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 wonderful 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 do.

Sonny Crawford (Timothy Bottoms) and Duane Moore (Jeff Bridges) are the best of friends. Both are on the High School Football Team, and spend most of their free time hanging around the local pool hall, which is owned 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), suggests she correct quickly. See, Lois is convinced that Duane isn’t the right man for her daughter, and believes that, once Jacy sleeps with him, she might realize it as well. Unfortunately, Duane and Jacy’s first sexual encounter doesn’t go according to plan, and it isn’t long before the self-centered Jacy dumps Duane and tries to hook 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, his 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, so, to add some spice to her monotonous daily routine, she initiates an affair with Sonny, just one of many scandals that, over the years, have rocked this sleepy little community to its core.

The small town at the center of The Last Picture Show is nothing like the ones depicted on television in the 1950s (a la The Andy Griffith Show). Instead, it’s a place where apathy runs rampant, a complete lack of privacy is to be expected, and the stark reality that few will ever escape this dreary, impoverished area looms heavy over everyone’s heads. 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, a dusty, bleak dot on the map where tedium and despair are the norm.

An honest, often depressing depiction of small-town America, The Last Picture Show is a true classic.

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