"Who the Devil the Made It: Conversations with Legendary Film Directors", Peter Bogdanovich

If the Nouvelle Vague became also famous for the transition of a group of film critics to the filmmaking activity, the same cannot be said of the New Hollywood, the American equivalent of the French cinematographic movement. If we look for names in the United States that, in the 60s and 70s, had similar paths to those of Godard or Truffaut, we come across essentially with two results: Paul Schrader and Peter Bogdanovich. A former writer for Esquire magazine, Bogdanovich became latter known for the elegiac film The Last Picture Show (1971), a farewell to a generation and, in a certain way, to the classic cinema it loved, through the history of a group of adolescents in the city of Texas during the time of the Korean War. Even though he was part of a generation that re-invented American cinema, the cinephilia in Bogdanovich's early films pays beautiful homages to his masters: John Ford on The Last Picture Show and Paper Moon and Howard Hawks in What's Up, Doc?

Who The Devil Made It: Conversations with Legendary Film Directors is a collection of interviews Bogdanovich made to 16 acclaimed filmmakers that were part of the studio system, from the pioneer Allan Dwan to his New Hollywood contemporaneous Sidney Lumet (including many of the old masters: Hawks, Walsh, Lang, Sternberg, Hitchcock, Preminger, etc.). Through it, Bogdanovich reminds us of the personal vision that great filmmakers have put on their films, the production difficulties they faced, and the artistic solutions they found. This book has the ability to recall how cinema is capable of manifesting the vision of the world, the authorial side, of the ones who are placed in the director's chair, while discussing what has changed in the American cinematographic system. It is a nostalgic book, with the bittersweet taste of those who remember great times to mourn great losses, like some of Bogdanovich’s best films.

Excerpts:
"Can you say what you learned from Griffith apart from the lighting?
[Allan Dwan:] One of the most important things was economy of gesture, which to me is a very important part of acting. To do a great deal with very little in terms of motion. The broad gesture, the scene-eating type of acting, has never appealed to me. I like the little gesture. I think in anything you can give too much, and if you do, you can lose all. So we gave them just enough to let the audience do the rest, because audiences mustn’t be insulted by being given too much. They have to work. They must be given a suggestion of what the emotion is and be allowed to interpret it themselves. And sometimes the most silent scene with the least gesture provokes the greatest emotion in the audience."

"Fury, You Only Live Once and You and Me have been called films of social protest, but aren’t they more concerned with man against his destiny, as is most of your work?
[Fritz Lang:] Yes, I think that is the main characteristic, the main theme that runs through all my pictures—this fight against destiny, against fate. I once wrote in an introduction to a book that the fight is important—not the result of it, but the revolution itself."

"What are your general thoughts on camera placement?
[Fritz Lang:] I had many talks with my cameramen and we came to the conclusion that every scene has only one exact way it should be shot. So it would have been a very interesting experiment—if somebody had had the money—to give the same picture to Ford, to Lubitsch, to Hawks, to Lang, and so on, to see how the different characters of each director would have affected the same subject, the same scenes. Probably each version would have been completely different. I think every director, subconsciously, imposes his character, his way of thinking, his way of life, his personality on his pictures."

"Over the years, who have been the directors you’ve liked best?
[Howard Hawks:] Oh, back in the beginning I imagine Lubitsch—I thought his stuff was great!—and I had great admiration for Leo McCarey. I liked Capra’s stuff and Keaton’s. Ford, especially, I always did. It’s hard to say, there’s so much change. I learned a great deal from the technique of Harold Lloyd’s pictures, and I studied them. I think von Sternberg did a good job, and he stamped his pictures with a certain quality. I liked almost anybody that made you realize who in the devil was making the picture. The ones I didn’t like were the ones who had pictures prepared for them and made them and there wasn’t any individuality about them at all. Because the director’s the storyteller and should have his own method of telling it."

Link to the complete book in PDF:

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