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This is a documentary about what went into making the films, "The Last Picture Show" and its sequel, "Texasville". There are comments from the townspeople, some of whom seem like direct inspirations for the characters in "The Last Picture Show". Peter Bogdanovich and the actors who appeared in the films talk about their participation in the films, and how the experiences affected their lives. There are some things revealed here, esp. from Timothy Bottoms, that are surprising as well as poignant. It's on video, and well worth the time.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In the early 70s, director Peter Bogdanovich, 31, assembled his cast
and crew in the crossroads town of Archer City, Texas, to shoot "The
Last Picture Show," based on Larry McMurtry's best-selling novel. The
movie did as well as the book, garnering several Academy Awards.
Here, it's 1990, and much of the same cast and crew are back in Archer City, Texas, to shoot a movie based on Larry McMurtry's follow-up novel, "Texasville". It's a sequel to a sequel.
Hickenlooper's documentary is sort of a one-hour "The Making Of" but with the blood stains still showing. It's surprisingly candid and there are some unexpectedly intimate revelations. Anyone interested in films knows that Bogdanovich and his star, Cybil Shepherd, began an affair that last eight or nine years and ended the director's marriage. But both Ellen Burstyn and Cloris Leachman were undergoing divorces at the time. Timothy Bottoms "fell in love" with Shepherd -- which must have been powerful easy to do -- but she rejected him for the director and now he and Shepherd hardly speak.
Rather, Bottoms appears to avoid her but she jokes with him and seems friendly enough, and when being interviewed Shepherd appears thoughtful but the kind of person who can shrug off troubles like that. She doesn't give a damn, while everybody else except Jeff Bridges seems to be at least a little wounded. Bottoms is especially melancholy.
Frequently, the interviews and excerpts from the original film are intercut with snatches of the lives and conversations of the residents of Archer City, Texas, McMurtry's home town. How could McMurty have grown up to be a successful novelist in such a benighted place?, someone asks. The answer is simple. There was nothing else to do. Cut to a shot of a guy shooting pool, then to a guy with a cigarette and a beer and a cowboy hat who sits next to his TV. I would hope that the younger folk, when not playing football, would be watching the sexiest baton twirlers in high school. We get a glimpse of one.
Of course, no one is responsible for the culture they're born into, and we can't really know what Archer City is like, just from a few selected interviews and shots of the good folk going about their business. But Hickenlooper doesn't give us much of a favorable impression. The residents we meet are not, let's say, sophisticates. McMurtry's Mom, though flattered by the camera and pleased with her son's success, didn't like his books because they had too many dirty words. Another guy rants about how these big city movie stars come here and block off all the traffic and they're all snobs and you can't get near them and he and his friends are consumed by an incandescent hatred of all these outsiders. The opening shot of the movie has a smiling guy in a Stetson tell us how perfect life is in Archer City and he believes Texas should secede from the union. If he's kidding, it's not immediately apparent. Another townsman says pleasantly, "We don't want to hurt nobody -- not seriously."
The main impression I was left with had nothing to do with "The Last Picture Show" or "Texasville." It had to do with mechanisms of social control. It's as if the vernacular culture of Archer City were wearing one of those old-fashioned corsets that had been pulled too tightly. Everyone seems to know everyone else, and the bounds of "normality" are strictly defined. Does Archer City need a policeman? It's the kind of place in which, if a homicide takes place, the sheriff is likely to ask, "Did he NEED killin'?", to use a real example. Probably sometimes things get out of hand and a cop comes in handy to hold things together in case someone goes berserk. But, on the whole, the police aren't really necessary. Gossip is the most effective means of controlling behavior.
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