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A Movie Milestone
EricH-929 April 1999
One of my favorite films is The Last Picture Show. It is a film that was directed by Peter Bogdanovitch in 1971, yet almost 30 years later it still seems fresh and alive to me. There is a desolate, spare quality to the 1950's small west Texas town we are invited into and its desolation is apparent to us from the opening scenes. It was filmed in black and white, which enhances the dramatic quality of the town and takes us back to a simpler time. Just as our lives are discontinuous, with jarring scene changes and ridiculous episodes of embarrassing events, so is life presented to us in this small town. The film's purposely jarring editing is transformed in our minds, as we watch, from a disjointed amalgam to a stream of consciousness effect that is very lifelike. One knows, then, that you are entering an alternative world just as real in its way as your own. This movie pulls you in.

There is no musical score in this film in the normal sense. The only time you hear music is when a radio is on or a phonograph is playing in the background. This lack of a musical score dubbed over the film enhances the illusion of reality. Another aspect of this sound editing is the choice of music that is being played by the different characters. Bogdonavitch uses song and artist selection to subtly comment on the character of the person or people who are listening to it. In the case of Sonny the music he selects is always Hank Williams and it alludes to the hardscrabble life and down to earth quality of his character. In contrast at JC's home, the manipulative teenager played by Cybil Sheppard, you hear a cover of a Hank William's song that has all of the life sucked out of it, similar to a Pat Boone cover of an Elvis Presley song. It is a direct comment on JC and her family; her family has grown wealthy by owning oil wells and they pretend they are still the same people as before. It is obvious they are not just by this simple musical selection. It is eloquent in its simplicity.

The center of the film and the major theme – should you listen to your heart or your libido if the two don't combine in the same person? Perhaps the saddest comment in this film is that too often these two halves to a whole do not come together as a package and people are forced to chose. None of the characters are particularly happy with their mates. Everyone is on the prowl for that perfect person they know they will be happy with. Time and again they think that they've found the perfect person based on their sexual attraction but when they begin to show their authentic selves are then rejected. Those in long term relationships with an emotionally compatible mate but with no sexual interest face an equal dilemma – a lack of excitement and joy – and are destined to be the ones that reject. It exposes both sides of this human dilemma, a duality that can become split and non-integrated, and does it in a sophisticated and lyrical way. Most people experience this split at some time and in this film, as in life, there are no easy answers. That's why I love this film.

And there is Billy, the boy who continually sweeps the street in a hopeless gesture to turn back the inevitable, representing that demented and futile longing for a past that was never quite as good as you remember it. He represents that longing for an illusion that disappears just as we are about to grasp it and the sadness of that. The broom that is never fast enough for the blowing dust of time.
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A Sense Of Realism
Lechuguilla29 January 2006
This is a character study wherein the main character is a small West Texas town, circa 1951. In the U.S., the early 1950s symbolized a transition from nineteenth century agrarian values to twentieth century urbanism. In the film, various people who live in the town must confront the reality that time moves on. Things change. Assumptions of previous generations give way to the untested assumptions of the future. The film's theme is thus American cultural change, and the personal disillusionment that such change can bring. It is a powerful theme, and the film imparts that theme with logical clarity and emotional frankness.

In the hands of lesser talents, the subject matter of unimportant people doing unimportant things might have yielded a tiresome soap opera. But the film's script is poetic, the direction is skillful, the B&W cinematography is artistic, the casting is perfect, and the performances are superlative.

The story draws heavily from early American individualism. Life here is mostly physical, not mental. Human relationships are direct, immediate, one-on-one. Except for schools, which are given some prominence, cultural institutions exist in the film only vaguely or not at all. For entertainment, people listen to radio, which features the mournful country-western music of Hank Williams. Or, they go to the town's decrepit picture show, where an elderly Miss Mosey kindly returns money to the kids who got there too late to see the cartoons.

If the film has a weakness it is in the presentation of a realism that is incomplete. We see mostly stifling bleakness, though that is ameliorated somewhat by humor. What we don't see are the uplifting influences and the optimism that sustained agrarian generations through hardships and rough times.

Nevertheless, within the film's story parameters, the film does convey an accurate account of what life was like for ordinary folks in West Texas in the early 1950s. I doubt that this film could be made today. Contemporary audiences have been conditioned to expect non-stop action, loudness, glitz, and overblown special effects, all of which are absent, mercifully, from this film.

