TLPS

Review of the classic 1971 award-winning nostalgic drama, ‘The Last Picture Show’

September 25, 2021 Mario Bautista 539 views

TLPS1THE Last Picture Show’ is the directorial debut of Peter Bogdanovich, based on the 1966 novel of Larry Macmurtry. Now considered a classic, this very loving and insightful look at coming-of-age nostalgia was nominated for 8 Oscars and won the best supporting actress and actor awards for Chloris Leachman and Ben Johnson. The best film that year was “The French Connection”.
“The Last Picture Show” was a commercial and artistic success and boosted Bogdanovich’s career (then only 31 years old) as a filmmaker. His followup film, the screwball comedy “What’s Up Doc?” with Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal, was also a big blockbuster.

He did other good films like “Paper Moon” and “St. Jack”, but he took a time out from directing after his girlfriend, Dorothy Stratten, a Playboy model and actress, was murdered in 1980 by her own estranged husband who then committed suicide. He then wrote a book about it, “The Killing of the Unicorn”.

“The Last Picture Show” is about humdrum life in the small dusty town of Anarene in the flatlands of Texas in 1951. It was not shown in Manila because our strict censorship laws then won’t allow the exhibition of its many daring scenes, so we’re glad we finally get to see it now on video. The controversial scenes now look very tame compared to what we see in Netflix.

The lead characters are best friends Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) and Duane (Jeff Bridges, who went on to be a big star and later won the Oscar.) They are on their last year in high school. Duane is dating the very pretty Jacy (Cybil Shepherd.)

Cybil was then a model discovered by Bogdanovich who later on became her boyfriend. This is her first film and she later achieved stardom in “Moonlighting” on TV with Bruce Willis. Sonny has an affair with the much older Ruth Popper (Chloris), the neglected wife of their coach who is a closet gay.

The characters feel that they are trapped in a desolate town without much rosy prospects for the future. They find diversion in the only bar in town owned by Sam the Lion (Ben Johnson) who also owns the town’s small movie theatre that is about to close down.

They find cheap thrills in playing pool, going to dance halls, drinking, necking, attending swimming pool parties where everyone gets naked, and driving town the border to nearby Mexico.

Duane, Sonny and Jacy journey to adulthood encountering the awkwardness of teeners, failed relationships, sudden deaths, loss of innocence, betrayal, disappointment, agonizing on what they’ll do after high school graduation, dreaming of escaping from their stifling dead-end life to have a better life else where, the inevitability of change as the Korean War looms, and the realization that life is not always fair.

This is definitely in the league of such unforgettable films about growing up like “American Grafitti” and “Almost Famous”. It was lensed by legendary Hollywood cinematographer Robert Surtees (who has won three Oscars and was at his best in the 1959 “Ben Hur”) in inspired monochromatic black and white, which is just perfect to complement the film’s overall brooding tone and melancholy mood of a bygone era.

The acting of the big cast who play very flawed characters is uniformly fine, with Ben Johnson memorable as the lonely cowboy at his best in that scene with Timothy Bottoms where he reminisces his past about a girl who got away in a pensive monologue. Also giving great support are Ellen Burstyn as the restless mother of Cybill who confesses she’s the lost love of Sam and Eileen Brennan as the wise and witty cafe waitress.

The film is also memorable for its soundtrack containing popular vintage songs of the 50s like “Cold, Cold Heart” by Hank Williams, “Wish You Were Here” by Eddie Fisher, “Blue Velvet”, “Rose, Rose I Love You”, “Solitaire”, “Half as Much”, “You Belong to Me” and many more.

Bogdanovich has since faded to oblivion from being a top filmmaker who still matters. He is now 81 years old and is better known as a film historian. But “The Last Picture Show” will remain as a testament to his glory days, his lasting legacy as a truly classic piece of Americana.

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