One Day Since Yesterday: Peter Bogdanovich and the Lost American Film (DVD Review)14 Nov, 2016 By: Mike Clark
Available via Warner Archive
To accept (fully, that is) the premise behind this inside-baseball examination of the fallout from an almost unspeakable personal tragedy, you also have to accept that 1981’s still relatively unseen They All Laughed is some kind of screwball-comedy masterpiece — which, with the sublime Audrey Hepburn in the lead, would certainly fulfill a widespread personal wish if it were true. Laughed is the movie that director Peter Bogdanovich had just filmed when the featured player who was also the love of Bogdanovich’s life (Playmate of the Year Dorothy Stratten) was brutally murdered by her estranged loser of a husband — a subject pursued in Bob Fosse’s screen swan song Star 80, though its ickiness proved too discomforting for critics and audiences to accept. Laughed, by contrast, is anything but icky, but it’s also labored and not very funny. Going to the bank with a Rotten Tomatoes rating of only six reviews is as faulty as RT’s grading system in the first place, but still: a 33% RT is only occasionally the stuff of revisionist causes.
As a result, career dissection One Day Since Yesterday can be a little pat, but director Bill Teck has good access to principals, and it’s almost cooked in that the story will compel on multiple levels. Interviewed Laughed lover Quentin Tarantino reminds me of something I’d forgotten: that Bogdanovich was so industry-hot in the early ’70s that he briefly became an on-screen selling point in his movies’ trailers — not exactly the kind of thing that happens to, say, Michael Bay. Which is to say that after gaining some minor critical currency with 1968’s sniper cheapie Targets — a drive-in succès d’estime whose commercial prospects were undercut by that year’s real-life political assassinations — Bogdanovich pulled off three wave-makers in a row amid a most competitive movie era with The Last Picture Show, What’s Up, Doc? and Paper Moon (with, just for starters, three Oscared performances among them). A good chatter and a decent mimic, he was also an odd duck on the upscale talk show circuit: a first-rate film historian (his Directed by John Ford remains a jewel) who could be funny and charming one moment and then egotistical or at least pompous in the next. He had a lot of loyal friends but also rubbed others the wrong way, which means the sharks were waiting.
At this point came Daisy Miller, a flop with overlooked compensations and a picture that the New York Times’ Vincent Canby, for one, loved — though Cybill Shepherd’s dizzy title performance became an overriding negative issue (albeit not by Canby). Then came the Shepherd-Burt Reynolds At Long Last Love, a what-were-they-thinking-of debacle where it’s still necessary to mount a Marco Polo expedition to discover a fan (though, admittedly, I haven’t yet seen the reedited version that some eternal optimists put out a few years back). The came the director’s paean to primitive silent movies — Nickelodeon — a DOA from Christmas-of-’76 that I bent over backwards trying to love but which, instead, is Exhibit A for Ryan O’Neal’s limitations when it comes to farceur chops. So in other words, Bogdanovich’s career wasn’t exactly ship-shape when Laughed rolled around, though the one movie sandwiched between it and the preceding fatal trio was 1979’s Saint Jack, which made no blips on an excellent movie year’s box office radar but remains (atop good reviews at the time) one of his best films.
A private eye comedy of suspected infidelities and the resulting confusion engendered, Laughed was that rare big-screen love song to New York in an era of grubby portraits (my favorite American film the year Bogdanovich’s finally got released was Sidney Lumet’s Prince of the City). By all accounts it was a happy shoot, even though interviewed male lead Ben Gazzara says he was suffering from depression throughout; Stratten’s Playboy success, which was an initially beneficial experience before it set her husband off, dovetailed with its production. Ultimately, Bogdanovich had to edit a movie featuring the love of his life after she’d suffered death by gunshot and even worse, and … well, who wouldn’t crack up? When Bogdanovich learned that distributor 20th Century Fox was planning little more than a token release, he undertook a financially suicidal move by buying back the rights and trying to distribute Laughed himself. According to the documentary, some of the initial L.A. runs of the film were promising or even better, but the industry wasn’t and isn’t often geared toward maverick moves. When the theater that’s booked your movie has Reds in the wings ready for exhibition and presumed year-end awards, who in that era do you think was going to win?
Yesterday’s primary focus is on what the experience did to its subject and friends/family, including the interviewed Stratten sister Bogdanovich later married for a while (though divorced they are still friends, just as he is with onetime lover Shepherd, who’s here as well). Given how little fire there’s been in the belly of his directorial work for the past 30 years, the easy thing to surmise would be that the Laughed/Stratten experience broke him — and yet 1985’s Mask was liked by both the critics and public and probably helped set up Cher’s best actress Oscar two years later for Moonstruck. That experience, however, resulted in another move that Bogdanovich may have done for the right reasons yet did him no good: suing distributor Universal when music rights expenditures caused it to substitute Bob Seger music on the soundtrack after Bogdanovich had negotiated a sweetheart deal with Bruce Springsteen to utilize his songs (Mask’s real-life subject loved Springsteen on a level even beyond standard Bruce mania). A fairly major filmmaker of the time told me that Universal’s balking had to do with the home video rights, which makes sense — but, in any case, the move did Bogdanovich’s industry standing no good (though after many years, the scoring issue was rectified for the home market).
So in terms of its subject’s directorial career, this is a documentary without a third act, though Bogdanovich’s 50 or so acting credits have kept him in the public eye, including a fruitful experience on "The Sopranos." Also keeping the narrative going are the interviewees I’ve mentioned — as well as Bogdanovich himself, Jeff Bridges, critics Molly Haskell and the late Andrew Sarris (he lets her do most of the talking), Bogdanovich’s two daughters, producer Frank Marshall, Hollywood Reporter chief critic Todd McCarthy, filmmaker/disciples Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach, and the late Ben Gazzara, whose sad-to-see frailty here one assumes was a product of the cancer that took his life.
When even at this late date, Daisy Miller, Nickelodeon, Saint Jack and region B-available Paper Moon have failed to garner domestic Blu-ray releases, you can’t exactly say that the high-def form has been kind to Bogdanovich. Because Moon and Miller are both controlled by the notoriously library-indifferent Paramount, there’s probably only a little more chance of them getting Blu-ray treatment than of Gary Johnson becoming Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations. But merely for its production design/costuming/Paramount Technicolor cosmetics alone, I’d love to see some sub-contractor give Daisy a fresh shot because it might spur at least a minor reassessment of his career.