The Last Picture Show (1971)
I'm listening to both the TCM Podcast, The Plot Thickens, about Peter Bogdanovich and the new season of You Must Remember This about Bogdanovich's ex-wife, Polly Platt. I decided to watch The Last Picture Show as a companion piece to both podcasts. This film turned out to be a life-changing experience for both Bogdanovich and Platt. Plus, I've always wanted to see this movie and for whatever reason, I hadn't gotten around to it yet.
I doubt I need to go into the plot much, as I'm sure a majority of people here have seen this film. In a nutshell, The Last Picture Show, is about a group of people living in the depressing town of Anarene, TX in 1951. This town is thisclose to being a ghost town. Almost all the storefronts are boarded up. There seem to be exactly four businesses still open: a pool hall/bar; a diner; a gas station; and a one-screen movie theater. Every building is in disrepair. None of the businesses seem to have more than two customers at a time. In the diner, the waitress is also the cook. This town is so miserable, it's a wonder why anyone lives there at all. In The Plot Thickens, Bogdanovich said that when he and Platt were scouting locations, they were trying to find the most rundown, depressing looking town possible--the type of town where people don't live there because they want to, they live there because they're stuck. Bogdanovich and Platt visited the tiny town of Archer City, TX, the hometown of Larry McMurtry. McMurtry was the author of The Last Picture Show novel and was co-writing the screenplay with Bogdanovich. Bogdanovich and Platt liked the town, but to make it look even more stark and somber, Bogdanovich and Platt considered painting all the buildings grey. But what Bogdanovich really wanted to do, was shoot the film in black and white. He sought advice from his friend and mentor, Orson Welles, who said matter of factly, "Of course you'll shoot it in black and white."
Black and white was definitely the right artistic choice. I cannot imagine this film in color, it wouldn't convey the desperation and direness of the characters' lives and situations. Friends Duane (Jeff Bridges) and Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) are best friends and high school seniors. Duane is dating the prettiest girl in school, Jacy (Cybil Shepherd). Sonny is dating Charlene at the beginning of the film, but they break up within the first 10 minutes as it's obvious that Sonny is not into her at all--despite her willingness to do anything that would possibly make him desire her. Jacy's issue is that she's a virgin and at first, feels pressure to remain chaste. Her mother, Lola (Ellen Burstyn), I got the idea that she was the bored housewife and got around with the various men in town. She encourages her daughter to marry up. But unlike many mothers in movies who tell their daughters to marry rich, I didn't get the idea that she was telling her this as a means to move up in class, but as a means to get out of their depressing town. Lola, I feel must have settled and as a result, she's stuck in that town--even though it seems that the family is relatively well off. As the film progresses, Jacy seems to lose her anxiety over being a virgin.
Sonny's conflict is that he becomes embroiled in an affair with Ruth Popper (Cloris Leachman), the wife of his basketball coach. Ruth is in an unhappy marriage, because her husband is in the closet--and presumably, she is in a sexless marriage. Sonny and Ruth have one of the most awkward, unsexy sex scenes I have ever seen in a movie.
Then, there is Sam the Lion (Ben Johnson), the proprietor of the pool hall/bar. It seems that Sam is the glue that holds together the remaining pieces, i.e. the things that give the town any sense of life whatsoever. He owns the diner run by Genevive (Eileen Brennan) and he helps operate the movie theater. The movie theater is really the only thing left in that town that keeps the town from being completely cut off from the outside world.
I loved this movie. The characters were all very interesting, I loved the black and white, I loved the music. I am looking forward to purchasing my own copy and watching this again.