Peter Bogdanovich

Peter Bogdanovich, with Kirsten Dunst, is working on a Tom Petty documentary and would like to finish Orson Welles' last film, 'The Other Side of the Wind.' (EVERETT COLLECTION / March 28, 2007)

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There's a Tom Petty rockumentary to finish and a possible film project, The Broken Code, about a real-life scientific stink over the secrets of DNA.

He appears in the upcoming films The Dukes (with Chazz Palminteri), The Fifth Patient and Humboldt County.

But active on-screen and off-screen career aside, Peter Bogdanovich, a former "boy wonder" of the cinema has, in many ways, gone back to his roots. At 67, he has become a guardian of the cinema's history. This student actor-turned-curator and film journalist-turned-director is once again focusing the thing that first brought him fame -- preserving and honoring the filmmakers of the past.

Before directing The Last Picture Show, What's Up Doc?, Mask and The Cat's Meow, he was, film scholar David Thomson notes, "a valuable, French-inspired critic who insisted on the director as auteur [author of the film], so much so that many Americans began to take directors more seriously because of what he wrote."

Today, Bogdanovich hosts a classic movie channel for online-movie service ClickStar (cstar.com). He has written extensively on his friend and mentor Orson Welles. And he is in talks to edit Welles' last, unfinished film, The Other Side of the Wind, tied up in French courts for more then 30 years.

"It's like Bleak House," Bogdanovich jokes. "It just went on and on and on."

Petty film still in the works

Bogdanovich is this year's recipient of the Florida Film Festival American Visionary Award. Friday night, his Oscar-winning Dust Bowl comedy, Paper Moon, will be shown at 6:30 at the Enzian, followed by a Q&A with the director.

"That was a tough picture," he says of Paper Moon. "Personal problems between my ex-wife, who was working on the picture, too, and me. Making a picture with an 8-year-old lead [Tatum O'Neal, who won an Oscar] was tough. She didn't know how to read yet, much less act. She was adorable, but she wasn't a pro. I was so anxious to finish it and get out of there that we came in four days under schedule."

Bodganovich has always been known for a fondness for nostalgia, both in subject matter and in style. He has made period pieces, 1930s-style screwball comedies, an acclaimed tribute to filmmaker John Ford and an old-fashioned Cole Porter musical.

One thing he hasn't done before is a music documentary. His Tom Petty film is a music story and a Florida story. It "begins in Gainesville and ends in Gainesville. We looked at a five-hour cut the other day, a little long. But Marty Scorsese spent three and a half hours on just six years of Bob Dylan's life. We're trying to cover 30 years of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, a very interesting story, drama, tragedy, personality conflicts, humor. Guys who grew up in Gainesville, went to L.A. to try and make it in the record business. And they did."

'It's important to Orson'

The Orson Welles project is another visit to the past, one he shares with the great filmmaker. In the early 1970s, as his fame was growing, Bogdanovich appeared in and helped Welles make The Other Side of the Wind, a movie whose cast included John Huston, Dennis Hopper, Mercedes McCambridge, Edmund O'Brien and Rich Little. A movie about the last day in the life of a legendary moviemaker (Huston), the film's Iranian backer and Welles fought over the unfinished project, and it wound up in court, and in limbo.

"One day when we were on the set, Orson turns to me and says, 'If anything happens to me, promise you'll finish this movie.' I didn't want to think about that, or talk about it. But we had no way of knowing it wouldn't be finished then, or even 10 years later, when Orson died. It fell into the French courts in 1976.

"According to Orson, he shot everything he needed to finish the film except for what he called 'trick shots,' effects. The footage with the actors was all done. I haven't seen all of it, just an hourlong cut of it. So we may do those shots, which would be easier to do in the digital age, or we may not. We'll try to cut it together in the unusual style Orson intended.

"It was a movie 20 years ahead of its time, at least. It's amazing how contemporary it is -- splintered, fragmented. It was a mockumentary, before there was such a term. It's important to Orson, to how we remember him, that it be finished. I think it'll be something extraordinary."

Roger Moore can be reached at RMoore@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5369.