Saturday, August 06, 2011

"The Last Picture Show" turns 1950's upside down

Cover of Cover via AmazonThis one kind of snuck up on me. I wasn't expecting it to be as good as it was. Listed as #95 on the AFI Top 100, The Last Picture Show (1971) absolutely needs to be higher. As one of the first "teen" movies, LPS was more shocking at its release than American Pie or Animal House.

I think the highlight for me was the stylized direction of Peter Bogdanovich. The sense of desolation and loneliness from the opening shot of the main street in town sets the perfect tone for the film. As someone who was only familiar with Cybill Shepherd from Moonlighting, she was a revelation here as the sexually manipulative Jacy Farrow. Timothy Bottoms continually blank expression might seem as poor acting in some films, but his expressionless performance was perfect for the blank Texas small town he lives in. Jeff Bridges looked a bit old to play a teen, but plays the roughneck well.

The shock value of some of the scenes was enhanced by the choice to film in black and white. The lack of color enhances the overall "lack" of anything worthwhile in the town. With nothing to do and nowhere to go, the characters make the best of what they have and find love where they can. Well, not quite love, but companionship. One such character is the wife of the school basketball coach. Ruth Popper (Cloris Leachman) combats her loneliness and depression by "seducing" Bottoms's character Sonny Crawford. I don't know if seduced is the right word. She's looking for anything to give her an excuse to wake up in the morning and he's looking for something to relieve the boredom. As the first love scene unfolded, I found myself ready to look away lest I catch a glimpse of Leachman naked. It was pitiful to watch her weep as Sonny was on top of her. That scene has to be one of the most uncomfortable love scenes in movie history.

The gut wrenching final scene unifies the film and reinforces the desolation and loneliness which pervades it. Much of this film reminded me of American Graffiti - characters deciding whether they will get away or make a stand in their small town.

Movie Poster for Image via WikipediaThe Last Picture Show deserves much higher than #95 for its groundbreaking subject matter and stylistic direction. I may even give its sequel, Texasville (1990), a try.

Next up: On the Waterfront

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