Low-key, perceptive, bleak, and melancholy, "The Last Picture Show" easily makes my list of Top Ten favorite films of all time.
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Somewhat Overlooked Character Study of the 1970s
tfrizzell25 July 2000
Warning: Spoilers
"The Last Picture Show" is an excellent motion picture on all levels. The film deals with the hopelessness of a small Texas town in the mid-1950s. All the people in the town are down for one reason or another. The only thing that could bring the town together, the high school football team, is an utter disappointment to all who care. And now the only shred of hope left in town, the old movie theater, is about to close its doors for good. Timothy Bottoms is a young man trying to decide what he wants in life. He has an attraction to classmate Cybill Shepherd, but she's involved with his best friend Jeff Bridges (in an Oscar-nominated part). However, Shepherd is not sure that she wants to spend her life with Bridges so she gets involved with Randy Quaid, a son of a rich landowner, and his friends. Bridges has the same thoughts about Shepherd and also struggles with his place within the town's landscape. Bottoms becomes involved with his basketball coach's wife (Cloris Leachman in her Oscar-winning role), hoping that she will fill the void he has. This does not work and he still has fixations on Shepherd, who somewhat gives in to him during the film. All in all, there is no real love in any of the characters and they all suffer due to this fact. Ellen Burstyn (also Oscar-nominated) plays Shepherd's mother, a woman that Shepherd does not want to be like when she's her age. Eileen Brennan is also on hand as the insightful waitress at the town diner. Perhaps the greatest connection within the town is the old wise cowboy who owns the theater and the diner. Ben Johnson (in a well-deserved Oscar-winning turn) shines and when he passes away it seems that the last real glimmer of hope within the town died with him. Everything in this film is almost perfect. It shows how the lives of people in a small community can overlap and intertwine. The fact that leaving the town is not a legitimate option to any of the characters only makes the story-line more heartbreaking and realistic. People who have lived in a small town should be able to relate to this film. To me this film was very accurate because I have lived in small Texas towns that are eerily similar to the town in this movie. Larry McMurtry's screenplay and Peter Bogdanovich's direction keep the film engrossing and intriguing throughout. However, it is the actors that make the film the true American classic that it is. 5 out of 5 stars
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The lost art of American Cinema
Jasper-1224 April 1999
Adapted with director Bogdanovich by Larry McMurtry from his own novel, this film remains true to its source. A modern adaptation would no doubt have adopted the voice-over approach of narrative, but here each scene is played out from a more objective point of view. The book consists of a series of events played out over a protracted period of time, with McMurtry's sparse but effective prose acting as a bridging device between scenes. The translation to the screen loses these links, giving the film a slightly episodic feel which runs counter to modern Hollywood film making practice. This is no bad thing, and in every other aspect the film follows the book almost literally, but watching it now does highlight the difference between the formulaic approach we are now accustomed to, with mise en scene, plot turning points and climaxes crudely and obviously spelt out, as opposed to that of Hollywood's final golden age, where the director was given more of a free reign to stamp his own identity on the film, and audiences were more receptive to different styles. Here the spirit of the novel is captured perfectly; that of the desperation and claustrophobia of small town life, where generation after generation undergo the same rites of passage, living out the same lives of frustration and unrealised dreams. The films strength is that it never forces us to identify with any one character, evenly distributing the amount of screen time over the different generations and, almost like a fly on the wall documentary (though heavily stylised in its powerfully expressive monochrome cinematography). Coupled with some sturdy performances from all of the members of the cast, and some memorable images, ‘The Last Picture' comes across as an enchanting, evocative and accessible portrayal of a lifestyle most of us have never and will never experience. Now surely this is what the art of cinema is all about?
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There are few perfect movies and this is one
bandw7 March 2006
Here is a movie that perfectly captures a time and place. The time is the year between November, 1951 and November, 1952 and the place is Anarene, Texas, a small town in north central Texas. The screenplay was written by Larry McMurtry, in collaboration with director Bogdanovich, based on McMurtry's novel of the same name. Anarene is just south of Archer City, McMurtry's home town where the movie was filmed. McMurtry knows whereof he speaks, the movie has the feeling of total authenticity.

The story centers around two best friends, Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) and Duane (Jeff Bridges), as they pass from being high school seniors into adult life. Given their backgrounds, coming from broken homes and living in boarding houses, there is little idea that they will go to college. The movie details how the two handle this pivotal and bewildering time from being on the high school football team one year to being on their own without much of a safety net the next. In a wider context the movie is about larger transitions: from youth to adulthood for the young people, from a frustrated and bored middle age to an even less promising future for the older folks, and from a town with some social cohesiveness to a town dealing with the isolating effects of a bankrupt economy and the advent of television. The rather bleak prospects that Sonny and Duane face parallel the prospects of the town. You are made to think about transitions in your own life.

The movie is populated with many finely drawn characters, all acted with supreme skill. There is not a false note struck in the entire movie. By the end we know the characters so well that they seem real. Jeff Bridges was nominated for an Oscar, and I don't understand why Timothy Bottoms was not nominated as well, since his performance is of equal quality. Bottoms plays Sonny with such genuine good-natured charm and honest sincerity that it is hard to believe he is acting. And Ben Johnson and Cloris Leachman both won well-deserved Oscars. Kudos all round to the entire cast.

The movie is beautifully filmed in black and white befitting the stark settings and story, and the time period. It is filmed as if it were made in the period portrayed.

If you have ever lived in a small town or if you grew up in the American heartland in the 1950s, this movie will evoke overwhelming nostalgia. But the story is so powerfully told that I think that for everyone it will evoke nostalgia for a time and place, even for that which they may never have known.

The town, as well as the movie, is held together by Sam the Lion (Ben Johnson) who owns the movie theater, the café, and the pool hall. In fact he owns just about everything there is to do in Anarene, except for watching the hapless Anarene High football team ... and sex. It is no wonder then that sex, in its many faceted varieties, plays a big role in this town, and in this movie.

