The Last Picture Show

danieltalsky | Films,My Favorite Things (Classics),Reviews | Monday, October 27th, 2008

Peter Bogdonavich, wrote a screenplay from a novel called The Last Picture Show. He was a director with a few stinker movies trying to make his big break. He sees a teenage Cybil Shepherd on the cover of a magazine and says, "Holy Crap, I've got to have that girl as my hot young affai… I mean, leading lady!"

He finds the girl, casts her, has an affair with her, threatens to stop "giving her direction" if she doesn't agree to show her tits on film.  He sequesters the cast from the crew because he wants them to be uncorrupted by the riff raff.

Then he shot the first major motion picture in black and white since the early 60's, in 1971.  He shot it in the actual hometown of the guy who wrote the novel.  He even used one of the local kids who lived there in a speaking role.

Sounds like a recipe for total disaster to me, except the movie is truly a thing of beauty.  The stark, simple setting of a small town on the decline, gives a bunch of young actors who went on to be really big a place to shine, and every still is something you could hang on your wall.

It's not hard to imagine this kind of vulnerability, treachery and love happening in a real small town in the 50's.  Every scene has it's own secret rhythm.

Jeff Bridges' character Sonny walks into a pool hall owned by Sam the Lion.  Sam looks on while Sonny grabs a soda, some little snack, and saunters over to the pool table.  Finally Sam speaks, "You ain't never gonna amount to nothing.  You've already spent a nickel today and you haven't even had a decent breakfast."

It looks like it's going to be a simple, naive tale of a small town, but it's really about taking that small town and showing its little fish bowl of reality.  The town tart shrewdly works every situation for all it's worth.  The gay coach's wife courts a boy just out of high school.  The lady who owns the diner and will "probaby be making hamburgers for your grandchildren" calmly dispenses advice.

You can see it's not easy for someone to make a simple black and white movie with such heat and human warmth.  It's a masterwork, and every scene plays out with perfection and has its own special rhythm.  Each one could be it's own tiny one-act play.  Only one maudlin scene mars its perfection, with one tragic death too many.

I just read this and sadly realized I didn't get across why I love this movie so much.

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