and imperfection are the subjects of the film, they're also the guiding principles behind Bogdanovich's formal decisions. [mild spoiler] I see many of the attributes of the style that other critics describe as inept or unprofessional as Bogdanovich's commentary on the characters' incompatibility in a world defined by shallow surfaces.

"Let's Misbehave/De-Lovely"
"I Loved Him (But He Didn't Love Me)"
"Most Gentlemen Don't Like Love"
"Find Me A Primitive Man"
"But In The Morning No"

Never released on home video, At Long Last Love is well-known for being one of the only films so disastrous that its director resolved to publish a "letter of apology" in newspapers across the country shortly after the film's release. The actual letter, it turns out, is even stranger than any of the Internet rumors about it.

Those wanting more of Shepherd's interpretations of this repetoire are directed to the 1974 album Cybill Does It... to Cole Porter - of which Robert Christgau noted: Since Cole didn't like to . . . do it with (or "to") women very much, maybe the "do" is as hostile as it sounds.
posted by Trurl (17 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
The actual letter, it turns out, is even stranger than any of the Internet rumors about it.

April 1975
In order to suppress my enemies my work will continue to be from one end to the other, a succession of violent, audacious, unfathomable, and subversive wonders that will embrace more mystery, more poetry, more madness, more eroticism, torment, pathos, grandeur, and the cosmology of synthesis because there is no point in bothering to see films that are not sensational!
Thus in accordance with this manifesto of my imaginative autonomy, one could subsequently try to bankrupt systematically the logical meaning of all mechanisms of the rational, practical, and effete form emerging from the 'new' and 'new new' Hollywood who are nothing more than snotty apologists of youth, of revolution, undulation, fossilized excrements of preservation and those who support the collective and therefore opposed to the individual!
I await you Hollywood feverishly,
Josef Bogdanovic


Well then. C'mon, pass the bowl, we haven't got all night, eh?
posted by pla at 7:29 PM on May 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


The story from the first link is pretty great. Some anonymous employee at the Fox archives didn't like the butchered theatrical cut so he made his own cut and sent it out as the official version without telling anyone. It's been running on cable for years without anyone noticing that it's not the version that had been shown in the theaters.
posted by octothorpe at 7:30 PM on May 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


C'mon, pass the bowl, we haven't got all night, eh?

Cocaine is a hell of a drug.
posted by Trurl at 7:34 PM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


he decided to record all the vocal tracks live on the set, with the actors listening to playback via hidden earpieces

I don't know about using hidden earpieces or not, but I do know that the vocals for Across The Universe were recorded live on set, as were the vocals for Hedwig And The Angry Inch. And the upcoming film adaptation of the musical Les Miserables will also be filmed this way.

It's a great way to capture something more visceral than a studio recording, and lets the actors actually act during the song performances rather than being locked in to a done-much-earlier studio performances and hoping to find acting moments within those confines.

It's a technique which worked really well for those other two films, and I'm hoping it gives Les Miz the kind of emotional kick it will need for that film adaptation to succeed. We don't need another failed adaptation of a major worldwide hit musical. (Phantom Of The Opera, I'm looking at you.)

I applaud the idea of doing the musical numbers in a single long shot. That's the way the truly great musical numbers were filmed back in the heyday of movie musicals, and it's so much more satisfying than the MTV quick cut thing which distracts in movies such as Chicago. (I think it's also done as a lazy way to make a musical, as you can use edits to hide mistakes while shooting or lack of talent on the part of the performers. Got someone out of sync in a big group shot? Not a problem -- cut to 1.5 seconds of feet and legs during that bit, and you're good. Why reshoot to make it look good?)

(Also, I've always found Shepherd's singing and dancing rather troubling, because she's obviously a very talented woman, but neither singing nor dancing seem to come to her naturally, so any time I see her doing one or the other or both, there's always this aura of concentration and panic coming from her which doesn't lead me to believe she's really comfortable in the moment. And that sense of comfort and effortlessness is what makes singing and dancing joyous to watch when it's done well.)

I hadn't realized that the version of this film running on FMC was an alternate cut. I'll have to ask the DVR to grab it so I can see it.
posted by hippybear at 7:35 PM on May 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've decided right now to change my personal understanding of the word "apology", henceforth. I'll let you know how it goes.
posted by Brocktoon at 7:37 PM on May 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


What did they do for Moulin Rouge? Whatever it was, it seemed to work there.
posted by Brocktoon at 7:38 PM on May 19, 2012


What did they do for Moulin Rouge? Whatever it was, it seemed to work there.

