Friday, December 14, 2012

#851. The Last Picture Show (1971)

Directed By: Peter Bogdanovich

Starring: Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepherd

Tag line: "Anarene, Texas, 1951. Nothing much has changed..."

Trivia: Ben Johnson was persuaded to accept the role of Sam the Lion by his friend John Ford

A soulful slice of Americana, Peter Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show explores the sometimes turbulent lives of the citizens of Anarene, a tiny, barren 1950s Texas town where everyone is on the lookout for something to relieve the boredom.

Sonny Crawford (Timothy Bottoms) and Duane Moore (Jeff Bridges) are the best of friends. Both are on the High School Football Team, and spend their free time hanging out at the pool hall owned and operated by Sam the Lion (Ben Johnson, in an Academy- Award winning performance). In fact, Sam owns pretty much all of downtown Anarene, from the movie house to the diner where Genevieve (Eileen Brennan) works. 

On the social front, Duane is dating Jacy Farrow (Cybill Shepherd), the prettiest girl in town. But Jacy does have one teensy little problem: she’s still a virgin, a condition her mother, Lois (Ellen Burstyn), recommends she correct as quickly as possible. See, Lois thinks Duane isn’t the right man for her daughter, and believes that, once Jacy sleeps with him, she will realize it as well. 

Unfortunately, Duane's and Jacy’s first sexual encounter doesn’t set the world on fire. So, the self-centered Jacy dumps Duane and hooks up with Bobby (Gary Brockette), the wealthiest boy in neighboring Wichita Falls.

As for Sonny, his love life is a bit more... complicated. 

One day, the football coach (Bill Thurman) asks Sonny to drive his wife, Ruth (Cloris Leachman), into town. As it turns out, Ruth is incredibly bored with her marriage. To add some spice to her monotonous routine, she initiates an affair with Sonny, just one of many scandals that, over the years, has rocked this sleepy little community.

The small town at the center of The Last Picture Show is nothing like those ideal communities found in 1950s television (a la The Andy Griffith Show). It’s a place where apathy runs wild, where a complete lack of privacy is to be expected, and where the stark reality that few will escape this dreary, impoverished area looms heavy. Bogdanovich’s decision to shoot The Last Picture Show in black and white was practically a necessity; nothing else could have captured the feel of Anarene quite as well. It is a dusty, bleak dot on the map where tedium and despair are the norm.

An honest, sometimes depressing account of life in a small-town, The Last Picture Show is a true American classic.

1 comment:

LichenCraig said...

What is seared in my mind about this film is Cloris Leachman's superhumanly astounding performance. Also, Timothy Bottoms was a fine underappreciated actor.