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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Much like the black and white movies of the 40s and 50s that the
characters of "The Last Picture Show" attend, the film itself is one of
shadows and the ever-present contrast between light and dark. In this
film about adolescent sexual awakening, it is only appropriate that the
first sexual encounter in the film take place in a darkened movie
theatre. It is a sad piece of irony that the teenagers of this dead-end
town, seem not to care, or are oblivious to, the escapism movies can
provide. Instead, they utilize the cinema as merely another alternative
to the backseat. The characters here are so confined to their homes,
they seem unaware of the bigger world out there, even in the context of
motion pictures. One of them, Jacy Farrow (Cybill Shepherd in her film
debut), will escape off to college, so we later understand why she is
the quickest to embrace more worldly pastimes, such as the film's
now-notorious salacious pool party.
If the film gets off to a slow start, we forgive it. Surely it is less tedious for the viewers than it is for the residents of the town, who have been forced to endure its monotony for the better part of most of their lives. Particularly saddening is Jacy's mother (Ellen Burstyn), a woman who allows herself to remain trapped by a failed romance and uses alcohol as her escape. It is Cloris Leachman, however, who gives the film's best performance as Ruth Popper, wife of the high school football coach. The resurgence of her sexuality, in the context of an illicit affair with high school athlete Sonny Crawford (Timothy Bottoms), is in a way purer than any of the couplings of the film's adolescent characters. The most heart wrenching moment occurs in a quiet shot of Ruth alone on her bed, all dressed up, but sitting in the knowledge that her lover has abandoned her to become the latest conquest of high school vixen, Jacy.
"The Last Picture Show" is one of those films where we care less about what happens, as opposed to how it happens. Very, very honestly is the manner in which events transpire here. Director Peter Bogdanovich skillfully avoids melodramatic elements that would have resulted in a Texas-set "Peyton Place." When the film ended, I felt at though not a great deal had really happened. Perhaps that's the point. In one sequence near the end of the film, while Sonny Crawford is watching an athletic practice at his former high school, an old man approaches and remarks on how much better the team has become since Sonny graduated. Sonny remarks that he graduated one year ago. He too, like us, knows that not much has changed in that year. Anarene is a town that time just happens to. It will always have its Sonny's and Jacy's. Only now, it won't have a picture show for them to go to on Friday nights. Does this really matter? They never seemed to watch it anyway.
Peter Bogdonavich directs a cast of unknowns in this story about small town high school graduates growing up to discover what roles they can play in other people's lives. Some of them don't know how to cope with their own insignificance in life and resort to sexual deviance to fit in with a group they don't belong in, while others try to run away from their life by driving to Mexico or chasing the girl of their high school dreams. Others merely escape to the world of the last cinema in town which is about to close down. The story incorporates the adults of the town as the high school graduates are forced to finally coexist with them on more than a student/teacher relationship. It usually ends in disparity. Found this at the school library. I liked this film a lot. I thought of this film as what George Lucas was trying to achieve through the kids in American Graffiti but without all the 60's pop music and muscle cars. Some people assimilate well, which is what American Graffiti is all about, but then there are some who screw it up, which is what The Last Picture Show is about.
Is this really the best film ever made? In an artistic sense, does it
advance the language of cinema? Well, perhaps not as much as some other
films have, but it did have a style of its own. Some of the shots are
simply marvelous, truly expressive without resorting to hammer and tongs.
And the cinematography matches the subject beautifully. While it's not
Citizen Kane or Breathless, it certainly makes a contribution far above and
beyond the call.
What makes this movie great is its story--rarely has narrative film achieved such grandeur on a scale that is so small. The Bicycle Thief is an apt comparison as far as squeezing so much story out of so little material. What could be so interesting about a bunch of hicks in a dusty, backwards Texas dot-on-the-map? And yet the story is immense. Comedy, tragedy, romance, desperation, treachery, love, death, infidelity, ennui, abandonment--it's all there, and portrayed with the loving caress absent in so much narrative film.
Now, the power of the narrative certainly exists in the novel, but the actors and the director take the story to heart and lift it above mere words and into the sublime. Everyone is note-for-note perfect in their acting. Everyone! But Cloris Leachman--I don't know that I've ever been more blown away by a performance than by what Cloris Leachman achieves here. I have no words that would do her justice--it's not even worth trying. I guess all I can say is that repeated viewings have not dimmed the power of what she creates. She still rocks me back on my heels.
The art, the story, the apex standard of performance--it all comes together in this film. Other movies may outclass The Last Picture Show in one area or another, but I haven't seen one that combines these elements with such gentle, overwhelming power. I'm not absolutely convinced, but until I'm show otherwise, I have to consider The Last Picture Show as the best of what cinema has to offer.
