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Old 07-06-2009, 04:33 PM
Peter Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show

The Last Picture Show (1971)

Peter Bogdanovich's "The Last Picture Show" has the spirit of a film from the 50s while at the same time portraying itself with an anti-50s film spirit. Do you follow so far? Everything that wasn't allowed to be shown in films in the 50s is flaunted about the screen in this film including plenty of sex and even some language. This is an interesting kind of set up. I just wish they had managed to do more with it.

The story takes place in the small town of Anarene, Texas. At first, we follow a number of characters as they go about their daily routines in this small town where there is not much to do besides going to a pool hall, a cafe, or the move house. The main characters end up being Sonny Crawford (Timothy Bottoms), Duane Jackson (Jeff Bridges), and Jacy Farrow (Cybill Shepherd). At first, Jacy is with Duane, but due to his inability to perform, she eventually moves on to Sonny. Before that however, Sonny had started a relationship with his coach's wife, Ruth (Cloris Leachman). For these kids, hooking up is the only other thing to do in this town when they don't feel like visiting the local venues.

The film started off well. The first half had good pacing, but it tries to tackle too many characters at once. It switches so many times amongst them that we never get a clear portrait of any of them, leaving the characters more as templates than actual people. This could have been the filmmakers' idea all along though; to get a piece of each character in order to have it add up to a good representation of the town, but even when you do add them all up, it paints an overly-sentimental portrait of it.

The second half does begin to narrow its focus as we eventually concentrate on Sonny and his problems, but by then, it was far too late in the movie to start caring. By the time he does finally get together with Jacy, we wonder why he would want to be with this girl at all as we have seen that she switches quite easily from person to person. There are even questions about their relationship that never get answered, ones that are a bit too spoilerish to bring up here.

The performances were all pretty good. Ben Johnson, who played the owner of the pool hall, and Cloris Leachman both won Oscars for their work. However, the strange thing was that the actors didn't really feel like they had much chemistry with each other. A really good example of this is a scene near the end of the film where one of the characters is leaving on a bus to ship out to Korea, and he quite flatly says goodbye to his best friend and "I'll see you in a year or two if I don't get shot."

One scene near the end of the film bothered me in particular. One of the minor characters is struck by a truck in the road and killed. There was absolutely no point to this scene whatsoever. There was just no need for it. Plus the fact that the characters watching acted with such indifference towards the event made it seem even less believable.

Throughout the film, we can obviously realize that this small town is dying, but the film feels it necessary to bash us over the head with this fact. First, one of the older citizens dies, which has some purpose to it, then the minor character dies in the streets for no reason. Add to this the fact that there are several shots of dust blowing around the city at all times just goes to show that they really wanted us to get the feeling of a town on its way out.

As a final sentimental act before one of them goes off to war, two of the characters go to the movie house for the last picture show before itís closed down for good. The movie they end up seeing is Howard Hawks's "Red River" starring John Wayne. What a terrible way to end the run of a classic movie house, but again it also incorporates a bit of symbolism. Just as Wayne must move the cattle in the film, the people of Anarene must also move along now that the town is almost through.

What this film really needed was a focus earlier on instead of allowing itself to meander from character to character as if trying to introduce us to the entire town. Had it gotten around to focusing on Sonny a lot sooner than it did, it would have been a lot more effective and also a lot more engaging for the audience. This would have eliminated the characters that it felt like the filmmakers were trying to develop, like Lois (Ellen Burstyn), Lester (Randy Quaid), and Genevieve (Eileen Brennan), but only got halfway because of the number of them that they were trying to focus on. In the end, we have a movie that doesn't really know what it wants, much like its characters. 2.5/4 stars.
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