Thursday 14 April 2011

From the archive: "The Last Picture Show"

Peter Bogdanovich's second film - the work that would make his name, and overshadow the rest of his career - takes place in the early 1950s, in a small, dusty Texan town where here appears nothing for the resident teenagers to do except catch a movie and wait to die. In the early '70s, young moviegoers couldn't help but empathise: these kids are peaceniks who would rather make out with one another than fight their elders' battles; one running gag has the older townsfolk repeatedly bemoan the school football team's tackling ability. "You're rich and miserable," local sweetheart Jacy (Cybill Shepherd) tells her faded mother (Ellen Burstyn), "I don't want to be like you." In the final scene, some kind of reconciliation is offered, but this intergenerational détente is likely to count for naught as the lasting legacy of the '50s - teenage rebellion, and American involvement in South East Asia - blows in.

The Last Picture Show remains one of the quieter, more ruminative films made by the Seventies movie brats, with ballads on the jukebox and Bogdanovich's broad-canvas style tempered by writer Larry McMurtry's precision eye for small-town poetry. The cast forms a melancholy parade: former stars (Ben Johnson), stars-to-be (Shepherd, Jeff Bridges, Randy Quaid), actors who never quite made it (the Bottoms boys, Timothy and Sam) and actresses who should have been bigger (Burstyn, Cloris Leachman). Outside on Main Street, winds rustle the leaves, buses head off into the unknown, and we're left to witness a moment passing, gone forever.

(first published in The DVD Stack 2, 2007)

A restored print of The Last Picture Show opens in selected cinemas from tomorrow.

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