There are so many wonderful and memorable scenes that it would simply require a small volume to recount them. One scene that grabbed me was when Sam and Sonny are at a lake outside of town, ostensibly fishing, and Sam reminiscences about old times, about when he came to the lake twenty years earlier with a lover. Sam makes the comment, "You wouldn't believe how this land has changed." The camera pans the surroundings and it is hard to see how this area could have changed much in the last thousand years, but Sam is clearly attuned to the subtle changes, since memories were impressed on him in a time of strong emotion. We all have clear memories from when and where we have been happy, even if it is a small lake in a desolate flat land. And Sam's specific comment can be taken to apply more generally to the basic theme of the movie. This incredible scene ends with Sam's saying, "Being a decrepit old bag of bones, that's what's ridiculous," and anyone who is not close to tears at that point will never truly appreciate the beauty of this movie.

Seemingly this movie should be depressing, but the effect is more of a melancholic look into the lives of ordinary people who are just trying to play the hands they have been dealt in life.

It wasn't until the movie was over and I was reading the credits that I realized how cleverly the music had been woven into the film. All of the music is from the time period and is a part of the action and not background music. It is played on home radios, car radios, truck radios, 45 rpm players, jukeboxes, and at a community Christmas dance. The Hank Williams song, heard on the radio in Sonny's old truck in the opening scene, "Why Don't You Love Me Like You Used to Do?" sets the tone for the music as well as the movie. There are great songs taken from over a dozen country and western classics from the era. Ruth (Cloris Leachman) is listening to Johnny Standley's quirky, "It's in the Book," (a unique and strangely satirical offering to be popular at any time, let alone reach the pop charts and sell a million records in 1952) during the final scene between her and Sonny.

Why is this movie so special? That's kind of like asking why one likes a certain piece of music or a painting. Everything comes together here in one of those magic moments - the acting, the filming, the story, the music, the editing - to create a simply-told and remarkably affecting work of art.
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... worthy of its place in the list of great films of the 1970s
csplus10 January 2005
Perhaps the greatest tragedy to befall any artist is to have their life become more compelling than their work; such is the sad case with Peter Bogdanovich whose meteoric rise to fame was matched only by a truly famous fall from favor and a bewildering journey through tabloid hell. (Charles Shyer and Nancy Meyers mined the not inconsiderable drama of the first act of his life to sporadically great comic effect in 1984's Irreconcilable Differences. And his tragic love affair with Playboy model turned actress Dorothy Stratten is fictionalized in Bob Fosse's astonishing, horrifying Star 80 (1983). How many directors become characters in films?)

Bogdanovich's love affair with film is undeniable, though it has, in the past three decades, yielded far more perplexing misfires (The Cat's Meow, At Long Last Love, Nickelodeon) than unqualified successes. That said, The Last Picture Show is an extraordinary accomplishment and worthy of its place in the list of great films of the 1970s.

1971's other important films (Friedkin's The French Connection, Pakula's Klute, Kubrick's Clockwork Orange) are loud, angry, violent and contemporary – in-your-face reflections of a society in which rage and nihilism, engendered by Vietnam and the growing discontent over government corruption, is the currency of communication. The uncertainty coursing through the veins of American pop culture also begat in equal, if not equally graphic, measure a palpable sense of sorrow at the destruction of a simpler way of life (no matter how "true" that memory may be).

Like Jewison's Fiddler on the Roof and Altman's McCabe & Mrs. Miller, The Last Picture Show is a powerful and poignant evocation of the death of a community and a way of life. Thematically rich and imbued with Bogdanovich's remarkable knowledge and passion for film, the movie works on a dazzling number of levels; and Bogdanovich's use of nostalgia and traditional, archetypal genre conventions both enriches the movie and compounds the heartbreaking loss at the heart of the story.

His deft handling of a cast comprised of then (largely) unknowns (Bridges, Bottoms, Shepherd) is first-rate and he draws forth superb, often sublime performances from everyone (in particular, Johnson, Burstyn and Leachman). There isn't a false note or a misstep in the movie and there is a naturalness here that is not easily achieved or earned. The great production design (by Bogdanovich's then wife and partner Polly Platt whose contributions to his work and her subsequent involvement in the best works of James L. Brooks should not go underestimated) and the achingly beautiful cinematography by the late Robert Surtees are vital to the success (emotionally, intellectually, thematically) of the film.