Bogdanovich used the dusty, whistle stop nowheresville location of
Archer City, Texas as the backdrop of this movie. The film opens with
shots of the gas pedal and the cracked windshield of Sonny's truck.
These imperfections seem to foreshadow the tragedies that occur in the
course of this film in that they symbolize the tough lives of the
characters. This is one of my favorite films for its poignancy and
socially aware theme. "The Last Picture Show" employs a host of
psychological themes, as exemplified in each character. The roles of
the characters are played by Jeff Bridges, Cybil Sheppard, Ellen
Burstyn, Clorish Leachman, and Timothy Bottoms. There are also a myriad
of symbols that define the action and the dramatic effect of this film.
Though we see quite a few of the characters go through their trials and
tribulations in everyday life, we don't fully get a sense of who they
are. The film takes place in the 1950s, at a time when going to the
movies was an industry in itself, but was dwindling by the middle of
the decade, what with the advent of television. The closing of the
theater in this town symbolizes the social change and psychological
impact on a town whose only real pastime was going to the picture show.
What does one do in this nowhere town? Going to the movies in the
local, broken down theater seems to be one of the only few pastimes
that one can engage in in this town.
The film examines the rites of passage of the youth that call the town home. We see Duane Jackson, played by Jeff Bridges try to hold onto his girl Jacy Farrow, played by the town beauty queen (she's not really a beauty queen), the sweet and pretty Jacy, played by a very young Cybil Sheppard who bares all in two key scenes in the film. Jacy is pretty, but she's a hollow and shallow girl who is the daughter of a formerly beautiful, but still attractive mother, Ellen Burstyn. The Farrows are the well to do people in town and it seems every man in the town is chasing Jacy's innocent, yet seductive beauty, including Jacy's mother's boyfriend who tries to have an assignation with her in a pool hall.
The acting by all the major actors in this film are outstanding, the characters may be one or two dimensional, but it is just such shallowness that defines the genius and talent of the respective actors in this film. Bogdanovich's masterful directing in this film, helped to make him famous. Cloris Leachman plays the lonely, love sick wife of the local football coach. She has a brief love affair with the much younger Duane. Each of the characters is a sort of stock character and cluster of people one might find in such a real life setting.
Bodies of water seem to also take on a symbolic role in this film, one being the famous swimming pool scene and the other at the pond which precedes the pool scene. Both of these bodies of water seem to characterize or add to the personas of the characters who play in the scenes containing them. For example, when Jacy strips at the pool party with everyone watching, she then jumps off the diving board after throwing her under garment over the boy in the water's head, this suggests that she has a not so innocent streak in her and that she is just aching to get out of her shell. Later, Jacy loses her virginity in the Cactus Motel with her boyfriend, Duane. Most of the action involves subtle sexuality which to me, has tinges of Freudian symbolism.
All in all, the acting is excellent and very convincing and the characters are pretty likable. This is one of the great, underrated films of all time and if you are a Hank Williams fan, the musical scores will delight you, their lyrics suggest the action that is taking place.
Please read the previous reviews. They capture the essence of this movie
far better than I can.
But there is a line spoken mid-way through the movie, where Sam the Lion is peering into the pickup truck to wish the boys farewell before they begin their long weekend journey to Mexico, that cannot help but make an indelible impression on anyone born before 1950: "We'll see you."
With that one line, we are instantly filled with apprehension about the future, and nostalgia for the past.
The cinematography is reminiscent of Ford; the dialogue, which seems as if it might have been written the morning the scene was shot, is reminiscent of Hawks.
The film is an homage to the past, a bow to the uncertain future. It is a masterpiece.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It's a time that the Internet generation can't relate to ... where
human relationships were based on eye-contact, skin-contact, words,
guts, emotions. This time was already far away from the year "The Last
Picture Show' was released. Now, it seems gone, forever ... Yet there
is something incredibly modern and universal in Peter Bogdanovich's
masterpiece. It works like a kaleidoscope of all the emotions guided by
The movie follows a group of teen-agers, at a time where the "notion" of teen-agers was new. In the old times, you were either a man, either a kid. In between? you went to the war, you started to work ... no studies, no spring-breaks, no disco parties, no fast-foods, no easy sex and all that bullshit. Sex was just marital routine.
Those were the old times. The young generation in "The Last Picture Show" is luckier. Not young enough to be treated as kids, not adult enough to think of another thing than kissing, hugging each other, and more. This "more", Sonny's (Timotthy Bottoms) girlfriend wouldn't allow it, ending a pathetic amateurish relationship where she's being kissed in the theater by a boy who looks at Liz Taylor on the screen or Jacy Farrow (Cybill Shepherd) the beautiful girlfriend of his best buddy Duane (Jeff Bridges). Whores and sluts were still owning the monopoly in the sex business. Sex was mystery.
