Paying their respects to critic, actor and filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich, CinePunked explores his debut feature – Targets (1968) – a bold and arresting story that combines the stories of a mass shooting with the retirement of a cinematic legend, played by Boris Karloff.
Sleeve notes are below.
With Robert JE Simpson, Dr Rachael Kelly and Ben Simpson.
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Episode URL: https://player.whooshkaa.com/episode?id=946986
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Ever since I started the CinePunked project I’ve had Peter Bogdanovich’s 1968 debut feature Targets in my sights. I’d been contemplating trying to get a partner organisation to help us make a drive-in screening of it happen, but even without that, it was going to have to make its way to our podcast at some point.
I don’t recall exactly when I first saw it – I think in my late teens, although it may have been during my first year at university. I certainly remember having to import the DVD from the US at the time (pre-streaming times folks!). I was already a Boris Karloff admirer, and I was aware of Bogdanovich from numerous documentaries, and his book of interviews with Orson Welles, which I had borrowed from the library a couple of times. When I finally saw the film, I was instantly gripped – I adored its blend of genres, eras, and its meta-quality.
Since then I’ve watched it several times, and it plays out in my head every so often too. This was filmmaking par excellence from the Roger Corman school of low-budgets and ingenuity. As a young film student in Belfast, this was where I was looking for my own inspiration.
And so bringing it to the group produced the usual anxiety… it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve suggested a title and my colleagues have been a little less appreciative. Film is so subjective, as all art is. And what one person likes, isn’t necessarily the same as someone else. I suspect we all want validation for our taste – and Rachael makes an observation at the top of the show about mine that is probably true of any of us. Hopefully by now, those who follow our podcasts, writing and events, will appreciate that we are very much in appreciation of all kinds of film, and all kinds of film fans. Indeed, a new series of conversations is also launching this week in which we hope to explore that further.
Sadly, the episode was recorded not just because Targets has been in pretty much every list of titles I’ve drawn up for the show, but because the director Peter Bogdanovich died on 6 January 2022 at the age of 82. We committed our comments just five days later.
Bogdanovich has been responsible for a number of excellent films, and I dare say we’ll feature another one or two before long in the pods, but Targets hints at his youthful brilliance in much the same way that his friend Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane did for him. While the two films are vastly different, both men have suffered from being built up and then dropped by studios, and in spite of circumstances, stuck to their guns to produce excellent, original and highly distinctive work. (Poor Ben, I don’t think he digs Orson Welles in the way some of us do, and its become a running joke now that we somehow relate pretty much every title to Welles).
Bringing in a discussion of Roger Corman is also important, because I’m not sure we’ve really discussed his importance within the emergence of new Hollywood directors in the 70s and 80s. The man is a legend, but also a brilliant creative and producer.
Rachael makes mention of a Roger Corman anecdote, typical of the production of Targets, around Roger Corman asking for a script to be written up so that he could reuse a set from another production.
I really should have jumped in with the missing information here, because in a nice bit of meta, the film in question is (probably) The Terror, which is itself then spliced into Targets. The Terror was filmed initially on the sets of Corman’s The Raven – and Karloff was again hired for a couple of intense days of work for the new film. Its production history then becomes rather more complicated, with some five directors ending up doing bits of it (including Francis Ford Coppola and Jack Nicholson) over the course of a year.
To be fair, a very similar situation prompted the production of Corman’s original version of The Little Shop of Horrors, which was made rapidly over only a couple of days (plus rehearsal) on the sets from Corman’s A Bucket of Blood, just before those sets were pulled. If you aren’t familiar with these titles, I recommend checking them out.
The conversation itself covers a wide range of topics – unsurprisingly, we do manage to talk about mental health and the potential PTSD involved for the Vietnam veteran at the centre of the story. We also discuss the connections to the real-life mass-shooting in 1966 by Charles Whitman – a historical context I was missing when I first saw the film.
Discussion of the Hollywood New Wave puts Bogdanovich in a creative context, but also allows us to ponder the meta-referencing going on, the blurring of realities and inability to discern truth and fiction within the film. I’ve likened it to being stuck in the Matrix, but we could have gone further in a discussion of the artifice of film itself – maybe on a future pod.
One of the distinctive features of Targets is its depiction of the drive-in movie theatre, a phenomenon that was entirely absent from my childhood in the north of Ireland. They were never the thing here that they are in the US or Australia.
During the chat I pondered whether any period drive-ins still exist, and after doing a little post-recording research, I was delighted to find that there are still several hundred operating (though significantly down on their peak). I found a lovely little website at www.driveinmovie.com which details the locations of many drive-in theatres past and present, along with links and history about current venues. Should I ever make it back to the US, I’d love to visit some of these. Though, I’ll have to watch out for snipers.
For those of you who listen right to the end of the show, I’ve added a little easter egg in the form of a contemporaneous commercial from Boris Karloff. Aired in 1968, the same time the film was released for a brand you might recognise.
The episode contains audio clips (used within fair use provision) from the following:
Targets (dir. Peter Bogdanovich, 1968), Saticoy Productions, distributed by Paramount Pictures.
Targets re-release trailer, (Paramount Pictures. c. 1972)
Ronson Lighter commercial (c. 1968)
Targets is available to buy on DVD from Paramount Pictures, and also via multiple streaming services. A restoration is due on Blu-Ray and DVD in the UK from BFI in June 2022.
The CinePunked theme music is ‘Riding the Synth‘ – © 2020, Ben Blademan Simpson. Used with permission.
Episode recorded via Zoom in Comber, Holywood and Newtownards, Northern Ireland on 11 January 2022 with our separate home studio setups.
Engineered and edited by Robert JE Simpson. First published on 13 January 2022.