You can hear the unmistakable introduction to Louis Armstrong's "West End Blues" playing in the background as Peter Bogdanovich discusses his latest project on the phone.
You can hear the unmistakable introduction to Louis Armstrong's "West End Blues" playing in the background as Peter Bogdanovich discusses his latest project on the phone. But the filmmaker -- who also counts Mozart among his musical favorites -- is talking about rock'n'roll.
"I know a little bit about rock 'n' roll, but I'm not an expert," Bogdanovich confesses. "I thought I'd learn something because I'm not set in my ways." As previously reported, the director of "The Last Picture Show" and "Paper Moon" is taking a leap into rock with an as-yet-untitled film about Tom Petty.
The making of the picture coincides with the 30th anniversary of Petty's group the Heartbreakers, which he formed as Mudcrutch in Gainesville, Fla. The musician is putting the finishing touches on his new Warner Bros. solo album, "Highway Companion," which he is co-producing with former Traveling Wilburys colleague Jeff Lynne and Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell. A summer tour kicks off June 9 in Charlotte, N.C.
Although Bogdanovich knew Petty primarily through his hits -- some of which he had nearly used in his features -- he was drawn to the musician's music and its roots.
"I'm attracted to things that are very American -- basically Southern American -- and I think his songs have a kind of ambiguity and impressionistic quality that are very intriguing," Bogdanovich says. "It connected to some pop culture phenomena that I'm very interested in. He was bowled over by Elvis and inspired by the Beatles, and before that by the Western. . . . That appealed to me."
With funding from Petty's label, the project began shooting late last year. Bogdanovich has captured Petty on the air at XM Satellite Radio and in sessions for "King of the Hill" (he voices local numbskull Luke) and already has conducted interviews with the musician, Lynne, drummer Steve Ferrone and MTV executive Bill Flanagan, with Campbell and founding keyboardist Benmont Tench on deck. The director also has amassed 15 hours of historical material.
A warts-and-all presentation is promised. The feature will cover the exit of original Heartbreakers drummer Stan Lynch, the firing of bassist Howie Epstein and the return of Ron Blair. The latter rejoined the band after a 21-year absence to replace Epstein, who died of a drug overdose in 2003. Bogdanovich says, "We got some very good stuff from Tom [about Howie] -- it was very touching."
Shooting will continue at least through the fall, when Petty will do a 30th anniversary concert, possibly in Gainesville. Bogdanovich says, "I've worked on documentaries before, and one thing I know is they make themselves in a way, and you don't know what you've got until you've got it all."