Sunday, August 25, 2013
Coming of age film http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Last_Picture_Show The Last Picture Show is a 1971 American drama film directed by Peter Bogdanovich, adapted from a semi-autobiographical 1966 novel of the same name by Larry McMurtry. Set in a small town in north Texas during the year November 1951 – October 1952, it is about the coming of age of Sonny Crawford (Timothy Bottoms) and his friend Duane Jackson (Jeff Bridges). The cast includes Cybill Shepherd in her film debut, Ben Johnson, Eileen Brennan, Ellen Burstyn, Cloris Leachman, Clu Gulager, Randy Quaid in his film debut, and John Hillerman. For aesthetic and technical reasons it was shot in black and white, which was unusual for its time. The film was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and four nominations for acting: Ben Johnson and Jeff Bridges for Best Supporting Actor, and Ellen Burstyn and Cloris Leachman for Best Supporting Actress. It won two: Johnson and Leachman Reception[edit source | editbeta] The Last Picture Show won Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor (Ben Johnson) and Best Supporting Actress (Cloris Leachman). It was also nominated in the categories for Best Supporting Actor (Jeff Bridges), Best Supporting Actress (Ellen Burstyn), Best Cinematography (Robert L. Surtees), Best Director (Peter Bogdanovich), Best Picture (Stephen J. Friedman), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Larry McMurtry and Peter Bogdanovich). In 1998, The Last Picture Show was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. It also ranked number 19 on Entertainment Weekly's list of the 50 Best High School Movies. In 2007, the film was ranked #95 on the American Film Institute's 10th Anniversary Edition of the 100 greatest American films of all time. In April 2011, The Last Picture Show was re-released in UK and Irish cinemas, distributed by Park Circus. Total Film magazine gave the film a five-star review, stating: "Peter Bogdanovich's desolate Texan drama is still as stunning now as it was in 1971." Stephen King's novel Lisey's Story makes repeated references to The Last Picture Show as the main character Scott Landon frequently watches the film throughout the novel during flashbacks. Home media[edit source | editbeta] The film was released by The Criterion Collection in November 2010 as part of their box set, America Lost and Found: The BBS Story. It included a high-definition digital transfer of Peter Bogdanovich’s director’s cut, two audio commentaries, one from 1991, featuring Bogdanovich and actors Cybill Shepherd, Randy Quaid, Cloris Leachman, and Frank Marshall; the other from 2009, featuring Bogdanovich “The Last Picture Show”: A Look Back, (1999) and Picture This (1990), documentaries about the making of the film, A Discussion with Filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich, a 2009 Q&A, screen tests and location footage, and excerpts from a 1972 television interview with director François Truffaut about the New Hollywood. http://www.criterion.com/current/posts/1669-the-last-picture-show-in-with-the-old Early in Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show, as the wind from the Texas plains whips the small town of Anarene, the high school senior Sonny Crawford (Timothy Bottoms) halts his recalcitrant pickup truck—Hank Williams is warbling “Why Don’t You Love Me (Like You Used to Do)?” on the radio—to give a ride to his mute young friend Billy (Sam Bottoms). When Billy sits beside him, Sonny turns his cap backward on his head, a gesture that makes Billy smile and that Sonny will repeat several times, and his buddy Duane Jackson (Jeff Bridges) once, during the course of the movie. Sonny, Duane, and Jacy Farrow (Cybill Shepherd), Duane’s girl, later sing their high school’s song, partly in affection, partly in mockery, as they drive in Jacy’s convertible—the three joyfully united in friendship, no matter that both boys love this vain and luscious heartbreaker. It’s 1951, school’s nearly done, and anything is possible. In these moments and others throughout his wistful film, Bogdanovich seems to be making the point that people are often unaware that the times they are living are the best of times, that simple quotidian rituals and shared moments are what make the long journey tolerable. Other rituals he depicts include Sonny’s visits to Ruth Popper (Cloris Leachman), the neglected wife of the school football coach, for afternoon lovemaking that becomes more satisfying with each renewal, and the long hours spent in the Royal, Anarene’s little movie theater, and