I've always had a lot of respect for Peter Bogdanovich, both as a filmmaker and as a custodian of film history. When many of the great directors were still alive, he befriended these legends and recorded their thoughts for future generations. He would also pay tribute to the style and stars of classic Hollywood in films like Paper Moon (1973) and The Last Picture Show (1971). That said, I have also often been a bit put off by his seeming arrogance, a sort of haughty, above-it-all air he's carried with him throughout his career. In the documentary One Day Since Yesterday (2015), now available on DVD from Warner Archive, all these aspects of the director's life and persona are explored in a loving, revealing, and lightly critical way.
While the documentary covers Bogdanovich's entire career, it focuses on his 1981 romantic comedy They All Laughed and his love affair with one of the film's stars, Dorothy Stratten, who would be assaulted and killed by her estranged husband before the release of the film. It is in essence an exploration of what made Bogdanovich the person he was before and after this tragedy.
Currently working film directors, former stars in Bogdanovich productions and his family offer their thoughts, while the director himself opens up about his work and the tragic relationship that has colored his life. At the time of Stratten's death, the pair were on their way to spending a life together. They seem to have been a good match: Bogdanovich saw beyond the actress/model's beauty to her emerging intellect and inherent compassion, while Stratten kept him humble and grounded.
Even at twenty Dorothy Stratten was beginning to reject the treatment she received as an otherworldly beauty. While her looks propelled her to a certain success as a playmate and actress, she did not bank on them for her happiness. She was intellectually curious, and acutely in tune with the emotions and motivations of those around her. The documentary captures a bit of her fire in a clip from The Tonight Show: when Johnny Carson asks her a question that offends her, she turns it around on him, subjecting him to the same intrusive gaze that he has inflicted on her. The flustered talk show host hardly knows how to react to her authority.
Bogdanovich is still clearly grieving the loss of Stratten. The typically dour director cracks a rare smile when he shares a story about how he was starting to flip his lid about something and she leaned over him to gently say "your heart, darling, your heart." He so revered her that you wonder if the relationship could have matured into something less starry-eyed and more aligned with the rhythms of daily life.
You can learn a lot about someone from the people they know and where Bogdanovich is concerned, it is clear he cherishes women. The most illuminating interviews in the film come from former love and lifelong friend Cybil Shephard, friend and They All Laughed star Colleen Camp, Stratten's sister Louise (to whom he was married for thirteen years) and his two daughters. These sharp, intelligent and loyal ladies have clearly felt valued by the director and they know him best, revealing his arrogance and generosity with great candor.
I've always felt a bit ill at ease about Bogdanovich's marriage to Stratten. Aside from being much younger than her sister, and the director, I wondered if he was chasing the dead in marrying her. It didn't seem healthy to me. It was fascinating to hear both Louise and Peter describe how the alliance helped them to heal from the trauma of Dorothy's murder. Being together assured them both of always being near someone who understood the feelings of grief and loss. While it is true that Bogdanovich saw something of his lost love in her younger sister, it is clear that the relationship was and continues to be strong and mutually supportive.
While Bogdanovich's quirks are approached with honesty, his work is essentially given a pass. Directors Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach offer uncritical appraisals of the director's work, focusing more on paying tribute than offering analysis. I found this a bit disappointing, She's Funny That Way (2014) was an entertaining film, but I felt skeptical of interviewees in the film who compared this less graceful effort with the airily romantic They All Laughed. I got the feeling that the love for the director was so great, and the need for him to succeed so strong that critical thinking could not enter the picture.
The film digs into the controversy and backlash Bogdanovich experienced as the first celebrity director, revealing the director's own discomfort with fame and eventual popularity with studios as a filmmaker striving to make art in a business driven by profits. While his flaws are not ignored, his methods are essentially justified. Perhaps he got wrapped up in the excitement of fame and success, but he was always in it for the movies. One Day Since Yesterday makes that obsessive passion clear and shows how it could help a man living with an unshakable tragedy to survive.
Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. This is a Manufacture on Demand (MOD) DVD. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.