Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.
I’ve been told by a number of people that this is a great film. I think it may well be. It addresses one of those issues that seem to always be at the center of any number of films, and comes at the question with a frankness that seems refreshing in its frankness. This is yet another coming of age film, focused on a group of high school students dealing with their burgeoning maturity and with sex. That seems like the same old thing, of course, but The Last Picture Show deals with a larger and far more serious problem.
The issue is the one that is much more pressing to the average adolescent: boredom. When I was in high school, my friends and I drove around on weekends endlessly, putting hundreds of miles on the car and rarely getting more than 20 minutes away from home. We lived in the shadow of Chicago, but only made it into the city a couple of times a year. We pretended we were looking for girls, but we weren’t. We were trying to stop ourselves from being bored. And this was in a place where we had restaurants and movie theaters and stuff to do and a major city about an hour away. The Last Picture Show takes place in a town that has a pool hall, a movie theater, and a diner and nothing else. I suppose the only other thing it does have is teens who are bored and frustrated and looking for anything to quell the roiling agony of their own adolescence.
Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) and Duane (Jeff Bridges) are high school seniors in this one-horse Texas town. The two live together in a rooming house despite having parents in town. Duane is involved with Jacy Farrow (Cybill Shepherd), who is the most attractive girl in town and also the wealthiest. Sonny’s girlfriend is Charlene Duggs (Sharon Ullrick). The two are moving slowly toward sex despite the two of them not liking each other very much. Also in town is Billy (Sam Bottoms), the borderline retarded, mute kid who spends his days sweeping the streets.
Sonny, Duane, and Jacy are pretty typical small town kids wanting to be adults and not wanting to wait to get there. Jacy’s mother (Ellen Burstyn) wants Jacy to find someone other than Duane, since Duane will never amount to much. Jacy realizes this, too, and sets her sights on Bobby Sheen (Gary Brockette), the local rich boy, who won’t have anything to do with her until she is no longer a virgin. She conspires to have sex with Duane to make herself more desirable for Bobby, then dumps him only to find that Bobby has eloped with someone else. Now alone and depressed, she has an affair with Abilene (Clu Gulager), the mother of her lover. When that goes nowhere, she aims at Sonny, causing a rift between the two friends, since Duane still carries a torch. For his part, Sonny, after breaking up with Charlene, becomes involved with Ruth Popper (Cloris Leachman), the wife of his basketball coach.
Things get further complicated with the death of Sam the Lion (Ben Johnson), the leading citizen of the town and the man who owns the only three places to go in town. In his will, he leaves the pool hall to Sonny, the movie theater to the feeble old woman who runs the concession, and the diner to Genevieve (Eileen Brennan), the waitress and cook. And life in the small town goes on, with everyone hopping into everyone else’s bed, everyone else knowing about it, and nothing much else happening except for the crushing boredom.
I get exactly why this film is as heralded as it is despite its driving around in a very large circle and ending up exactly where it started. Nothing really changes except for the loss of a few townspeople through death or signing up for the military, presumably just as a way to get the hell out of the town. By the end of the film, we’re pretty much where we were on the way in, but with some different configurations of people having sex with each other. Even that isn’t much of a change. We’re given the distinct impression that these seismic shifts occur now and again, then settle down and ossify. Ultimately, these are much smaller and less important changes than the closing of the movie theater, unable to make a go of it without the guiding hand of Sam the Lion.
I think it’s safe to say that The Last Picture Show is a great film in all of the important ways that a film can be great and important. What I’m not sure of is if it is a good film. Despite Cybill Shepherd’s resplendent striptease on a diving board, the film is almost too good at depicting the crushing boredom and despair of these sad and lonely people in this sad and lonely town. As great as it is, it’s not an enjoyable experience.
I don’t mean to denigrate the film at all. There is something both tragic about it and simultaneously beautiful in what it portrays. I’m just not sure it’s something I’d often choose to watch despite its definite gravitas. It’s worth watching, but like most of the people in this Texas town, it may not be worth the commitment.
And with that, I'm done.
Why to watch The Last Picture Show: It’s the truest portrait of adolescence.
Why not to watch: It could be argued that not much happens.