Apparently they sang live on set and then used ADR to replace the voice with a studio track recorded later, sort of a reverse lip-synch technique.
How was the on-camera singing filmed?

We used all the techniques. There's the traditional technique of playback, which is your basic one: They record and we do playback (on the set). But we did use a very groundbreaking technique which is where they sing live and then you replace the voice later with digital technology. It's a program which locks what you've sung to lip-sync. And then the other thing is that for a few moments in the film they're actually singing live.*
posted by hippybear at 7:47 PM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've only ever heard of this movie by its reputation as a big failure and watching those clips I can totally see what Bogdonovich was trying to do and how nobody at the time got it. If it's the seventies and you're old enough to be used to seeing the precise and intricate dance numbers from the Astaire and Kelly era, this would look really amateurish and clumsy. It seems like he was trying to do a meta kind of thing that makes fun of the idea that ordinary people would suddenly burst into song and start doing perfectly choreographed dance moves across the set. The clips that I've watched so far are really charming, I'll totally watch this when the DVD comes out.
posted by octothorpe at 7:48 PM on May 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I recall running across this one in a "movie bomb" compilation book a while back, with a booster shot of Easy Riders, Raging Bulls thrown in for good measure. Cocaine (plus the break-up with his wife cum creative partner, Polly Platt) destroyed Bogdanovich in a big way.

In watching the movie, I could see a noble failure (as Octothorpe mentions), but very much a failure. It's one thing to go the "amateurs sing and dance route". With the right amateurs and the right setting, this can be intensely charming. But in Bogdanovich's case, he set it in the 1930s to Cole Porter music -- the precise set of circumstances where you'd expect to see Top Hat level skill and craft. To see Cybill Shepherd and Burt Reynolds clomping around in their grandparent's clothes just throws their lack of craft into stark relief. It just makes you wish you were watching Astaire and Rogers, and not a half-baked, half-hearted post-modernist deconstruction of Astaire and Rogers.

Bogdanovich was in the thrall of Shepherd at the time (he was very much the former movie critic / ubernerd who had somehow landed himself the golden glowing starlet and threw everything away to keep her -- The Blue Angel style), which is why he cast her as the lead. It was a bad idea. The role requires a natural comedienne, somebody who exudes gameness and a willingness to look foolish in an endearing way. That isn't Cybill Shepherd -- and it isn't even within three time zones of Cybill Shepherd. Madeline Kahn was this kind of actress, which is why she blows Shepherd off the screen every time she shows up.

The rise and fall and rise and fall of Bogdanovich is an interesting, tragic, occasionally sordid semi-comedy. The man lived the dream of a lot of people -- started as a film critic, somehow became a world-renowned director of great movies, and achieved everything he could've dreamed of. Then he watched as his achievements (and his own ego) eviscerated him. Hollywood.
posted by workingdankoch at 8:38 PM on May 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


The role requires a natural comedienne, somebody who exudes gameness and a willingness to look foolish in an endearing way. That isn't Cybill Shepherd -- and it isn't even within three time zones of Cybill Shepherd.

While not disagreeing with your assessment of Kahn being better at such things than Shepherd, I think Shepherd was pretty excellent in Moonlighting, exhibiting a lot of naturalness in her comic style, and certainly more than willing to look foolish in order to forward the comedy.
posted by hippybear at 8:54 PM on May 19, 2012


I saw this at Anthology Film Archives a while back, and was honestly shocked at how much I enjoyed it. Any imperfections in singing/dancing are more than made up for by the ceaselessly amusing direction of the frame and the extras; plus any movie that includes Madeline Kahn singing "Primitive Man" is automatically a pretty good flick no matter what else happens.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 10:12 PM on May 19, 2012


But in Bogdanovich's case, he set it in the 1930s to Cole Porter music -- the precise set of circumstances where you'd expect to see Top Hat level skill and craft.

But Cole Porter's music was of an era where it was intended for playing at parties where amateurs would burst into song and perhaps an impromptu dance. Tin Pan Alley flourished because of the market for sheet music.

If you think it's just about Top Hat, or that Top Hat isn't itself somehow derived from the amateur culture of the time ... I think you're mistaken.

