Film Greats: Peter Bogdanovich’s ‘The Last Picture Show’ (1971)

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Edwin Pereyra, Oct 10, 2001.

  1. Edwin Pereyra

    Edwin Pereyra Producer

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    The strangest things sure happen in small rural towns, don’t they? In The Last Picture Show, director Peter Bogdanovich shows us a slice of life in Anarene, Texas in a time between WWII and the Korean War (early 1950’s). Filmed in glorious black and white by Robert Surtees and along with the use of other techniques to yield a greater depth of field with the camera, both Bogdanovich and Surtees were able to capture the powerful images of a bleak and desolate landscape.
    From a novel penned by Larry McMurtry, this critically acclaimed film, which based on a true story, chronicles a year in the lives of certain townspeople in Anarene, where there is very little to do. Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) and Duane (Jeff Bridges) are two high school seniors who pass their time hanging out at the pool hall, going to the local movie house – the Royal Theater, playing basketball and spending time with girls. Jacy (Cybill Shepherd) is Duane’s girlfriend but as a rich tease, other guys in town also pursue her.
    Jacy’s mom Lois (Ellen Burstyn) is an unhappy woman who tries to find love amongst the few men left in town but only end up having meaningless physical relationships with them. Sam (Ben Johnson) who owns the local grill, pool hall and the movie house is a man that is highly respected. As Sonny comes of age and figures out his place in society, he gets into an affair with his football coach’s lonely wife Ruth (Cloris Leachman).
    The impending closure of the local movie house with Howard Hawks’ Red River is a sign of a society in a state of disarray with moral values slowly disappearing and young adults growing up confused amidst the loneliness, selfishness and cynicism of others.
    The Last Picture Show received 8 Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Acting in a supporting role for Jeff Bridges, Ben Johnson, Ellen Burstyn and Cloris Leachman. It went on to win two Oscars in the acting categories for both Johnson and Leachman. The ensemble acting is definitely top rate.
    The film is a sad examination of the complexity of life in a small and dying town. While Bogdanovich was able to capture such life with a great degree of honesty, I’m drawn into the middle as to my admiration of the film’s storyline. To a certain degree, I was able to sympathize with the situations the younger characters were faced with, while unable to connect with some of the older characters, their problems and their own motivations. One would think that in the end, each adult is ultimately able to shape his/her own life and that one almost always has a choice to get out of an unpleasant or unhappy situation should they choose to. Those who are able to, end up having content and satisfying lives. Those who don’t, end up living a life of desperation and full of regrets. But I am constantly reminded by the words, “Failure is never quite so frightening as regret” when faced with an overwhelming choice.
    In its finality, The Last Picture Show leaves us with the image of Billy, the boy who continually sweeps the dust around town in utter futility. He represents the sole fixture for hope where hope continues to fade away and for change where change is needed in a life full of loneliness and unrealized dreams.
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    Film Greats – A continuing quick look at motion pictures that, in one way or another, have been called “great films” by some. Other Films In This Series: Mike Nichols’ http://www.hometheaterforum.com/uub/Forum9/HTML/007544.html http://www.hometheaterforum.com/uub/Forum9/HTML/006466.html
     
  2. SteveGon

    SteveGon Executive Producer

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    Nicely said, Edwin. You're bound and determined to make me run out and buy the dvd! [​IMG] How's the disc, BTW? Which cut of the film is presented?
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    He thought on homeland, the big timber, the air thin and chill all the year long. Tulip poplars so big through the trunk they put you in mind of locomotives set on end. He thought of getting home and building him a cabin on Cold Mountain so high that not a soul but the nighthawks passing across the clouds in autumn could hear his sad cry. Of living a life so quiet he would not need ears. And if Ada would go with him, there might be the hope, so far off in the distance he did not even really see it, that in time his despair might be honed off to a point so fine and thin that it would be nearly the same as vanishing.
    -- Charles Frazier, Cold Mountain
     
  3. Walter Kittel

    Walter Kittel Producer

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    Regarding the disc...
    The disc details are here .
    It has been awhile since I viewed the DVD, but I recall being very pleased with the transfer. The B&W cinematography is well presented on this disc. Considering the age of the film, I think it looks great.
    The sound is mono and sounds just like it is supposed to sound. ( Imagine listening to Hank Williams on a 40's car radio. )
    The extras are a bit light ( a commentary track from Bogdanovich would've been nice ) but overall I would have no problem recommending this disc. I think it is a terrific film ( one of the best of the '70s ), and the disc does a fine job of presenting the feature. For anyone interested in viewing a classic from the last golden era of cinema this title is very rewarding.
    - Walter.
     