The Last Picture Show is a truly rare work of surprising depth and emotional resonance; and the heartache for a time and place forever gone and the desperate and quiet struggles of its very real, very human denizens is matched only by the sorrow found in contemplation of Bogdanovich's Icarus-like fall from such exalted heights.
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Jacob Rosen23 April 2002
Peter Bogdonovich's great love of film, combined with Larry McMurtry's superior storytelling (he wrote the novel and both collaborated on the script), is in glorious evidence in this elegiac study of life in a small Texas town in the early Fifties. Bogdonovich pays a heartfelt tribute to the America of John Ford and Howard Hawks but the subject matter is contemporary, anguished, appropriate for the time in which it was made. Filmed by the great Robert Surtees in a flat black and white that perfectly evokes the bleakness of rural Texas life and peppered with a fine soundtrack of the popular country hits of the time, Bogdonovich creates a mise en scene understated and keenly observant of the details. It's also filled with McMurtry's trademark mix of humor and pathos. The cast (including Jeff Bridges, Timothy Bottoms, Cybill Shepherd, Ellen Burstyn and Cloris Leachman) is letter-perfect but it's Ben Johnson as Sam the Lion who gives the film its center: in an overwhelming (yet masterfully restrained) performance, Johnson unforgettably absorbs the town's despair, loneliness and regret; his short monologue about lost love is delivered with such deceptive simplicity that its power sneaks up on you unawares. One of the great performances and one of the groundbreaking films of the Seventies.
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My brief review of the film
sol-10 January 2005
A heartfelt, unbelievably frank film on teenage sexuality, it manages to capture the intensity and tumult of the feelings of its depicted young characters superbly well. The cast is excellent, playing each character out in a realistic and moving manner. Timothy Bottoms in particular displays one of the most earnest performances of all time, and the rest of the actors and actresses are so good in general that it is hard to single one particular one out. The film is superbly shot in black and white, which helps depict the entrapment of the characters' emotions, and to really purify the desire to express their feelings. Without doubt this is one of most honest character studies ever filmed, and it just gets better on a second viewing.
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It Makes You Sweat
Hitchcoc6 April 2006
This is a really outstanding film. It is a director's movie, with every nuance strictly controlled by Bogdonavich. It's a sweaty, sad, depressing sort of film. The vitality of the town has been drained by decades of malaise. The kids feel hopeless. The adults go from person to person and have affairs and experience emptiness. There's some depressing football team that can't tackle. But mostly there is a street with dirt on it and a mentally challenged boy who likes to sweep. It is rife with symbols. This boy is trying to sweep away the dirt that is infesting the town, but he has no effect. As a matter of fact, he is victimized by the other boys in the town--part of their fun. We have the contrast of the rich family in town with the Ellen Burstyn character and, of course, her daughter played by Cybill Shepherd. The boys who are in a hopeless prison of the town's making are like a bunch of horny bulldogs. She is the queen in the town, but that's not much of an honor. These guys are going nowhere and she might just be there, like her mother, 20 years from now. The director builds a world that isn't pleasant, but it's certainly a total depiction of a place without a future. The movie theater represents a last connection with excitement and enjoyment. But nobody goes anymore.
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No doubt one of the top 10 best movies ever made.
Dennis Dullea23 January 2005
A beautiful and heart wrenching movie that gets better and better as the years go by. I saw this when it came out in 1971, I knew it was good, but I didn't really understand how good or why. Over the years I have gone back and watched it again, and as my life changed I began to relate deeper each time I saw it. Bogdonovich was WAY ahead of the game on this one.

This is one of those rare movies that you can go back every five years and watch for the first time. Myself having been raised in Del Rio, Texas in the late 50's and early sixties, I can attest that this is a totally accurate picture of what coming of age in west Texas was really like for most of us.
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Last man standing
gleebs7523 February 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Set in a fictional town in Texas, this film is full of imagery of the dying west and the way of classic American life that people in the small town had become so accustomed to. It opens with the shot of a run down movie theatre, then spans the length of the whole run down town, and ends up focusing on a young kid in a run down truck. The situation appears very grim and rather hopeless.

The film focuses on the life of Sonny, the kid in the run down truck that we are introduced to in the opening. Sonny is a poor boy, who has been somewhat abandoned by his parents. He's friends with the other poor kids in the town—Dwayne, and Billy most notably. Billy is deaf, and a bit on the slow side—he's Sam the Lion's son and Sonny has a real soft spot for him. Sam the Lion pretty much owns the town. We find Sam and Sonny to have a complex relationship, and one that will end up providing a circular theme for the film. Sam owns the town's pool hall, movie theatre, and café and is well-known and loved by everyone. What Sam says, goes, and we get this image of Sam as the kind of old cowboy ruling over the land. The town has a kind of old glory day feel about it—the teenagers go to the movies at night and kiss in the back rows, they make out in cars and all seem rather innocent in their naiveté. However, there are more secrets to the town than are made apparent at first and we realize that this town is far from the perfect image of the west that we have been accustomed to in films up to this point.

For example, Sonny gets into a sexual relationship with his basketball coach's wife when she gets too sad for anything else to make her happy. Jacy, the town's classic blonde, ends up being very sexually confused and troubled due to the odd relationship between her and her drunken mother, who is having an affair. The town rich kids are all messed up, having naked pool parties and sleeping with one another. Basically, it's a town that is the result of a changing society with changing ideals. There are a number of times in the film, where the noise from a television is the only sound the audience hears. It seems as if television is part of the changing values of the town—especially after Sam the Lion dies. Once Sam dies, everything seems to take a turn for the worse. He leaves Sonny the pool hall and leaves the theatre in the hands of the old lady who had basically been running it before. Eventually, she needs to shut down the theatre, and even blames television as the reason why people don't want to go to the theatre anymore. Dwayne goes away to the army, he and Sonny get in a fight, and the preacher's son is even arrested for attempting to molest a little girl. It appears that with the death of the cowboy figure of the town, the whole town goes downhill, and at the same time, Sonny seems to be taking his place. He starts rolling cigarettes like Sam had, has his wild days with Jacy (coincidentally the daughter of Sam's old lover), runs the pool hall, and seems destined to simply follow in Sam's footsteps. The last scene, where Sonny returns to the house of his 40 year old lover, there is a loud laughter coming from the television. The conversation is serious, Mrs. Leachman is on the brink of nervous breakdown, Sonny has just witnessed the death of his friend Billy, Dwayne had just left for Korea, and Jacy was off at college. Sonny is the only one left, the last one standing. And the only sound of laughter coming from the sad house where Sonny is destined to spend the rest of his days with a married woman is coming from the television. The wild, wild west has been reduced to people in their houses wishing to be as happy as the people on the television. Instead, they have been doomed to live unfulfilling lives that will never live up to the standard of life in the old time western films in the closed down Royale theatre.
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An American classic
Dennis Littrell31 October 2001
In this nostalgic, atmospheric study of small town life in the fifties as seen a decade later, filmed on location in Wichita Falls and Archer City, Texas (from a novel by the incomparable Larry McMurtry), the force of slow, inevitable change is symbolized in the showing of the last picture at the local movie house. That last picture show, incidentally, is Howard Hawks' celebrated Western, Red River (1948) starring John Wayne and Montgomery Clift.

