*They Shoot Gift Horses, Don’t They?

Ever since I first heard the story, I have devoured any account whatsoever that I can find of all the upheaval that went on behind the scenes during the filming of Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show in 1970. Just in case anyone kind enough to be reading this doesn’t know what I am referring to, the central element of the tale is that Peter left his wife, Polly Platt (who was also the film’s production designer), for one of the film’s stars, Cybill Shepherd.

As the shoot and the affair progressed, Polly apparently just hoped that her husband would cease to be interested in twenty-year-old models.  Unfortunately for her, his enthusiasm for them remained as strong as ever and, what’s more, Polly used to have to style Cybill’s hair for the film; she has essentially admitted, if jokingly, to having wanted to, on occasion, shear it off.

Peter and Cybill’s love survived beyond the date of the wrap party (assuming there was one) and, in fact, was relatively long lasting, seeing them through a chunk of the nineteen seventies. However, they did become widely disliked, due to, or so I have read, enormous arrogance on both their parts. According to Peter Biskind’s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, Peter Bogdanovich, thanks to his belief in the enormity of his fame, stopped even bothering to give his name when introduced to people.

Unsurprisingly, everyone seems to have been pretty happy when Peter began making films with Cybill that were, unfailingly, to disastrous effect. To wit, there was At Long Last Love, an ill-advised attempt, in 1975, to revive old-style movie musicals; and also Daisy Miller, with Cybill as the eponymous heroine (incidentally, American critic Rex Reed accused Cybill of portraying the Jamesian protagonist as a ‘Texan baton twirler’, but I would argue that Daisy is a Texas baton twirler). By the end of the decade, Bogdanovich’s lucky streak had (except for Mask, at which I defy anyone not to sob themselves into fits, despite, or even because of, its boundless manipulativeness) well and truly ended. What’s more, the word on the street was that this was, at least in part, due to his no longer working with Polly, whom many regarded as responsible for the striking look of his films.

So, at long last, here is my point. I have never forgotten having read an interview with Polly Platt in a movie magazine in which she recounted going with hers and Peter’s children to see At Long Last Love. About to enter the cinema, they heard the music from the closing credits of the previous session strike up, the doors were flung open, and they then witnessed no one whatsoever walking out.  At the conclusion of this story, Polly said, ‘I felt so bad for Peter.’

Really? Really? All I know is, if I were Polly Platt, that would have been the supreme moment of my life to that time, and, I’m sure, ever afterwards. What interests me is, did she feel the need to pretend otherwise, and if so, why, or was this simply a masterstroke on her part – that is, bringing the story of the empty cinema to a (relatively) wide audience? Either way, triumphing over those whom we, correctly or not, believe have wronged us is, to my mind, perhaps the only unadulterated pleasure that life has to offer.

My thoughts turn now to 1982.  During that year, my friends and I used to like to go to the carpark of Sydney radio station 2SM at weekends and just hang around. Sadly, this wasn’t because we were interested in the workings of radio; rather, our hope was that we would see some big stars entering or exiting the building. If an interview with a band we liked were being promoted, off we would go to North Sydney, not realising that the interview wouldn’t be live. But, while we never had the good fortune of seeing superstars proper, we would have been content merely to see a ‘DJ’. Sadly, we never seemed to have the luck in that area either.

Early one winter Sunday afternoon, we arrived to find a rival group of teenage girls in the carpark. They were well dressed and haughty, and it was obvious from the way they looked at us that they thought my friends and I were nothing. The atmosphere was unpleasant. After about three hours of this, though, DJ Charlie Fox came strolling through the parked cars. Now, Fox was my favourite of the announcers, as he always seemed to be the one who got to interview all the big names; I remember him raising with Simon Le Bon the rumour that he, Le Bon, was the son of Bryan Ferry; ‘That’s balderdash,’ responded Le Bon.

Charlie said hello to us – as if he knew us! – and didn’t say hello to them.  I have always admired his acknowledgment of the more humble-seeming of the two groups as an act of great kindness on his part.  (Aside from his blameless character, the mere fact of how we all looked in those days means there’s no possible way that he just fancied a bit of statutory rape.)

Whenever I think of a time in my life that I have triumphed, this is the first – and frequently the last – incident that comes to mind, and has been so for the past twenty-seven years. Now, compare my 2SM carpark victory with the Polly-Platt-going-to-At-Long-Last-Love one. All I can say is, if you are ever in a situation where the spouse who left you makes one of the most pilloried films of all time with the person he left you for, sit back and enjoy it. You may never – in fact, most likely won’t ever – have a moment like it again.

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