Director Peter Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show, Paper Moon) pays tribute to a cinema giant in Turner Classic Movies' Directed by John Ford (premiering tonight at 8 pm/ET), an update of Bogdanovich's 1971 profile with new commentary from such filmmakers as Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood and Martin Scorsese. TV Guide spoke with Bogdanovich about remembering Ford, the state of today's Westerns, and his own fate on The Sopranos.
TV Guide: What motivated you to update your original 1971 documentary on John Ford?
Peter Bogdanovich: I was never happy with it. I just thought it wasn't good enough, and there were limitations at the time about where we could go with certain things. I think the really good thing about the documentary was the interviews we shot in 35mm with John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Hank Fonda and John Ford himself. Those interviews were gold, and I knew they were good. We also had narration by Orson Welles, which was also terrific. But I wasn't happy with the clips. The other problem was that the AFI at that time had run out of money to secure the rights to the clips. So this was a clip-heavy movie, and you didn't have permission to show them! The only time it was seen was during a couple of PBS fund-raisers, which is why it obtained a certain legendary status. But for years I was haunted by the fact that there could be a better film there by saving the elements of the interviews, which hold up wonderfully, and creating something else around them that would be more representative of what I really think of Ford and what I know now about Ford.
TV Guide: In The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, there's a line toward the end "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." Did you use the irony of this line as a guide to chronicling Ford's life and work?
Bogdanovich: I hope to tell the truth. We sort of deal with both the legend and truth in terms of Ford, because we show how he was able to take advantage of happy accidents. And we hear from Maureen O'Hara that he also created some with the wind machine. How he got what he got that was the magic of his personality.
TV Guide: As the son of immigrants, how did Ford's films influence you as a person and as a filmmaker?
Bogdanovich: My parents were immigrants, and I was a first-generation American. Ford was the first film director's name that I knew. My parents talked about Ford from the moment I was cognizant that they were talking about movies. They loved The Grapes of Wrath, Westerns Stagecoach and so on and they loved Americana. It was a big thing for them, and it became a big thing for me. At the age of 10, my three favorite movies were She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Red River and The Ghost Goes West.
TV Guide: What do Ford's films tell us about the evolution of American culture?
Bogdanovich: The trajectory of Ford's artistic career mirrors the history of the country. You see the rise to power, his ever-increasing skill, his reflection of American society.... He chronicled the American experience with more versatility and more detail than any other filmmaker.
TV Guide: How would you describe Ford as a person?
Bogdanovich: He was crusty if you said the wrong thing, he'd get pissed off or make fun of you. But he could also be very warm and give you a smile. I had some nice moments with him.
TV Guide: What is your favorite John Ford film?
Bogdanovich: The thing about Ford and other great directors is that their personalities are so strong and have such a range of expression that I wouldn't want to pick one Ford film over a couple of others, because they're all different moods that he was in. Like The Quiet Man, his most romantic film, you can see that in him when you spend time with him. He was very romantic in his soul. It was one of the reasons he was so gruff.
TV Guide: You have a real A-list of directors offering fresh appraisals of Ford's work. What insight stands out most in your mind?
Bogdanovich: It was very interesting to hear what they had to say, because it so often mirrored my own feelings. We're all so generationally close. I think what Steven [Spielberg] said about Ford's use of rituals was very interesting to hear and a very illuminating insight, one that I hadn't actually thought of in those terms. It was very enriching to the film. And also, the story he tells about meeting Ford was very like Ford.
TV Guide: What is the state of the Western today?
Bogdanovich: There are really very few people making them, so it's not a part of people's lives anymore. America liked [the] Western [genre] because it reminded them of the country that it came from. But we've moved far away from it now with all of this technology, so there's no connection, as there used to be. When Ford made My Darling Clementine in 1946, the [OK Corral] happened in 1880 that's only 60 years. That's nothing. He knew Wyatt Earp. It was that close, historically. We've gotten further and further away, to space cadets. I absolutely have no interest in that, personally.
TV Guide: Have you seen HBO's Deadwood?
Bogdanovich: Yeah, I thought it was pretty good. A little too revisionist for me.
TV Guide: In addition to features, you've directed several TV films. How do you compare the two mediums?
Bogdanovich: I don't see much difference except that you have to go faster on television, because you don't have as much money. As a result, you have to be technically better in getting the scene in time than not. No indulgence is allowed. There isn't time for it. It's very hard work, and good work. I like working quickly.
TV Guide: You talked about Orson Welles. What was he like up close?
Bogdanovich: It depends on who he was with. He could be the most disarming person you ever met within an hour I felt like I knew him 30 years and he could be very forbidding. I always found him to be extremely funny and charming and brilliant on every subject.
TV Guide: Will you be reprising the role of Dr. Kupferberg on The Sopranos?
Bogdanovich: Yes, Dr. Kupferberg is back for at least two or three episodes [when the HBO series returns with its final eight episodes in early 2007].
TV Guide: Can you talk about the new season?
Bogdanovich: Just that there are only eight left, sorry to say. I have no idea what goes on except with regard to my character and I'm not going to say.
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