Brennan’s review published on Letterboxd:
“God, what an ugly town this has become.”
TARGETS is making me feel a lot of things but one of them is INTENSE BITTERNESS THAT DRIVE-INS AREN'T A THING ANYMORE. (I wonder how many LAST PICTURE SHOW jokes were made about this film, heheheheh)
There’s a bit of Altman, here, with seemingly isolated plot-lines stretched out across Los Angeles that shockingly collide in an explosion of violence (and coincide with an entertainment show). I also caught a bit of Lynch’s mundane/menacing suburbia—red roses hugging a white picket fence, splashed against a bright sky—fourteen years before BLUE VELVET.
A more experienced director probably could have played up the intertextuality better, tightening the parallels between film and reality, both within the film’s diegesis and outside it. The film-within-the film, THE TERROR—which was in fact a real Corman film with Boris Karloff—is in a dialogue with the diegetic narrative of schlock-actor Orlock and director Michaels; simultaneously, both levels of TARGETS’ narrative examine Hollywood’s changing-of-the-guard through Karloff, Bogdanovich, and the very medium of film (“All the good movies have been made,” says Bogdanovich-as-Michaels and Bogdanovich himself).
But this was Bogdanovich’s first feature, and moreover an examination of the film’s production history justifies its small-scale nature—and, indeed, its very building blocks. TARGETS wasn’t so much a directorial debut as a beginner’s exercise, working under constrictions that seem to come straight from a film-school prompt. Producer and mentor Roger Corman allowed Bogdanovich to make a film that met these conditions:
* Use Boris Karloff for two days of shooting Corman owed him.
* Incorporate 20 minutes of footage from another Corman-Karloff film from 1963, THE TERROR
* Shoot another 40 minutes of film without Karloff
* Make the film with no more than $125,000
It’s not wrong to think TARGETS is disjointed and sloppy; “a rather mechanical wedding between two stories that have little to do with one another,” Ebert said in his review of the film. Ebert later in his review writes this—“the problem is that most of Karloff's scenes aren't really necessary; I suspect a movie limited to the sniper's story would have been more direct and effective”—but a cursory search into the making of the film renders this a moot line of criticism, as the film wouldn't be possible without Karloff's scenes.
It's far more rewarding to watch TARGETS knowing why these decisions were made, as the film becomes not just a self-reflexive meditation on film, violence, and American culture, but also a fascinating case study of a director’s creativity under heavy limitations…as was the case for the classic Hollywood directors Bogdanovich admired so much.