In this black and white film, sex is the shadow. It hides, and feelings are hidden inside. When Sonny looks at Genevieve, the good-hearted waitress, you know what he might think of, the looks exchanged between the same Sonny and Ruth Popper is of a mysterious body-devouring appetite ... even Jacy's eyes playfully shine like a little girl with her doll. Boys are her doll. Sex is mystery for her, as she needs to 'know' then to be known as a girl 'who knows'. Sex is publicity.
This desire of publicity serves a selfish goal : to be seduced by the right guy, Jacy use sex like a cop uses handcuffs. Jacy is beautiful, and beauty is the least likely quality to inspire humility. And this is what sex is all about : control, pride, for the guy who's done it and for the girl who ... forgive the phrasing, who had been done. And when it's done, it's done. The mystery's gone. And the girl too. Jacy followed her mother's advice, to have sex with Duane, to realize it's not that "magic". Jacy's mother, Lois (Ellen Burstyn) is perfectly aware of the delusional aspect of sex ... and for one thing, she was wrong. Sex is magic for a girl like Jacy. So magic she makes it the second time with Lois's boyfriend in a less conventional place than a bed. The irony, a pool table, the very game, her poor dumped Duane was good at. Jacy indeed learns how to play with men. Sex is power.
Meanwhile, Sonny, the main protagonist, lives after his break-up an extraordinary hidden romance with the most touching and heart-breaking character of the film, Ruth Popper, the gym coach's wife, brilliantly played by Cloris Leachman. He drives her to the doctor, she comes back shaken, desperately needing an arm to grab, a heart to feel. We get the point, Sonny doesn't, what makes him even more touching in Ruth's eyes. The relationship that grows between them is so sincere, so powerful. He doesn't just fill a gap, he provides Ruth what she needed the most, trust in her ability to be loved. Not as a friend, not as a mother-like figure. True love expressed through these shy movements on a squeaky bed, in a dark room. Sex as its purest, most fragile form. Sex as the expression of tenderness, of desire, of this mysterious sensation that transcends generations. The tears in Ruth's eyes say it all. Sex is catharsis.
Yet, this sweet, tender relationship is almost destroyed by Jacy who turns Sonny's head. Jacy is too pretty not to be loved, even though Sonny doesn't love her as he loves Ruth. Ruth gave him her heart, but Jacy caricatured himself by becoming the quintessential trophy girl since she lost her innocence during that nudist party. But it's nothing compared to the pastor's son who showed another extreme: how the lack of sex can lead to more immorality. Sex is perversity.
Those are the risks due to too much or not enough sex. Like Ruth and Sonny who'll finally get back together, the movie swings between two generations. And the characters of Lois Farrow and the charismatic pool and cinema owner Sam the Lion (Ben Johnson), are the soul of the film. A man and a woman who knew what sex is about. Lois shouts to her daughter "Oh, don't be so mealymouthed". Sex is as eloquent for her, as a finger gesture while Sam, who lived a passionate romance with Lois, is nostalgic. He had his time, now it's gone. Sex is disillusion.
Yeah, this era is gone. Hearts are as deserted as this little Texan town. Sam the Lion embodies this era with his old cinema where youth kisses in the dark, watching "Red River" ... TV is conquering America, there's no time for innocence anymore ... even the dim-witted, good-hearted Billy can't survive this world. Indeed, it's the "Last Picture Show". The black and white combined with Hank William's folk songs paint this old classic feeling, the poignant scene between Sam and sonny even has this 'bad' quality that makes the film look older than real 50's movies. Beautiful cinematography incarnating the lost innocence ... which makes "The Last Picture Show" so modern, without being cynical, so sincere without being sappy.
So, what is sex eventually all about? Well, as would say Sam the Lion, maybe sex is like fish, something we like to eat even if we must spent half our time picking out bone ...
Scott Greenan New American Cinema February 24, 2006 The Last Picture
Set in a more traditional black and white coloring, The Last Picture Show became representative of the death of youth. It represented the end of Hollywood and thus imagination and youth itself. The setting takes place in a town where everything is dead. The streets are empty and the sound of wind permeates everything. The teenagers of this town are a nostalgic representation of the 1950's, as if Leave it to Beaver met the Great Depression. From drive-thrus to diners, Chuck Taylor high tops to Dr. Pepper, this film touched upon some of the key elements of being young in this time. These elements can be fully encompassed by the Royal Cinema. With its demise, the youth culture of the town was chased away.