  4. Rain

    Rain Producer

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    Wow, I can't believe it, but for once I actually agree with Edwin! [​IMG]
    Seriously, I just watched this film recently for the first time. While it's certainly no "feel good" movie, I was thouroughly impressed.
    For those who are asking, I think the DVD is definitely worth buying. It's a pretty nice presentation.
    While there is no commentary by Bogdanovich, there is a short little documentary about the making of the film, during which he provides quite a bit of insight. It also includes (sometimes amusing) interviews with some of the cast.
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    [​IMG]
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  5. Rob Tomlin

    Rob Tomlin Producer

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    I must say that I thought this film has been a bit overrated. Not that it is a bad movie, just not "great", IMO. I did enjoy the cinematography however.
     
  6. Edwin Pereyra

    Edwin Pereyra Producer

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    Steve, like others have already said, the DVD is a nice presentation of the film. The documentary was very informative too.
     
  7. Tom Rhea

    Tom Rhea Second Unit

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    Last Picture Show is one of my all-time favorites. Great writing, acting, photography, directing -- you name it, it's got it. I'm tempted to call it "one of the greatest ever made," but that's just an over-used cliche.
    What I don't understand is: what the hell happened to Bogdanovich? He makes three great movies within a relatively short time (this one, What's Up Doc and Paper Moon) and then nothing but either mediocre or just out and out crap after that (although I should probably confess that Texasville is one of my favorite guilty pleasures). What's up with that?
     
  8. Jodee

    Jodee Screenwriter

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    If i were you I'd dig farther into Mr. Bogdanovich's catalog. He certainly made more great films than the 3 you mentioned.
    First off, check out his first film Targets. I saw this last year for the first time and I was blown away by how great it was, and how ahread of its time it seemed. I wish Paramount would release this DVD already.
    Another forgotten Bogdanovich gem is Saint Jack which was his critical comeback after a string of high-profile flops. This film is very indie, back-to-basics and again seems ahead of it's time. This was recently released on DVD and has a very interesting commentary track. Ben Gazarra has an absolutely amazing performance in this film. The film only got a very limited release in the States so it has been very overlooked but it is a very well-made film.
    I also really enjoyed Daisy Miller which Bogdanovich made after Paper Moon. It was poorly received but time has been much kinder to the film. I saw a showing on AMC recently and I thought it was very under-rated.
    I also am a big fan of Noises Off which is a very funny "play within a movie" and has an excellent cast.
    But The Last Picture SHow is truly his masterpiece. This film seems to usher in 1970's cinema with its gritty, realistic portrayal of coming of age, yet it seems like such a perfect depiction of the 1950's. I believe Roger Ebert in his review called this the best 1950's movie (not made in the 50's).
    I even loaned his movie to my mother and she really enjoyed it. [​IMG]
    The cast as superb and it is interesting how this film launched the careers of so many actors who went on to fame (Jeff Bridges, Chloris Leachman, Randy Quaid, Ellen Burstyn, Cybill Shepherd.)
    The whole back-story of whathappened when this movie was made is also like a movie itself. I find it very interesting on the DVD how Bogdanovich and Shepherd talk so openly about their affair. They went on to live together for 8 years, in a very highly-publicized romance which proved to be the downfall of both of their careers in the 1970's. (The backlash against them was very severe.) Shepherd was able to rehabilitate her career by retreating to her hometown, doing regional theatre, and eventually surfacing as a TV star in the 1980's. Unfortunately for Peter Bogdanovich, just when he was poised to make a comeback, tragedy struck. His girlfriend Dorothy Stratten who Bogdanovich would call the love of his life, was brutally murdered in 1980 by her estranged husband.
    He never seemed to recover from this, and didn't direct a movie for 5 years, "Mask". He eventually married Dorothy's little sister Louise in 1988, who was only 20 years old at the tiime. The fact that he had been something of a surogate father to this girl since she was 12 put this marriage on the cover of People magazine.
    Sometimes I swear that Bogdanovich's life is more fascinating than any movie he could ever make.
    I must say I am really looking forward to his comeback this fall, The Cat's Meow. It's his first feature film since 1993 and it focuses on the Hearst-Marion Davies affair and a murder mystery. Kirsten Dunst is in it and I heard some good early buzz.
     
  9. Edwin Pereyra

    Edwin Pereyra Producer

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    Thanks for that very interesting background.
     

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