Tag Archives: The Last Picture Show

No. 95 THE LAST PICTURE SHOW (1971)

Everything Gets Old if You Do It Often Enough

The Last Picture Show, a movie about the dirty laundry of a small Texan town, was considered to be risky and scandalous at the time of its making. It has scenes with full frontal nudity and sex between high school students and married adults. So, pretty much nothing that is currently considered scandalous. But at the time of filming Cybill Shepherd had to consider many times if she would do the nude pool scene and Cloris Leachman refused to get naked on camera and instead waited until her character got under the covers.

                                       Nope – you should not have worn that shirt

It’s 1951 in a small Texas town called Anarene. Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) and Duane (Jeff Bridges) are best friends who play football, go to the movies at an old movie house and hang out at the local pool hall. Both places are owned by Sam The Lion (Ben Johnson), who has a close relationship with Sonny. Both boys also lust after rich Jacy Farrow (Cybill Shepherd), whose mother Lois (Ellen Burstyn) gets around and also had an affair with Sam The Lion.  Jacy is going steady with Duane while Sonny falls into an affair with the football coach’s wife Ruth Popper (Cloris Leachman). After Sam the Lion’s death the pool hall is left to Sonny, who is determined to honour Sam’s legacy while Jacy and Duane head away from Anarene. Sonny and Duane make one last trip to the closing movie house.

It’s a bleak town

The Last Picture Show is based on a book by Larry McMurtry. When the director Peter Bogdanovich (The Mask and The Thing Called Love) saw the book the first time he did not read it – even though he was intrigued about the name. Thankfully he did the second time around and made a movie out if it that went to win 2 Oscars (Johnson and Leachman).

                                                             Lion, Sam The Lion

The movie was filmed in Larry McMurtry’s home town, Archer City. Which is the same town that the book is based on. So no wonder that the film crew was not welcomed with open arms, as the real Duane, Sonny etc. were still there. Even though the actors never got to meet their real-life counterparts. The whole movie is shot in black and white, which was originally suggested to Bogdanovich by Orson Welles who thought that the depth of that period could only be captured in B&W. I have to say that it definitely adds dimension to the depressive atmosphere of the movie.

The Last Picture Show has many great scenes like the one where Sonny is driving Ruth to the clinic and back. So much has been left unsaid and the viewers can decide themselves the reason why Ruth is so upset. Another excellent scene by Cloris Leachman is the final scene between Ruth and Sonny.

                                                                Never you mind

Another scene, which portrays Bogdanovich great talent to concentrate in expressions and emotion instead of dialogue, is when Lois realises that her daughter has been with her lover. Total of eight different emotions run through her face while she walks from the living room sofa to the kitchen. If that’s not powerful acting, I don’t know what is. Bogdanovich’s only advice to Ellen Burstyn was to think the thoughts of the character in that scene.

I found that one of the most powerful scenes in the movie is when Billy dies and Sonny is carrying him away from the street. Once again almost no dialogue for Sonny – only one line: He was sweeping!

He was sweeping!

I am sure that The Last Picture Show is a great movie on many levels and I am glad I watched it. But would I watch it again? No – as I found it extremely depressing, which I am sure just speaks of its greatness.

Yep, nothing much has changed.

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