Targets (Peter Bogdanovich, 1968) The day after the insane shootings at the midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado, Glenn Kenny, in his fine blog Some Came Running, made a comment on it, without making a comment. He simply took frame-grabs from Peter Bogdanovich's directorial debut, Targets. One could only nod one's head in acknowledgement of the aptness.
The project started out as the most bizarre of industry favor-granting. Bogdanovich had done some work for B-movie king Roger Corman, and the AIP producer emeritus granted the writer an opportunity to direct his first project—with some stipulations: he had some work due from Boris Karloff by contract, and the aging horror star had to be worked into the storyline, and there were some left-over scenes from a past Karloff movie The Terror (featuring as well, a pre-star Jack Nicholson) that Bogdanovich could avail himself of. Other than that, Bogdanovich could do whatever he wanted, as long as he stayed on-time and under budget—about $125,000. With then-wife Polly Platt, who also served as production designer, Bogdanovich came up with a twisted storyline that followed two storylines that would come together at a drive-in theater, the favored venue of most AIP releases. In his commentary for the film, Bogdanovich goes out of his way to acknowledge the considerable help he had in fashioning the script from director-writer Samuel Fuller, who fleshed out and added resonances to the story.
One of the stories follows Bobby Thompson (Tim O'Kelly), as typical a young American as can be. He's sells insurance after having toured in Vietnam, wife's a nurse, and the young couple lives with the Thompson parents, where they have a normal domestic life of communal dinners (with grace said beforehand), and a family evening of television. Son and Dad have a hobby of target practice, in which the son takes great pride in his accuracy, no matter the caliber, no matter the weapon. Before the day is out, he'll grow weary of stationary targets.
Meanwhile, across town Byron Orlok (Karloff) is souring on the movie business. He's just screened his latest low budget horror flick, directed by a kid, Sammy Michaels (played by Bogdanovich), who's pressuring him to star in his next film, while the studio is assuming that the star will keep churning the stuff out. But Orlok announces he's retiring—oh, he'll do publicity for this one, but, really, with the very real horrors going on in the world meted out by tin-gods and commonsters, what relevance is the costume theatrics he's appearing in. He feels old, quaint, and antiquated, pretending horror when the world shows a proclivity for it with no bounds.
The two, Bobby and Byron, cross paths twice in the film, one completely unbeknownst the older star, and the other at a moment of destiny, when the two meet again at the world premiere of Orlok's new picture. Both reveal their true selves at the drive-in, and the film ends, as Bogdanovich is wont to do, on a note of ambivalence.
The film was so good that Corman was able to sell it (at a profit) to Paramount Studios for release. Bogdanovich fills it with telling cold-blooded details, especially in the planning and fulfillment of Bobby's activities, which become more and more erratic as things go astray from his plans, and those touches, some ironic, some despairing, are rich and feel like a tribute to the director the film is most in the style of—Alfred Hitchcock. Hitchcock is always a good primer for film-makers starting out in the low-budget fields, as his films are like blueprints in basic film-making techniques—direct, bald, and effective. But Hitchcock's subtleties—the stuff that fills the frame of the cutting scheme—are tougher to match. And it takes a better breed of film-maker—like Spielberg, Bogdanovich, and DePalma—to take the Master's schematics and improvise with the form. One can do all the planning one wants, but it's in the finishing touches that make a house a home, and a movie a film.