Friday, December 4, 2009

My Quest To See the 1000 Greatest: The Last Picture Show (1971)

The Last Picture Show is #567 in  
My Quest to watch the 1000 Greatest Films 

Screened 11/25/09 at Midtown Cinema, on DVD from Netflix

Ranked #269 on TSPDT
Watching this film on the big screen for the first time (though unfortunately on a DVD and not the obviously preferable 35mm) was a delight I never expected.  Though enjoying his cinephiliac writings, I have never been a big fan of Bogdanovich as a filmmaker.  Only seeing his mid to later work, I was unaware of the stark beauty of this particular film.  Mask and Cat's Meow, though both having their good points do not a favourite director make.  So after years and years of pretty much ignoring The Last Picture Show, I finally sat down and watched it.  My reaction?  Wow!

Shot in black & white - Bogdanovich, afraid the studio would not let him film it this way, claims it was Orson Welles who made him talk the studio into filming as such - the film relays the era (1951-52) with a naturalness that makes you almost forget it wasn't actually made at that time.  This sharp black & white also adds to both the deep focus Bogdanovich wanted to work with as well as the starkness of this dead end Texas town that is the setting for Larry McMurtry's book and screenplay.

Filmed in the actual town McMurtry grew up in and wrote about, The Last Picture Show was made in the midst of the most raucous cinematic revolution ever, and at first glance, with its classic style and visual imagery, may seem quite out of place, yet it couldn't have been more revolutionary.  Styled as a sort of classicism that makes it seem out of time, more attuned to fifties Hollywood cinema, yet at the same time a frank (especially for 1970) look at sexual mores that give the film a shocking streak throughout.

This sexual frankness of course brings us to the heart of the film - or perhaps the g-spot - Cybill Shepherd as Jacy Farrow.  Making her film debut (after being found on the cover of a magazine by Bogdanovich's wife) Shepherd is a sizzling sexual beast, able to lure in and then destroy any young man she so wishes.  The most prominent being the director himself - an irony made even more ironic considering who discovered the young model-cum-starlet in the first place.

Perhaps Bogdanovich is one of those filmmaker's who spent their creative abilities early (I still must see Targets, What's Up, Doc? and Daisy Miller) and are left flailing in mediocrity later in their careers.  This idea seems to be magnified by the fact that the only theatrically released movie made by Bogdanovich in the past decade was the mildly well received Cat's Meow.  And speaking of later Bogdanovich, I have yet to see Texasville, the nineteen years in the making sequel to The Last Picture Show, but not much good has been heard about it.

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