Shepherd was pretty excellent in Moonlighting

Not to mention her own show, Cybill, although it must be said that she played the straight man Newhart-style.
posted by dhartung at 11:52 PM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Now look. There are different types of bombs. For example, there are brilliant disasters that nearly end a director's career before it ever gets going. Like Oshima's Nihon no yoru to kiri, which due to the repetitive structure of kishotenketsu, transported me into a tortured hellish state where I could not escape experiencing the same scene over and over again, being harangued with the same polemic monologues by naive socialists who were working themselves up to a murderous rage. With each repetition, I felt that deja vu all over and over again, like I was in hell, being pushed into a pool of fire and brimstone, being burned to a cinder, and then magically reincarnated to be thrown into the exact same lake of fire, already knowing the tortures I would experience. At the end of the film, I was covered with cold sweat, shaking, exhausted, barely able to rise from my seat.

And then there are non-brilliant disasters, like Altman's Come Back To The Five And Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean. Any man who has ever been shanghaied into seeing this movie is exempted from chick flicks for the rest of his life and all following reincarnations. An all-female cast (including the one man) with Cher, Sandy Dennis, Karen Black, and Kathy Bates is a bold declaration that the director is committed to torturing his audience. But to enact it in a single room, with two hours of interleaved monologues of women's nostalgia for their lost youth, created a compressed critical mass, a nuclear powered bomb of glowing white hot horror that will make any man's testicles retract until they want to burst up and out his throat. At the end of the film, I was livid at my girlfriend for forcing me to see this film but I said nothing, nor could I have. Before we were even able to exit the theater, she got into an intense catfight with her two girlfriends that continued during the drive home, and into our home, persisting long into the night, for another 6 hours. It was like being trapped in the movie seemingly forever, but there was no exit in this theater. I was gratified at how the two other women resolved their conflict, since they were all so embarrassed afterwards that none of them ever mentioned that evening again as long as they lived.

So after seeing the clips from this Bogdanovich film, don't even try to put it on a list of bombs. These clips are lighthearted, humorous, self-consciously and seriously unserious, I can even see a glimmer of the postmodernist subtext the critics talked about. I want to see it. It is not a real bomb. A true bomb will leave you feeling like you were nearly beaten to death with a blunt instrument. Nothing could ever make me go back and see a real bomb again. Perhaps at worst, this Bogdanovich film might leave you confused or with a feeling it was a waste of time, but it will not make you feel like you survived an airstrike by a fleet of B-52 bombers.
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:37 AM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I could've sworn I saw part of this on TV once.
posted by jonmc at 8:20 AM on May 20, 2012


I'll totally watch this when the DVD comes out.

I'd still slot this in the "if" rather than "when" category.

There's a torrent, but its video quality is no better than those YouTube clips. And it only runs 98 minutes.
posted by Trurl at 8:30 AM on May 20, 2012


I liked Come Back to the Five and Dime! The script is pretty schematic, but the performances (and the mirror bit) make it worth seeing if you're an Altman cultist, which I am.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 10:59 AM on May 20, 2012


But Cole Porter's music was of an era where it was intended for playing at parties where amateurs would burst into song and perhaps an impromptu dance. Tin Pan Alley flourished because of the market for sheet music.

If you think it's just about Top Hat, or that Top Hat isn't itself somehow derived from the amateur culture of the time ... I think you're mistaken.


Is Top Hat derived from amateur culture? Absolutely. Is the production itself amateur? Not at all. People in 1935 saw Top Hat and saw how they'd like to imagine themselves when they danced and sang to Cole Porter. Did they think they actually could dance and sing like Astaire and Rogers could? No. They wanted to see the best make it look easy. That's one of the reasons why Top Hat and its contemporaries were such great escapist entertainment.

Seeing those same song and dance numbers performed poorly -- or more specifically, performed like you could actually perform them at home -- sucks all the air out it, in my opinion. You watch the screen and think "well hell, I could do that." Or alternately: "If I'm going to watch other people dance, why the heck am I watching these people dance?"

As for Cybill Shepherd -- I agree, she proved later that she was a solid comedienne in both Moonlighting and Cybill. But she was much better playing the straight woman than in physical comedy (which is more what A Long Last Love requires). Gilda Radner probably would've been great at it.
posted by workingdankoch at 11:42 AM on May 20, 2012


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