Well, the movie houses came back to life as multiplexes charging eight bucks a pop, but the Western movie died out, and the boys watching that movie went their separate ways into manhood.

Peter Bogdanovich's direction is episodic and leisurely, naturalistic with just a hint of the maudlin. We get a sense of the North Texas prairie wind blowing through a cattle town where there is not a lot to do and a whole lot of time to do it. Hungry women and a sense of drift. Boredom, gray skies and a lot of dust. You could set 'Anarene, Texas' down any place in southwestern or midwestern America, circa 1951, and you wouldn't have to change much: a main drag, a Texaco gas station, a café, a feed store, flat lands all around, old pickup trucks and a pool hall, youngsters with a restless yearning to grow up, drinking beer out of brown bottles giggling and elbowing each other in the ribs, and the old boys playing dominoes and telling tales of bygone days.

Robert Surtees's stark, yet romantic black and white cinematography, captures well that bygone era. The wide shot of the bus pulling out, taking Duane off to the Korean War with Sonny watching, standing by the Texaco station with the missing letter in the sign, was a tableau in motion, a moment stopped in our minds.

Cybill Shepherd made her debut here as Jacy Farrow, a bored little rich girl playing at love and sexuality. Part of the restorations in the video not shown in theaters in the early seventies includes some footage of her in the buff after stripping on a diving board (!). She is as shallow as she is pretty, and one of the reasons for seeing this film, although in truth her performance, while engaging, was a little uneven.

The rest of the cast was outstanding, in particular Timothy Bottoms whose Sonny Crawford is warm and forgiving, sweet and innocent. Jeff Bridges's Duane Jackson is two-faced, wild and careless, self-centered and probably going to die in Korea. Ben Johnson and Cloris Leachman deservedly won Oscars as best supporting actors. Leachman was especially good as the lonely 40-year-old wife of the football coach who has an awkward affair with the 18-year-old Sonny, while Johnson played a lovable, crusty guy that the kids looked up to. Sam Bottoms played the retarded Billy with steady, tragic good humor. Ellen Burstyn as Jacy's terminally bored mother, and Eileen Brennan as the wise waitress with a hand on her hip were also very good.

Memorable, but perhaps too obviously insertional, are the medley of country, pop, and rock and roll tunes from the late forties/early fifties jingling out of car radios and 45 record players throughout the film.

Peter Bogdanovich followed this with some hits, including the comedy What's Up Doc (1972) with Barbra Streisand, Ryan O'Neal, and Madeline Kahn, and the excellent Paper Moon (1973) with Ryan and Tatum O'Neal, but then tailed off.

I don't think he ever lived up to the promise of this film, an American classic not to be missed.

(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon!)
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the plot?
emilezolafan9 January 2010
Clearly an artistically crafted film, loaded with some of the most outstanding acting ever. Very poignant, full of pathos. Several memorable scenes. Oscar-worthy performance from Ben Johnson. But I kept expecting a plot to pop up and make itself seen. Essentially the movie was one scene after another of country people rutting like hogs. Sure, I realize that's one of the themes of the movie, but ultimately, when Sam died the life of the picture went with it. Aside from Sam I couldn't get interested in any other character. There was no tension for me; I was not hanging on the next scene to see what was coming. I figured it would be just more of the same--which it usually was. And then they die empty. No surprises.
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A Classic
jcoolum23 February 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Peter Bogdanovich's signature film, The Last Picture Show, which earned him an Academy Award nomination for directing, encompasses many different themes prevalent in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The film touches on many different subjects, such as the youth counterculture and friendship. The film follows the residents in the fictional small town of Anarene, Texas in the early 1950s. The main action revolves around Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) and his best friend, Duane (Jeff Bridges). Right from the beginning of the film we realize that the town is small and there is no a lot to do. The kids hang out at the local pool hall ran by an enigmatic man called Sam the Lion (Ben Johnson) and the local theater, which is also owned by Sam. We find out that Sonny, Duane, and their classmates are getting ready to graduate soon and each kid is having trouble deciding what they want to do after school.

Duane goes out with the most popular girl in school, Jacy Farrow (Cybill Shepherd), who enjoys the popularity she receives considerably. Things begin to change in the town for all the kids in town. The coach of the basketball team asks Sonny if he could drive his wife to the doctor's office. We see Ruth Popper (Cloris Leachman) as a very unhappy woman. Sonny notices this also and the two begin an affair. Meanwhile, Jacy tries to find a man to whom she can lose her virginity. It is apparent that she really does not want to be with Duane anymore after she ditches him on Christmas in order to go to a skinny-dipping party at another guy's house.