Similar to movies in the 60's, The Last Picture Show has an element of escapism. This is evident in almost all of the young characters. Jacey goes off to college, Duane joins the army, and Sonny attempts to leave, only to turn around once again. His earlier attempts at eloping were foiled as well, bringing him back to his home town. These characters were not like the youth in the 60's in different ways. First and foremost, the film was set back in the 50's. Secondly, the movie was made in '71; these children seemed to be too young to be fully engrossed in the counterculture of the previous decade, which was now dying out as evidenced in other films such as Easy Rider. These characters also seemed to have a work ethic; from oil machinists to the mentally handicapped sweeper, these boys knew hard labor even though their town was in the slums.
What was most interesting was the representation of adults in this film. With the exception of Sam, the adults seemed to act like children themselves, cheating on one another's spouses as if it meant nothing. What was worse was that everyone knew of these affairs, even their own children. Such was the case with Jacey and her mother. The blatant denial of responsibilities led to the sexual rebellion of the children. Not once in the movie was there a positive sexual experience that didn't involve anger, tears, or the occasional erectile dysfunction. What was most impressive about the movie was that it all stemmed back to the cinema. The cinema was last form of entertainment in the town and it, too, was going out of business. It was the popular spot for young lovers, a theme that is generated throughout history. The last picture show, itself, was a western classic with John Wayne, a truly American symbol. It brought two warring friends together in the end. The effect of Hollywood was the ultimate form of visual escapism that real Americans experienced. The Last Picture Show represented the changing climate in the youth culture of the day and issued in a new decade of cinema.
Peter Bogdanovich's adaptation of Larry McMurty's novel is a beautifully
crafted look at life in a Texan backwater town in the 1950s. Featuring the
entangled lives and loves of a bunch of teenagers as they come of age, it
was one of the first American films to examine the complexity of life in a
small town without painting it in shades of a Norman Rockwell white picket
fence utopia. The town, once a part of the stable old west is slowly
slipping into a new age, and the last picture show of the title represents
the end of an era when the town's picture theatre closes down and its former
patrons venture off into a life of uncertainty.
The film is slow but evenly paced, featuring a strong cast of unknowns, fledglings and established veterans. Timothy Bottoms and Jeff Bridges are Sonny and Dwayne, two boys who enjoy an elevated status in the town due to their positions on the high school football team. Cybil Shepherd plays a manipulative female who strives for amusement by playing all the boys in the town off each other. Cloris Leachman who won an Oscar gives a sterling performance as the neglected middle aged house wife of the basketball coach, who indulges in an affair with Sonny out of boredom and frustration. The character of Sam the Lion played by Ben Johnson (who also won an Oscar) represents the spirit of traditional western values. His death in the film symbolises the end of an era and the passing of a way of life.
In the true spirit of 70s film making, this film was mature, truthful and innovative, while at the same time it harboured a deep respect for the tradition of American cinema that preceded it. This film is a eulogy to the American Western that pays homage to John Ford's similarly styled The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence'. It examines a world that is caught in turmoil, where the defining values that once guided the people are disappearing and a lost generation is emerging. Bogdanovich and many of the cast members struck career peaks in this film, but sadly many of them were never to recapture that form again.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
`The Last Picture Show' is a complex analysis of American values and
institutions hiding under a simple guise. The film is about teenagers
growing up in a rural Texas town during the 1950s, but `The Last Picture
Show' is more than a dime-a-dozen coming of age tale. The film is more about
life as the young characters face the decline of their small town at a time
when security is a necessity. The sudden death of the town's most beloved
citizen, Sam the Lion, strikes audience and character alike; due mostly to
the passive energy of actor Ben Johnson. His death leads to a shift in
morality in a town that leaned on him.
The cast couldn't be better. New-comers Bottoms, Shepherd, and Bridges give the genuine performances that their roles demand while veterans Cloris Leachman and, especially, Ben Johnson give the performances of their careers.
Director Bogdanovich's daring is a blessing to the story in which the actions of the characters must be earnestly portrayed despite the wolf-whistles that accompany the film's nude scenes by default. In Cybill Shepherd's controversial `stripping' scene at a nude pool party, one can see her hesitation and acknowledge the necessity of what she must do to conform. A lot of pluck from director and starlet alike contribute a great deal.
Top-notch on all fronts, but avoid the sequel `Texasville' like the plague. 10/10 stars.
I have always felt the hallmark of a great work of art is how much it
delivers upon repeated viewings. Sadly, with too many films the return
diminishes. Not the case with this masterpiece, which for me, at least,
reveals more and more with each repeated viewing. Most recently I was
struck for the first time with the excellence of Timothy Bottoms performance
His facial expressions alone in so many different scenes reveal how well Bottoms understood this character, and developed him so thoroughly as the film progressed. His "speechless" last scene alone with Chloris Leachman were among his "best lines" in the film. What a performance. What a film.
One for the ages.
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