Congrats on finishing! It sucks that you ended on such a dull film, though. Go out with a whisper and all that jazz.ReplyDelete
It's not really dull. It's actually beautifully made. If this makes sense, the boredom is made as interesting as it possibly could be. It's kind of fascinating, and it's genuinely great. I'm just not sure I liked it.Delete
Been a good run, Steve. I've followed your reviews faithfully and have learned much from them, even though I haven't seen even a hundredth of the movies you've seen.ReplyDelete
There are a few I think you should watch. You'd offer an interesting perspective on some of these films.Delete
Then I look forward to your next project: A Few Movies that Kevin Should Watch.Delete
Dekalog is right up your alley, hoss.Delete
I like this film a lot. When you mentioned a long time ago you were going to end with it I knew it was a good one to finish with. They made a sequel many years later, but it got mixed reviews and I never watched it because I didn't want to take the chance of it bringing down the first film (although I can usually separate original from sequel when this happens.)ReplyDelete
A few days ago I tried to find a masthead image for the local Dekalb newspaper, but either no one has ever uploaded one to the internet or it's an online only paper. I was going to use my rudimentary photoshop skills to place your photo from the club page under the masthead with the title "Local Man Achieves the Near Impossible."
As I said back when you were congratulating me on finishing it, I consider your accomplishment far more impressive than mine. You not only saw every film, but you wrote reviews for every one, too - even the ones that sucked. And the reviews weren't a few sentences or even a couple paragraphs; they were full reviews.
So congratulations. Re-introduce yourself to your wife. Have a Happy Thanksgiving. And best of all, sit around not knowing what to do with your free time, then pester your wife for attention until she says something like "Why don't you go watch a movie?" :-)
I used to write for the DeKalb Daily Chronicle (nicknamed the "Daily Comical" by many local residents. I did a column there for years.Delete
In truth, I don't really need to reintroduce myself to anyone. People ask me frequently how I found the time to do all of this. The answer is pretty simple. I don't watch four hours of television per night. I don't watch any sports. This is my one thing--I watch about a movie a day, which takes (usually) 90-150 minutes. That's far less than most people's television time. I do a lot of this while waiting for my girls in ballet class. I do a lot at night when everyone else is asleep. It's affected my personal life some (of course), but far less than might be thought.
I probably shouldn't comment when I am half asleep. Reading it now, my congratulations come across like "Dear Occupant". I should have been a lot more effusive. So...Delete
Are you going to do a summary post to let casual readers know you completed the list? I know you plan another "what should be on the list" post, but doing a reflective one about the experience might be both fun and effective for you. I found it to be so.
Oh, absolutely, although probably not today. I've got something planned in a few days. At least I'm hoping to do something special after Thursday.Delete
Congrats Steve! You did it. What do you have for us now?ReplyDelete
A much calmer posting schedule, that's for sure!Delete
Wow! Congratulations indeed! And a fitting title to go out on. I've yet to choose a "last film" - though I still have a 300+ to go.ReplyDelete
Thanks. You do a lot more outside the list than I do.Delete
If you haven't done Week End yet, that was in the running for me. The last frame is the words "fin de cinema."
@Klaus - I chose The Decalogue for my last one both because it was the longest entry and because it was considered one of the great "movies" that I hadn't happen to see yet. I wanted to end on a high note.Delete
I wouldn't necessarily put a ton of thought into it, but it's fun to have something planned for it. Once you get relatively close, finding something iconic to do last is a nice way to put a cap on finishing.Delete
Congratulations! I am ultra-impressed that you managed to do this while writing such in-depth, thoughtful reviews almost every day. What's next? Best Pictures?ReplyDelete
Sadly, Best Picture winners isn't much of a challenge. I've already reviewed all but about 10 of them. Still, that's a natural place to go, and I can probably finish them this year.Delete
Steve, that's an awesome achievement. I haven't been going through the list, but a glance at icheckmovies shows that I've seen 458 of them. I admire The Last Picture Show but can't say that I really enjoyed it.ReplyDelete
Dan - you may want to check this list out on Letterboxd:Delete
I worked with the man who created it to ensure it exactly aligns with the 1,001 Movies Blog Club (whose list Steve has on this site) in regards to the entries. The only negative about it is that it is not in a consistent order through the entirety of it.
Alternatively, since the icheckmovies list only includes the ones in the current edition, you're welcome to use the list I have here that has the full 1154. My guess is you've seen a bunch (Amelie, The Big Lebowski) that were on the list and no longer are.
At the top right under the heading "pages" you'll find a link to the full list of films.
Thanks guys. Chip, I looked at the Letterboxd list, and I have 517 of the 1154 listed as being seen. It's possible that I haven't rated a few yet, though. Steve, I'll also take a look at your list.Delete
DONE!!! DONE!!! DONE!!!! YAAAAAAAAAAAAAY!!!ReplyDelete
(here you need to imagine me running around in circles holding sparklers and screaming at the top of my voice)
Wow, man. Congratulations. (and yes, this film is a bit... slow. let's put it that way.)
Seriously, SERIOUSLY impressive work.
It still feels weird. It probably will for awhile.Delete
I haven't read the review, as I've not seen the film yet, but congratulations on finishing on the film you really wanted to.ReplyDelete
Thanks. I recommend reserving a few possible fun "last films" when you get into the sweet spot.Delete