All the characters, one way or another, want something more than what they have. Sonny wants a relationship, which he gets with Mrs. Popper, Duane wants his relationship with Jacy to last, and Jacy wants always to be the center of attention. The older characters in the story, Sam, the waitress at the local diner, Genevieve (Eileen Brennan), and Jacy's mother Lois (Ellen Burstyn), reminisce about how things used to be when they were younger and how much things have changed since then. Sonny's world is turned upside down when he learns that Sam has died. The boys always thought Sam to be a kind of mentor. Sam leaves his pool hall to Sonny, who continues to run it. After Duane leaves town, Sonny decides to break off his relationship with Mrs. Popper for a relationship with Jacy. Sonny even gets in a fight over Jacy with Duane when Duane returns. This results in Sonny being injured. Sonny even marries Jacy when she asks him. The marriage does not last long though and we soon find out that Jacy only married Sonny to get attention.

In the end, Jacy leaves to go to college, Duane decides to go into the service to fight in Korea, and the last local business, the movie theater, shuts down. Duane, Sonny, and their friend Billy (Sam Bottoms) watch the very last showing of the very last movie shown at the theater, Red River (1948), a John Wayne Western. At the end of the film, Billy is killed when a truck hits him. Billy was a deaf mute, which is why he never heard the truck coming. Sonny is very distraught because everyone around him has either left, like Duane and Jacy, or died, like Sam and Billy. Sonny gets in his truck and drives away from town. It seems as though he might leave but then he turns around and drives back to town. He goes to see Mrs. Popper, who seems to be the only constant in Sonny's life. First, she rejects him, but eventually decides to forgive him and comfort him.

This film seems to have all the themes of the movies of the time. It has the rebellious counterculture theme that was so prevalent in films such as Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and Easy Rider (1969). It also contains the affair theme also found in The Graduate (1967) by showing Sonny's affair with Mrs. Popper. It has the theme of friendship also found in Easy Rider and Midnight Cowboy (1969). The film also contains the theme of alienation, which pertains to all the aforementioned films. In the end, Sonny is left alone. The only person he has left is Mrs. Popper and his relationship with her is not stable nor is it moral.

The Last Picture Show is a film about changes and how people react to those changes. The town changes so much throughout the movie as do the characters. Sonny does not react to change well at all. He seems very devastated when Sam dies, and he is even more devastated when Billy dies. He does not want Duane to leave and he even marries Jacy in order to keep something constant in his life. The only thing that seems constant to Sonny is his relationship with Mrs. Popper. When things get bad, he goes to her. The film is also about the death of the old west. The last film at the theater shown is a John Wayne western, which signals the end of that fictitious and glorified way of life. The film also deals a lot with nostalgia. Most of the characters have feelings of nostalgia. Duane wanted to keep Jacy and marry her, Jacy wanted to stay the center of attention, and Sam wanted to be young again. All of these characters come to terms with the changes occurring in their life while Sonny does not. When he gets scared, he runs to Mrs. Popper for comfort. The film is very interesting and well worth watching. It has interesting and unique characters, which the actors portray well. Just as the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, "There is nothing permanent except change." This quote seems to describe the central issues in The Last Picture Show to a tee.
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Best Scene Ever - The Tank
John Read29 May 2006
Sam takes Timothy Bottoms and Billy to the "tank", a man made watering hole for cattle on land that he owned 40 years ago before his "boys was dead" and his "wife lost her mind". While the silent Billy fishes, Sam reminisces about taking a young lady horseback riding out to the tank about 20 years ago. She bet him a silver dollar that she and her her horse could out-swim his across the tank. "She did." Sam guesses that she still has that silver dollar.

Bottoms asks Sam why he didn't marry her. "She was already married". "Young and foolish; A woman like that ...." Then the scene ends with Sam noting that he's "gettin' old".

Ben Johnson won an Oscar for this movie and that scene was why.
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An American classic.
TOMASBBloodhound24 April 2006
Warning: Spoilers
The Last Picture Show is an outstanding and overlooked masterpiece that continues to impress to this day. Peter Bogdonovich directed this incredible adaptation of Larry McMurtry's daring novel. It tells the story of a small town in the oil country of west Texas, and the lonely; desperate people who live there. The brilliant b&w photography of Robert Surtees along with the Hank Williams-rich soundtrack capture the early 1950's about as well as you could imagine. We are told the stories of some average folks having difficulty coping with the hands they've been dealt, as well as the emotional damage they do to one another. The film is moody, and it requires an attention span. But if you open yourself to it, you will find it a rewarding experience.

Most of the action revolves around a high school senior named Sonny. He's played very well by Timothy Bottoms. He's a quiet and easy-going sort. His best friend Duane (Jeff Bridges) is a rambunctious alpha-male. Duane's girlfriend Jacy (Cybil Shepherd) is the town beauty who loves to tease the guys. These are three confused kids who get along great one moment, then are at each other's throats the next. Like so many young people, these kids are really at the mercy of their emotions and desires. They make foolish decisions at every turn and at times cause a great deal of hurt to those around them.

The adults in town are an interesting bunch, themselves. The town's centerpiece is a man known as Sam The Lion. He's played by veteran actor Ben Johnson who won an Oscar for the role. A little speech he gives along the shore of a pond basically won it for him. In the DVD commentary, Bogdonovich notes that it was an overcast day, then miraculously the sun came out right as he was getting into the speech. They almost got the scene in one take, but Bottoms forgot his line about marriage and they had to include a cut. Too bad! Ellen Burstyn, who was nominated for Best Supporting Actress, plays Jacy's bored mother. She spends her spare time romancing one of her husband's employees and dreaming of a more interesting life. Cloris Leachman, who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar, plays Ruth Popper. She's the neglected wife of the local high school football coach. She has an affair with Sonny who can't seem to find the right gal his age to date. Both of these women give amazingly real performances.

