Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Last Picture Show

Based on the novel by Larry McMurtry, The Last Picture Show is the story of a group of teens who deal with their lonely surroundings as they also meet aging souls as they would contemplate their own future. Directed by Peter Bogdanovich and screenplay by Bogdanovich and McMurtry, the film is a look into a world where the old values of America starts to fall apart as it’s set into a small town in the middle of Texas circa 1951. Starring Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepherd, Timothy Bottoms, Cloris Leachman, Ellen Burstyn, Eileen Brennan, Ben Johnson, Randy Quaid, and Clu Gulager. The Last Picture Show is an entrancing yet somber film from Peter Bogdanovich.

Set in this small yet lonely Texas town in the early 1950s in the span of nearly a year, the film explores the lives of three teenagers as well as various adult figures dealing with their environment in a world that is changing around them. Leading the pack is a high school senior in Sonny Crawford (Timothy Bottoms) who is unsure of what to do after high school as he spends much of his time hanging out at a pool hall, a diner, and other places in his small town with nothing to do. With his friend Duane (Jeff Bridges) and Duane’s rich girlfriend Jacy (Cybill Shepherd), Sonny spends nearly a year trying to figure things out where he has an affair with his coach’s lonely wife Ruth Popper (Cloris Leachman) while Jacy is eager to lose her virginity to Duane while her mother Lois (Ellen Burstyn) warns her about being with someone like Duane. All of which plays into a world of uncertainty in this small town that is just dying.

The film’s screenplay by Peter Bogdanovich and Larry McMurtry explore this world where even though it is set in nearly a year from October of 1951 to September of 1952. It feels like a film that is set into a very different time period where much of the loose morality of the 1960s and early 1970s come into play as Sonny, Duane, and Jacy would all deal with growing pains as they’re eager to leave the small town they’re in. Especially as there’s a world that is filled with so much change that these three want to be a part of but Sonny is still attached to the small town as he is guided by the town’s local figure Sam the Lion (Ben Johnson) who owns the diner, the pool hall, and movie theater that the people often go to. With Duane in tow, Sonny would often get into mischief as it showcases their lack of direction where their friendship would get complicated to do Duane’s immaturity which eventually played into his break-up with Jacy who wanted more.

The script also plays into the role of peer pressure as Jacy is eager to be with the crowd as she would skinny-dip while wanting to lose her virginity so that she can be with a popular boy in school. It would play into her own development as a young woman as she is guided by her mother Lois about the trappings of love affairs and such as well as being with someone like Duane. Yet, Lois is a woman that is lost in her own marriage and affair as it reveals that she did love someone and has regretted leaving that man while Ruth is a woman in an unhappy marriage as she deals with loneliness where Sonny helps her out and lead to their affair. Ruth, Lois, and Jacy are three of four women who play into Sonny’s life as the other is the diner waitress Genevieve (Eileen Brennan) who is a weary observer, like Lois and Sam, that has seen a lot in the small town and knows what is going on as she would also guide Sonny into finding his way. Even if it means leaving the small town that he has lived for all of his young life.

Bogdanovich’s direction opens and ends with this eerie image of the small Texan town where it feels like a ghost town with hard winds being heard and tumbleweeds passing by. It sets the tone of a film where it has this feel of aimlessness but also something that is quite entrancing where it is set in a crucial moment in time where everything is black-and-white with little contact of the world outside of this small town. Bogdanovich creates some unique shots to play into this emergence of a new world of sexuality that is emerging where Jacy is quite hesitant in some parts of the film but is also eager to fit in with the crowd such as the skinny dipping sequence. There’s also some very chilling scenes where Sonny, Duane, and their friends try to get the mute boy Billy (Sam Bottoms) to lose his virginity to a prostitute as it starts off comically but ends up being very somber where Sonny and his friends feel bad about what happened with Duane not owning up to his mistake.

Much of the direction is shot with some unique wide shots and some medium shots plus a few close-ups to play into the drama that is unfolding as Sonny deals with growing pains and temptation as it concerns Jacy. Especially as things become much grimmer in its third act as parts of this small town is starting to die while the sense of uncertainty starts to loom. Much of it would include some revelations about the town and the people that Sonny has known where he isn’t sure if he has to escape or just be part of it for good. Overall, Bogdanovich creates a very haunting yet intoxicating film about a group of people living in a desolate town in the middle of Texas.

Cinematographer Robert Surtees does brilliant work with the film‘s black-and-white photography as it has this very timeless look to the film where it plays into that sense of a ghost town in its location in Texas as well as some unique lighting schemes and such to play into the mood of the drama. Editor Don Cambern does excellent work with the editing as it features bits of stylistic uses of jump-cuts and dissolves to play into the sense of dramatic energy in the film as well as the sense of aimlessness.

