Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Last Picture Show

The Last Picture Show; drama, USA, 1971; D: Peter Bogdanovich, S: Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepherd, Cloris Leachman, Ellen Burstyn, Ben Johnson, Randy Quaid

Anarene is a small town in southern Texas slowly fading away. People are bored, while high school seniors Sonny and Duane are in love in the same girl, the blond Jacy. However, she just wanted to lose her virginity fast, and subsequently breaks up with Duane. She aims for a rich boy, Bobby, but he marries another girl. Sonny, in the meantime, has an affair with Mrs Popper, who wants to take revenge on her husband who is cheating on her. When Sam 'the Lion' dies, the owner of the only local cinema, the town starts falling apart even faster. Sonny marries Jacy, but their parents take her away. Duane is sent to the Korean War, while a good friend, the clumsy Billy, dies in an accident. All alone in the town, Sonny returns to Mrs Popper for comfort.

Peter Bogdanovich's "The Last Picture Show" was met with almost universal critical acclaim, and some even went so far to call it the best directorial debut since Welles' "Citizen Kane", even though it was Bogdanovich's third film. Even though such acclaim is a little bit exaggerated, "The Last..." is a sad and elegiac coming-of-age drama that shows a realistic depiction of people living in such an insignificant place, time and flow of events that with time turns into a ticking clock. As such, Ben Johnson plays the crucial, albeit very brief role of Sam 'the Lion', the man who is the last symbol of some structure, some meaning in that small Texas town, and his death causes a chain reaction and a collapse of that small microcosmos: his cinema is closed, signalling the end of an era. By the end, the hero Sonny is left as almost the only teenager in town, feeling almost claustrophobic in the deserted town that becomes his trap, a home where nothing happens. The film is surprisingly rich with erotic scenes for a black and white picture - probably the most memorable sequence is the one where Jacy arrives at a nude pool party and has to take her clothes off as well. When a little kid swims out of the water, she humorously throws her panties right into his face - yet even they somehow give feeling of a tragedy and sadness, as if even sex in such a small town is less important than in some other place. The movie needed better dialogues - the closest to a good quote was Sam 'the Lion's' monologue about "being crazy about a woman like her is always the right thing to do" - and a better point, since it is slightly empty, monotone and uneventful itself - Bogdanovich's next film "Paper Moon" is much smoother than this - yet the fine characters and the performance by Jeff Bridges as Duane manage to lift it up a notch.


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