We follow the lives of these individuals for the span of about a year. We share their secrets, we feel their emotions, and we understand their desires. Things come to a head in a shattering final sequence of events. Duane, still distraught over being dumped by Jacy several months earlier, boards a bus with a tear in his eye. The bus will be taking him away to the army, and certain combat in Korea. How about the shot of the bus driving out of town leaving Sonny all alone in the street? Next, a mentally challenged boy (played by Timothy's little brother Sam) is hit by a truck and killed moments later. Sonny and the boy were very close, and nobody else seems to give a damn. Sonny carries the boy's body off the street as a group of indignant adults simply watch. That scene was filmed in one take, and Bogdonovich himself was brought to tears after it was finished. Sonny then attempts to drive out of town, then realizes he has nowhere to go but back home to Ruth who he'd blown off months ago. He sheepishly shows up at her home and Cloris Leachman proceeds to win her Oscar with a tirade about his abandoning her. Notice how it merely takes one sideways glance from Sonny to melt her anger away....

We get one last shot of the movie theater, now forced to close. Times they were a changin', but nothing has changed about this film. This is an American classic! 10 of 10 stars.

The Hound.
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change in youth culture, escapism and cinema
sgreenan-122 February 2006
Scott Greenan New American Cinema February 24, 2006 The Last Picture Show

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.
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Melodrama in Small-Town Texas
ccthemovieman-19 December 2009
Plain-and-simple, if you like sordid melodramas, this is a film for you to see. Since it was the early 1970s instead of the '50s, a decade which saw a lot of "soap opera" films, the difference is the language and the nudity.

This is a classic soap opera in which just about everyone in the movie is having some sexual encounter they shouldn't be having. This was Hollywood's updated version of a Peyton Place-type small town in Texas back in 1951.

That said, there is excellent black-and-white photography and the movie is somewhat interesting despite its slowness, even for someone who doesn't care for melodramas, but the film overall is so-so and definitely overrated.

I believe it was a critics' favorite because of all the the shock value it brought at the time. Part of the "shock" was seeing a full frontal nudity shot of Cybill Shepherd. Remember, just a handful of years prior to this film, there still was a morals code.

Anyway, if you're a fan of melodramas and are not offended by profanity or gratuitous nudity, this is a movie you may want to check out, but don't let all the rave reviews fool you.
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Genuine Texas.
rcy_filmtex9 July 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I have read several of the blogs on this site knocking THE LAST PICTURE SHOW for various reasons, acting, plotting etc., and it is, as all movies, with flaws, but having been born 18 miles south of Archer City in Olney, Young County,where some of the scenes from the movie were filmed, and having grown up in the county seat of Young County, Graham, I have an appreciation for the movie that other people, especially non-Texans might not have. There have been hundreds of movies made about Texas and Texans and some of them have been filmed in Texas with Texas actors and none of them have captured the true feeling and soul of Texas as TLPS was able to do. The story first was based on an excellent book by Larry McMurtry and brought to the screen through the insight of Peter Bogdanovich. McMurtry's book, LONESOME DOVE, is in my opinion, the Great American Novel, but it's transition to the screen is nothing more than a three-star oat-burner. However, TLPS rises above all that, again in my mind, because having come of age just 10 years after the time of this story I knew all the people and incidents played in the movie. Not literally, but figuratively because the country, ranching and oil field people of rural Texas had not changed whether they were in Archer City or Olney or Graham or most anywhere in Texas save the foreign cities of say, Houston, El Paso, Dallas or San Antonio which are basically Third-World mini-countries plopped unfortunately down on Texas soil.I digress, my connection with the story begins with my childhood best friend, Charles Graham, who's grandfather, Charlie Graham, founded the now ghost town of Anarene, just south of Archer City, and according to Charles and his father, Hap Graham, old Charlie Graham named the town after his wife, Anna, and his favorite horse, Reno. The town boomed in the early days of the 20th Century with a train station, hotel, post office and oil refinery. The Grahams owned a large ranch in the vicinity of Anarene that was also established by old Charlie Graham. In the summertime and on spring and fall breaks and when ever we were needed, we cowboyed all over that country.Being teenagers who drank, and with spirits available in Archer County, that is where Charlie and I chased girls. When the movie came out, I could almost see Charles and myself as Duane and Sonny. The scene where they arrive back in town and the night watchman's car is parked in front of the courthouse with the night watchman asleep in the front seat with his feet sticking out the driver's window is authentic. I have seen that myself.Sam the Lion's Poolhall, I played pool in there, and the old men sitting around the corner gas station, I knew them. That is where we had flats on the pickups and horse trailers fixed.The tank where Ben Johnson as Sam the Lion gave his Oscar winning speech was a place where we swam on hot days. I could go on, but it would fill a book. One other mention I would like to make is had I not missed a telephone call, I would have been one of the nude swimmers in the Jacy pool stripping scene and I might have had a more enriching movie career than the middling non-career I had. I have learned in my life that country people be they in Texas, Iowa, Ohio or where ever are real people and not the hicks and rubes as they are so often portrayed in the movies. I will always be proud that TLPS portrayed Texans as people and not as cretins who are nothing but fodder for ridicule.
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A place long ago and far away.
Tim Johnson17 March 2006
I first watched this modern icon of a movie in London in August of '72-I watched it again last night for the first time in the intervening 34 years. I was blown away! The film will never leave my memory because of the brilliance of the script as well as the brilliance of the actors. That brilliance was in no small part as a result of Peter Bogdanovich and the remarkable casting that he did for the entire collection of roles in the film. I am sitting here thinking about what would have happened to the film if even one of those roles failed to jell. But they didn't fail! It was a remarkable feat to, first of all, assemble the cast and then to get such tremendous acting out of them. And for the most part the actors were so young.