the other establishments—pool hall, café—run by the grizzled Sam the Lion (Ben Johnson). As time goes by, these validating experiences slip away or terminate abruptly, leaving Sonny high and dry, with nothing but Ruth’s anger at his desertion—that and the humbling realization that he has lost what was valuable. Though he hasn’t got the wherewithal to leave Anarene, as Duane and Jacy do, the painful rite of passage will serve him well in the future. Maybe. At least, it will give him plenty of bittersweet memories, such as of his last peaceful experience of Sam, his and Billy’s surrogate father, who takes the boys fishing at the tank and tenderly reminisces about a love affair. The Last Picture Show is like a multilayered poem in the way it indulges Sam’s nostalgia—and ours for the veteran western actor Johnson—while feeding Sonny’s future reveries about his own past. The film was revelatory when it opened in October 1971, and it has proved the most assured of Bogdanovich’s uneven career. With its eight Oscar nominations and two wins—for supporting actors Johnson and Leachman—it became a flagship of New Hollywood, though not that sprawling movement’s most representative work. It was financed by BBS, which, in its earlier incarnation as Raybert Productions, had dreamed up the Monkees and delivered the countercultural shock of Easy Rider, and had just presented the existential angst of Five Easy Pieces. This was the maverick company, run by Bert Schneider, Bob Rafelson, and Steve Blauner, and abetted by Jack Nicholson, most associated with the seventies revitalization of American cinema, partially through the rejection of classical modes of storytelling. The Last Picture Show has a foot in both camps, the old and the new. Slow and mournful, it does not seem to have much in common with the work of other directors who emerged during the decade, especially vivid stylists with urban preoccupations like Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, Paul Schrader, and William Friedkin, or a caustic observer of human foibles like Robert Altman. Yet it fully embraces the new era’s sense of personal artistic vision. And like the other Raybert/BBS productions, it powerfully depicts loss, loneliness, the failure of family, and the pipe dream of love—themes very much of the time. Sonny is as alienated in his way as Nicholson’s characters in Rafelson’s Five Easy Pieces and The King of Marvin Gardens, and as Tuesday Weld’s in Henry Jaglom’s A Safe Place, which costarred Nicholson and Orson Welles. Following the decade in which veteran directors like Ford, Hawks, Curtiz, Borzage, Anthony Mann, Capra, Milestone, Stevens, Walsh, Wyler, Siodmak, and Jacques Tourneur made their final features, The Last Picture Show bids farewell, with its symbolic shuttering of the Royal, to Old Hollywood. It achieves this through its lovingly realized classical aesthetic and perfect period detail, which owe not only to Bogdanovich but also to the production/costume designer, Polly Platt (whose marriage to the director foundered when he began an on-set relationship with Shepherd). A cineaste influenced by the nouvelle vague, Bogdanovich had programmed films and written intelligently about cinema before making, under a pseudonym, his first feature, Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women, followed, more auspiciously, by Targets (both 1968). He was a self-described “popularizer” and friend of some of America’s preeminent auteurs, including Hawks and Ford, on both of whom he made documentaries. The Last Picture Show would be his Fordian film (as 1972’s What’s Up, Doc? would be his Hawksian film), and one that paid homage to Hawks in passing. In looking back to what was timeless in their work, however, Bogdanovich was also addressing what was timeless in his own era of social and sexual upheaval. Welles, who was staying with Bogdanovich at the time he made The Last Picture Show, contributed too. Their talks apparently prompted Bogdanovich’s crucial decision to have Robert Surtees photograph it in black and white, the better to facilitate deep-focus shots and evoke nostalgia for an ebbing culture, in the same way Welles had fondly if ruefully recalled the aristocratic Indiana neighborhood of the early 1900s in The Magnificent Ambersons (1942). The dusty aura of The Last Picture Show suggests less the pristine Ambersons, however, than Hawks’s Red River (1948), Ford’s Wagon Master (1950), and Nicholas Ray’s The Lusty Men (1952). The use of long shots, isolating people in the arid outdoors, depriving them of intimacy, was Fordian—one thinks of Lois Farrow (Ellen Burstyn), Jacy’s mother, taking a lone walk away from Sam’s graveside. “Some of the best scenes that you make are in long shot,” Hawks said. “I learned that from Jack Ford. Peter Bogdanovich has done that very successfully in The Last Picture Show, but he sat on my set for two and a half years and on Ford’s for two and a half years, so he learned a few things.” Surtees had assisted Gregg Toland early in his career and would have been familiar with his deep-focus work on Ford’s The Long Voyage Home and The Grapes of Wrath (both 1940), and, of course, on Citizen Kane (1941). According to Peter Biskind’s book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, The Last Picture Show’s lack of master shots flummoxed BBS’s Schneider and Blauner, but Rafelson allayed their fears, saying the film would “cut like butter” because Bogdanovich was editing in the camera. Welles, who was staying with Bogdanovich at the time he made The Last Picture Show, contributed too. Their talks apparently prompted Bogdanovich’s crucial decision to have Robert Surtees photograph it in black and white, the better to facilitate deep-focus shots and evoke nostalgia for an ebbing culture, in the same way Welles had fondly if ruefully recalled the aristocratic Indiana neighborhood of the early 1900s in The Magnificent Ambersons (1942). The dusty aura of The Last Picture Show suggests less the pristine Ambersons, however, than Hawks’s Red River (1948), Ford’s Wagon Master (1950), and Nicholas Ray’s The Lusty Men (1952). The use of long shots, isolating people in the arid outdoors, depriving them of intimacy, was Fordian—one thinks of Lois Farrow (Ellen Burstyn), Jacy’s mother, taking a lone walk away from Sam’s graveside. “Some of the best scenes that you make are in long shot,” Hawks said. “I learned that from Jack Ford. Peter Bogdanovich has done that very successfully in The Last Picture Show, but he sat on my set for two and a half years and on Ford’s for two and a half years, so he learned a few things.” Surtees had assisted Gregg Toland early in his career and would have been familiar with his deep-focus work on Ford’s The Long Voyage Home and The Grapes of Wrath (both 1940), and, of course, on Citizen Kane (1941). According to Peter Biskind’s book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, The Last Picture Show’s lack of master shots flummoxed BBS’s Schneider and Blauner, but Rafelson allayed their fears, saying the film would “cut like butter” because Bogdanovich was editing in the camera. The screenplay was adapted by Larry McMurtry and Bogdanovich from McMurtry’s semiautobiographical 1966 novel, the sexual frankness of which made it a highly appealing property in 1970. McMurtry had been reared in Archer City, in the Panhandle Plains region of Texas. He renamed the town Thalia for the novel, and Bogdanovich, who shot the film in Archer City, changed Thalia to Anarene—to rhyme with the Abilene of Red River. In contrast to today’s Archer City, sustained by oil, ranching, and McMurtry’s latest bookstore, Anarene in the movie appears to be dying: a tumbleweed rolls ominously across the street near the end. The opening shot that tracks from the Royal reveals how desolate the town is; the answering shot that closes the film ends on the Royal, which has closed following Sam’s sudden, offscreen death. Sam was Anarene’s bastion of moral authority, as Tom Doniphon (John Wayne) is in Ford’s analogous The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962). Ben Johnson earned the role with his dignified portrayals of Southern-born U.S. cavalrymen in Ford’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) and Rio Grande (1950), and the protective leader of the Mormon wagon train in Wagon Master—serene, canny gentlemen of the frontier. Bogdanovich makes clear his influences. Early on, we see a Wagon Master poster outside the Royal’s box office. The last movie shown there is, anachronistically, Red River, whereas in the novel it’s The Kid from Texas (1950), which fails to divert Sonny and Duane from their thoughts about Jacy: “It would have taken Winchester ’73 or Red River or some big movie like that to have crowded out the memories the boys kept having,” McMurtry writes. Sonny and Duane watch as Wayne and Montgomery Clift start their cattle drive, which will end in rancor with their climactic fistfight. The Last Picture Show, too, proceeds to a vicious fight—between Sonny and Duane over Jacy, who soon after weds Sonny, knowing her parents will have the marriage annulled before it is consummated. She does it to succor her wounded vanity on learning