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USA 1971
Directed by
Peter Bogdanovich
118 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4.5 stars

The Last Picture Show

Peter Bogdanovich's film is a bleakly resonant portrayal of the dying days of Anarene, a small rural town in Southern Texas in the early1950's. It is beautifully photographed in high contrast black-and-white by Robert Surtees with spot-on production and costume design by Polly Platt and flawless art direction by Walter Scott Herndon. The film-literate Bogdanovich clearly studied closely Martin Ritt’s 1963 black and white classic, Hud, which was adapted from a novel by Larry McMurtry who also wrote the novel on which this film was based, and who shared the screenwriting credits with Bogdanovich. The result is a perfect match of style and substance.

We see this largely through the character of Sonny (Timothy Bottoms), in his last year of high school and a diffident young man with low expectations. He is in awe of his good-looking best friend, Duane (Jeff Bridges) whose girlfriend Jaycee (Cybil Shepherd) is the prettiest girl in town. The bulk of the narrative is a kind of coming-of-age story of how he loses that awe and most if not all of his illusions with it.

The film maintains a steadfastly observational approach, not attempting to attain any dramatic highs and lows in what is a really series of loosely connected vignettes in which the characters segue from one permutation to another, only forming an emotionally-meaningful bond at the film's end.The cast which also includes a poignant Cloris Leachman as a vulnerable older woman with whom Sonny sows his not-so-wild oats and Ellen Burstyn as Jaycee's bored and flirtatious mother is compelling although Randy Quaid's gormless rich kid appears a bit forced.

A one-time Roger Cormon apprentice and a former film journalist, Bogdanovich appeared briefly to be an American Truffaut but his career was a slow and bumpy decline from here, a good deal of his energy going into trying (unsuccessfully) to make a major star of Shepherd, for whom he left Platt. Given the film's qualitative distance from Bogdanovich's previous effort, his 1968 debut,Targets, not to mention his subsequent career including a less-than-stellar 1990 colour sequel to this film, Texasville, there may be some substance to the allegations that the real genius behind the film was Platt.

The Last Picture Show is less an elegy for the past than its reliquary, the present of the film's narrative being for us always the past. 




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