All of these comments are the product of an older man-I wonder what my thoughts were 34 years ago? The morose feeling of the film; the palpable sense of decay and death were feelings I had in '72 and last night they were simply condensed into admiration for the movie totality that Bogdanovich assembled. The choice of black and white; the choice of locations and the superb screen production-all made for an unforgettable cinematic experience.

Juxtaposing the extraordinary decrepitude of the setting with the youth of the actors made for a truly harrowing story. The nature of small town America as well as small town Australia is something that must be experienced to understand properly. I only found out that Larry McMurtry was responsible for the novel from which this script was taken as well as the contemporary screen play for this year's academy award nominated film, Brokeback Mountain, after watching the DVD last evening. He understands.
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...the coffee cup shakes in her hand...
southpatcher19 April 2003
Without mentioning the beautiful cinematography, the melancholy that lurks beneath the surface of all the characters' lives, the amazingly accurate production design, or the top-notch direction...this movie is a classic to me for one reason: Cloris Leachman's performance in the final scene. I think it's the single greatest "Telling Him Off" scene in film. I am absolutely spellbound by her work. In this final scene, she completely is this woman in the dingy bathrobe, with the uncombed hair and unkempt house. But the appearance is only the icing. The true strength of the performance comes from the words. Her voice is at first passive and compliant, but after a moment of awkward politeness, the coffee cup shakes in her hand, and She unleashes this woman's anger, hurt, frustration, and sadness not only for her failed affair with the young Timothy Bottoms, but for all the years of whatever disappointments she has known in this dying Texas town. The anger passes to calm and a resolution of sorts between herself and Bottoms develops, and she gently takes his hand. Just moments after unleashing her pent-up fury, she has again become a sort of surrogate mother to this messed up boy. Leachman seamlessly careens through a scale of emotions, culminating in one of the most deserved Oscar wins of all time. Yes folks, "Phyllis" really is a hell of an actress.
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The Last Picture Show
FilmFanatic091 December 2006
Warning: 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.
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Gone With the Wind
RHKLWK18 May 2002
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.

Jimmy Sue!!!
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but not for me
funkyfry27 June 2007
Warning: Spoilers
It's sort of hard for me to say it, because I so greatly enjoyed both "Targets" and "Paper Moon", but I thought "The Last Picture show" was a somewhat fascinating but overly self-indulgent film. Its main positive, as far as I'm concerned, is the stunning photography. But for me the film had nothing to offer beyond surface beauty (and a kind of hidden beauty, at that). The characters were very hard to relate to or to care about. Basically you had this very slow pace and this naturalistic style of acting, but it was all there to prop up a very formulaic and predictable story, complete with all the trappings one would expect from any small town melodrama -- everything from the boy cheating with his teacher's wife to the handicapped kid who everyone picks on. It was like "American Graffiti" without the joy of life.

Some might say this film is more realistic -- nowadays a lot of people seem to think that realism is the only virtue a film can possess. But for me the film was simply oppressive, and I want to see it again about as badly as I'd like to spend a few hours in that miserable town the characters live in.

Maybe this film really just belongs to its time -- perhaps if I'd seen it in 1971 I would have been impressed by its novelty, just by seeing something different on the screen. But that would basically assume that I had never seen anything like, say, Godard's "Breathless". Maybe the overt references to classic films would have appealed to the movie geek in me and helped me to overlook some of the film's weaknesses. But in the post-Tarantino world that hardly seems unique or special either.

It is interesting though how he uses the films in the film to give his own film more depth. We see 3 films as I recall in the picture show. First we see Vincente Minnelli's "Father of the Bride" -- Liz Taylor's exquisite looks provide a contrast to Sonny's girlfriend and Minnelli's studied upper-middle class milieu contrasts to the character's "real life" surroundings in a similar way. Later, clips from Howard Hawks' "Red River" emphasize the theme of a broken friendship between a mentor and a protégé. It really just reminds me that Bogdanovich is kissing his own mentor's butt, much as he did if I remember correctly by selecting a Hawks film as part of his own on-screen reverie with Boris Karloff in "Targets". I guess in 1971 this kind of thing was new but looking at it today it just seems self-indulgent, like so much of the rest of this film.

Ultimately, I'd rather see another film by Hawks, Ford or Minnelli than to have Bogdanovich's film remind us of why they were so striking in such a less-than-subtle way. Maybe he intends to remind us of the giants whose time had passed -- all he really does is remind us how small he and most of his contemporaries are in relation.
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The Last Picture Show
Scott17 May 2006
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.
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