that Sonny has been sleeping with Ruth; stripping in front of the Wichita Falls smart set at a pool party is a tougher (if more exciting) trial for Jacy than eloping. Jacy has been labeled a femme fatale by some critics. She is fickle, but like Sonny, she is also an innocent finding her way, a naïf, for all her manipulativeness, who defines herself in relation to men, including her mom’s lover, the opportunistic oil driller Abilene (Clu Gulager)—an Oedipal revenge if ever there was one. Whatever her caprices, in 1971 many young women viewers would have cheered her readiness to experiment sexually with different men; Ruth’s affair with Sonny is equally affirming, a better option than permanent lassitude and disappointment, if not exactly a feminist statement. Acting on desire is a salve for several characters’ aimlessness, but not its every manifestation is healthy, or sane: Joe Bob Blanton (Barc Doyle), the religious kid, nearly molests a little girl. In the novel, McMurtry matter-of-factly describes the coition of teenage boys with animals; Bogdanovich necessarily drew the line at bestiality (though it is referred to in the film). The critic John Simon cited this omission and that of Lois’s having sex with Sonny as examples of the film’s romanticization of the world of the novel. But these were discreet choices: Sonny’s sleeping with Lois on-screen would have not only diluted the delicacy of his forlorn affair with Ruth but also cost the movie the touching conversation between Lois and Sonny when she recalls the only man who knew her worth. It is through Ruth’s and Sam’s upbraidings that Sonny learns about emotional responsibility and through Lois’s acceptance of her past that he learns about the transience of love. The Last Picture Show contrives to be both elegiac and brutally realistic. The deaths of Sam and Billy, Jacy’s inconstancy (sickening to both Duane and Sonny), and the recognition that Sonny and Ruth will be unable to reignite their affair are as chilling as the northers that sweep through Anarene. All that can be cherished are those fleeting moments of happiness contained in small intimacies. Ruth, newly radiant, wears Sonny’s shirt after their second tryst (so much better than their noisy baptism by bedsprings). The kindhearted café waitress Genevieve (Eileen Brennan) serves Sonny a healing cheeseburger. Sam, during the fishing trip, offers Sonny a roll-up as if they were a pair of Hawksian cowboys. In that same interlude, Sam remembers bringing his girl to the tank more than twenty years before and swimming with her “without no bathin’ suits.” Memory confers a pleasure as precious in the present as the events being recalled. Dazzling, inventive, and trenchant though much of New Hollywood was—and abrasive and cynical too—nothing else it came up with matches Sam the Lion’s faraway look as he dwells on his wild affair with his lost love. Fading out as he is, it’s the last picture show in his mind’s eye. Graham Fuller has written about movies for Sight & Sound, Film Comment, Vanity Fair, and the New York Times, as well as for the Criterion Collection releases of A Canterbury Tale, The Man Who Fell to Earth, and Walker. Many of his articles and essays can be found online at inalonelyplace.com. •New, restored high-definition digital transfer of Peter Bogdanovich’s director’s cut, supervised by Bogdanovich, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition •Two audio commentaries, one from 1991, featuring Bogdanovich and actors Cybill Shepherd, Randy Quaid, Cloris Leachman, and Frank Marshall; the other from 2009, featuring Bogdanovich •“The Last Picture Show”: A Look Back, (1999) and Picture This (1990), documentaries about the making of the film •A Discussion with Filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich, a 2009 Q&A •Screen tests and location footage •Excerpts from a 1972 television interview with director François Truffaut about the New Hollywood •Theatrical trailers http://www.criterion.com/films/27533-the-last-picture-show On its twentieth anniversary, Peter Bogdanovich’s critically-acclaimed, prize-winning piece is even more impressive thanks to the restoration of seven minutes of additional footage including a crucial sequence (a pool table seduction of Cybill Shepherd) that was deleted before the picture’s release. Bogdanovich doesn’t consider this improved director’s version to be merely a restoration of a landmark film from the 1970s, but something completely new: “the 1990s version of The Last Picture Show.” For only his second studio film—Bogdanovich made the excellent, but little seen, Targets, in 