Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Last Picture Show (1971)

(Directed by Peter Bogdanovich, USA, 1971)

Another birthday and I had nothing to do so I watched this because it was on. It's interesting that this film had so much impact when I was a 'youngun' and now the shock value seems to have completely diminished. I think the main brouhaha was about premarital sex amongst teens (and frank talk about it) in a dull 1951 Texas small town being shown on film and that make a lot of people upset, mainly Roman Catholic folk. Wow, people actually had sex! send out the National Guard!
Since I had never seen it before all the way through, I must say that it really holds up and is a great and moving film.

Peter Bogdonovich adapted Larry McMurtry's novel and works with a superb ensemble cast: Ben Johnson, Ellen Burstyn, Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, Cloris Leachman, Eileen Brennan and a young Randy Quaid and Cybil Shepherd. Cinematography was by the great Larry Surtrees (who shot "The Graduate" "Summer of '42" and the underrated horror film "The Other"), in vibrant black and white: this gives the movie a general moodiness and is very effective in the opening scenes: conveying a sense of the complete emptiness of a small Texas town. It also helps to underscore the actors naturalism, since it's not soft light, effectively pushing their acting into the forefront. It's tempting to say that "Last Picture Show" is a coming of age movie with Hank Williams on the soundtrack, it's richer and more interesting than most other movies made in that period. There are several standout performances in the episodic structure of this movie: Ben Johnson gives a steady performance, Ellen Burstyn as his old love interest is sexy and believable, Cloris Leachman's neglected wife, having an affair with Bottoms is heartbreaking in her intensity. Hers is a nuanced performance, very skillful without descending into sentimentality. (She and Bottoms won supporting Oscars for their work).

In 1990, nearly 20 years after "The Last Picture Show", Bogdanovich filmed McMurtry's sequel, another novel involving the same characters in "Texasville", but apparently that sequel did not do so well. "The Last Picture Show" is now regarded as a classic of the 'new Hollywood' of the early 1970's. They just don't make 'em like this anymore.

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