Production/costume designer Polly Platt and art director Walter Scott Herndon do amazing work with the set pieces from the look of the town in its desolate setting as well as the pool hall and movie theater while the costumes are terrific to play into the personality of the characters. Sound editor James M. Falkinburg does superb work with the sound from the way wind sounds to some of the moments in the film’s locations along with the film’s music as much of it is played on location as it features pieces by Hank Williams and other artists in country and pop music of the times.

The casting by Ross Brown is fantastic as it features some notable small roles from Sharon Taggart as Sonny’s girlfriend Charlene early in the film, Bill Thurman as Ruth’s husband, Gary Brockette as the popular senior Bobby that Jacy wants to be with, Sam Bottoms as the mute boy Billy that always hung around Sonny and Sam the Lion, Clu Gulager as Lois’ lover Aibilene who would later meet Jacy in a very haunting moment, and Randy Quaid as a rich kid named Lester who would take Jacy to the skinny-dipping party. Eileen Brennan is excellent as the kind-hearted waitress Genevieve who often serves Sonny and the other locals as she would help Sonny around and give him some guidance and food. Ellen Burstyn is superb as Jacy’s mother Lois who tries to warn her daughter about dating someone like Duane as she is embroiled in an empty affair of her own as she comes to term with her own regrets and what she doesn’t want her daughter to do.

Ben Johnson is amazing as the town leader Sam the Lion as this old man that had seen everything as he also displays some sentimentality about how simple things were in the past as he is aware of changing times as he guides Sonny into doing what is right. Cloris Leachman is radiant as the lonely housewife Ruth Popper as this middle-aged woman who has been neglected and depressed as she finds solace in the company of Sonny as there is a moment at the end of the film that is just astonishing as she is just riveting to watch. Cybill Shepherd is brilliant as Jacy Farrow as this young woman who is eager to fit in with the rest of her classmates as she is in love with Duane while becoming frustrated with her lack of prospects as she tries to come to terms with what she wants to do with her life.

Jeff Bridges is superb as Duane as an aloof young man who likes to party and such as he has very little idea into what Jacy wants while being forced to grow up and think about his own future. Finally, there’s Timothy Bottoms in an incredible performance as Sonny Crawford where Bottoms brings a boyish quality to a young man unsure of what to do as he begins an affair with a middle-aged woman while dealing with the tasks he’s given as well as temptation as it’s a truly mesmerizing performance from Bottoms.

The Last Picture Show is a tremendous film from Peter Bogdanovich. Featuring a brilliant ensemble cast as well as an astonishing look and presentation, it’s a film that explores a world that is truly American but cut-off from the rest of the country. Especially in a world that is changing where the youth of this small town is forced to make decisions about what to do with this new world that is emerging. In the end, The Last Picture Show is a phenomenal film from Peter Bogdanovich.

Peter Bogdanovich Films: Targets - (Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women) - (Directed by John Ford) - (What’s Up Doc?) - Paper Moon - (Daisy Miller) - (At Long Last Love) - (Nickelodeon) - (Saint Jack) - (They All Laughed) - (Mask (1985 film)) - (Illegally Yours) - (Texasville) - (Noises Off) - (The Thing Called Love) - (To Sir, with Love II) - (The Price of Heaven) - (Rescuers: Stories of Courage: Two Women) - (Naked City: A Killer Christmas) - (A Saintly Switch) - (The Cat’s Meow) - (The Mystery of Natalie Wood) - (Hustle (2004 film)) - (Runnin’ Down a Dream) - (She’s Funny That Way) - The Great Buster: A Celebration

© thevoid99 2014


Alex Withrow said...

Great review of a great film. Easily my favorite Bogdanovich movie(though Targets is a lot of fun). I agree, the flawless cinematography helped make this film look timeless.

thevoid99 said...

So far, this is my favorite of Bogdanovich's so far as I still need to see Paper Moon while I also really enjoyed his documentary on Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers.

Chris said...

I prefer Paper Moon, The Last Picture Show is good too, and both films are memorable to me for transporting us back to a different time and place.

I had forgotten it was based on a novel. The director said in interview the decision of b/w is because color was too pretty for a dreary and sad town. The interview:

thevoid99 said...

@Chris-Paper Moon is something I hope to see soon as I do remember into why Bogdanovich wanted to shoot the film in black-and-white in a clip from A Decade Under the Influence. It's been a longtime since I've seen that. I'll watch that clip. Thanks though.