1968—the former film critic chanced directing an adaptation of Larry McMurtry’s elegiac novel about teenagers who come of age in a dying Texas town in the early fifties. It was such an unlikely project for a successful movie that it took first-time producer Stephen J. Friedman two years to get financing, with tiny BBS Productions taking the gamble. Bogdanovich himself was in a gambling mood, eschewing stars for charismatic young newcomers Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, Randy Quaid, and his discovery, Cybill Shepherd, and marvelous character actors, Ben Johnson, Cloris Leachman, Clu Gulager, Eileen Brennan, and Ellen Burstyn. Even more daring was his decision to make the film in black-and-white. Bogdanovich’s choices paid off. The unknown cast turned in exceptional individual performances and worked brilliantly as an ensemble: Bottoms, Bridges, and Shepherd quickly became stars, Johnson and Leachman won Best Supporting Actor and Actress Oscars, and Burstyn was voted Best Supporting Actress by the New York Film Critics, paving her way to stardom. Appreciative audiences and critics thought it most appropriate that a dying art form should be used to visualize a dying town, a dying era, and a dying way of life. Bogdanovich: “I saw the story as a Texas version of Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons, which was about the end of a way of life caused by the coming of the automobile. This was about the end of a way of life caused by the coming of television.” Even at the film’s beginning, Anarene, Texas (filming actually took place in Archer City) is already much like a ghost town or graveyard, with constant wind and dust swirling on the empty streets and into the nearly empty small business establishments. Ultimately the only movie house in town will close down (after showing Red River)—all movie fans will share the sense of loss felt by long-time customers Bottoms and Bridges—and the film’s oldest and youngest characters will be dead. Indeed, the decline of the town, which Bogdanovich effectively uses as one of his central characters, is emblematic of the personal declines, deaths, and departures of its populace. Our pivotal teenager characters, the sensitive Bottoms, best friend Bridges, and rich-bitch Shepherd, who comes between the boys for a time, may each lose their virginity, but they are so unfulfilled and confused that their rites of passage signal more the death of youth and innocence than a new-born maturity. Growing up doesn’t seem like such a good prospect to these teenagers when all the adults in town are miserable. Pauline Kael affectionately wrote: “Concerned with adolescent experience seen in terms of flatlands anomie—loneliness, ignorance about sex, confusion about one’s aims in life—the movie has a basic decency of feeling, with people relating to one another, sometimes on very simple levels, and becoming miserable when they can’t relate.” With a script by Bogdanovich and McMurtry that won the New York Film Critics award, The Last Picture Show is a strange cross between Hud (based on McMurtry’s Horseman, Pass By) and Peyton Place. The intertwining relationships, friction between youths and adults, impulsive actions, confused teenagers, manipulative females, feuds, scandals, affairs, first-time and other sneaky sex make it ideal material for an adult soap. Interestingly, a less sensitive director than Bogdanovich could have made an exploitation film using the same script. But it wasn’t his intention to dwell on the sordid goings-on in Anarene, though he’ll let us eagerly follow Shepherd into a motel room with Bridges and to a nude swimming pool party. He was more interested in creating an authentic small-town Texas milieu, by paying special attention to the decor of the various establishments: the country music that constantly plays on the radio, and the manners, quirks, dress and hairstyles of his characters. You really believe that the people who populate the screen have lived in Anarene all their lives. Bogdanovich was equally successful at establishing fascinating relationships between various troubled characters, male and female, young and old. I think that the “romance” between Bottoms and the older, unhappily married Leachman, who gives an astonishing performance, is unlike anything else in cinema. It’s true that much of Bogdanovich’s subject matter is depressing. Yet with Hank Williams on the soundtrack, exciting talent playing real characters up on the screen, unexpected humor, and Robert Surtees’ lovely black-and-white cinematography sending us back in time, we hardly notice.