Thursday, May 21, 2015

CANON OF FILM: "THE LAST PICTURE SHOW"

THE LAST PICTURE SHOW (1971)

Director: Peter Bogdanovich
Screenplay: Larry McMurtry and Peter Bogdanovich based on the novel by Larry McMurtry



There's lately been a bit of a revival of Peter Bogdanovich’s work in recent years. He's the directorial heir to both John Ford and Orson Welles, so I guess it's not completely surprising, yet, mostly, he's been considered more of a film historian than a great director. The only real exception to that is how everybody has conceded that "The Last Picture Show" was his one true masterpiece, and I can't disagree with that, although I would hear arguments for some of his other films like "Paper Moon" for instance.

I’ve avoided multiple opportunities to go back and revisit “The Last Picture Show,” in the past-. in fact, I'll be honest, until I looked it up on this blog, I thought I had posted my Canon of Film post on this film already, maybe I just presumed I had gotten to but,...   Anyway, it’s greatness, has never been subjective to me, but what I really remember above anything else is how sad the film is. It’s a slice of life film that follows numerous different characters in a small dying Texas town, the kind that’s obsessed with the record of the team’s high school football team. We mainly follow two of the captains of the town’s lousy team, Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) and Duane (Jeff Bridges) as they stumble thru aimless sexual fumblings and trips to the pool bar, the diner, and the movie house, which are about the only three places to go in the town. Sam the Lion (Oscar-winning Ben Johnson), owns all three properties, and he is considered the soul of the town, mostly hanging around the bar where he watches over Billy, (Sam Bottoms) the town dumb mute. The other soul is Genevieve (Eileen Brennan) the local waitress at the cafĂ©, both of which are given long monologues, with Johnson’s famous one being at a lake fishing with Billy and Sonny reminiscing about a long-ago past love of his and memories of the lake there. Bogdanovich moves in slowly during these soliloquies. Johnson was a regular on John Ford’s acting troupe, along with Cloris Leachman,  (who also won an Oscar, Supporting Actress) who plays a wife of the coach who ends up in an affair with Sonny, mainly because he’s nice, and there, and like everybody else’s actions in the film, out of boredom.  The only main character whose homelife we ever see a glimpse of is Jacy’s (Cybill Shepherd in her screen debut), who’s by far the best looking girl in town, who receives honest and frank advice about sex from her mother (Ellen Burstyn) who constantly cheats on her husband, a  foreman at the oil rig outside of town, oftentimes with one of his co-workers. Jacy’s incredible looks get her the attention of almost every boy around her, and it doesn’t take long for her to take advantage of it, and eventually manipulate almost every male in town. There’s a famous scene of her at a rich kid’s party in another city where she stands on a diving board and strips naked. Her family being somewhat rich means she can look outside the town for both her future and for her boyfriend, but like everyone else, these actions don’t lead to happiness, if anything, this causes her to be more manipulative and dangerous knowing she has other options if consequences do occur.

Yet, still, nothing ever occurs in the film that would seem to improve anything. These are desperate people in a desolate town, doing whatever they can to let the days go by. There’s no possibility for improvements, and there’s no apparent desire in anyone, other than possibly, the desire to leave. At the end, some leave, others stay, but everything feels like a permanent purgatory. Shot in black and white, based on Larry McMurtry’s book, whose other westerns include “Lonesome Dove,” and an Oscar for the screenplay for “Brokeback Mountain,” based on his own hometown, it’s a look into a world that’s been left for dead, void of smiling faces and any real glimpse or hope of things getting better. I realize that I haven’t made this film sound particularly entertaining.... well, just trust me it is. In fact, it was so beloved that they eventually made a sequel, "Texasville" that was made twenty years later and while that film's got it's own problems, still feels tonally like a natural follow-up. The town's still dying, but life goes on anyway. That's what the first film is pretty much about as well. 
Post a Comment