(1968) dir. Peter Bogdanovich
As part of my ongoing trope of trying to watch the first feature films by significant directors of the 1970’s and 1980’s, especially those with a Roger Corman connection, I queued up Peter Bogdanovich’s Targets. Bogdanovich is not one of those directors that gets all that much love from media, whereas many of the other directors who blossomed in the 1970’s do. I’d recently re-watched Paper Moon (1973) which was quite a good film, and honestly, I’ve never seen The Last Picture Show (1971), which was one of my father’s favorite movies. So, Bogdanovich, who was definitely a part of this educated and knowledgable filmmakers of this period, I don’t know much how to categorize him in autuerist terms.
Targets is an odd film. It opens with a sequence Corman’s The Terror (1963), a gothic horror film in an Edgar Allan Poe vein. And then the film ends, credits roll, and it turns out the film we started with was the end of the latest film starring Boris Karloff, playing an actor very much like himself named Byron Orlok. This is a screening room showing. So right off the bat, we’ve got some meta-cinema stuff going on. And we’ve even got Peter Bogdanovich himself, playing the screenwriter who wants to make something different, something really scary, not this aged, out-dated gothic stuff. But Orlok wants to retire. Though he is willing to make a personal appearance at a drive-in theater.
But, along side of that is a story about a guy who arms himself up and starts shooting people, sniper-style, a character based loosely yet aptly on Charles Whitman, who climbed a building in Austin in 1966 and shot people at random. This, accordingly, is real horror. This is what is truly scary these days (1968).
And you get a lot of that easily from the film.
What’s interesting, in watching the interview with Bogdanovich at the end of the film is understanding how this film came to be made. Corman told Bogdanovich that he could make any film he wanted but he had to use stock footage from The Terror for some reason and he had Boris Karloff for two days of shooting on contract. Along with his then-wife Polly Platt, Bogdanovich concocted this metacritical horror film, and got to work with the great Boris Karloff in one of his final films.
It’s interesting. And a lot more sort of modernist/artsy than a lot of other first efforts, which tend to stand on genre standards and add character and flair. It’s not that Targets is brilliant. It’s interesting. But it is interesting in very different ways. According to Bogdanovich, Corman made a little money on the film in the end, though it wasn’t probably quite what he would have liked. Corman is famous for his budgetary tightness and the claim that he never lost money on any film he ever made.
Well, now I do need to queue up The Last Picture Show.