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The Last Picture Show

The Last Picture Show  

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  1. 1. Does "The Last Picture Show" belong on the AFI list?

    • Yes
      11
    • No
      1

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  • Poll closed on 01/25/19 at 08:00 AM

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Amy & Paul travel deep into the heart of 1971's Texan coming-of-age story The Last Picture Show! They ask who the film's true protagonist is, marvel at the murderer's row of incredible actors, and wonder if this was the key inspiration for the boom of sex comedies to follow. Plus: writer/director Peter Bogdanovich himself joins Amy to discuss The Last Picture Show, and what separates modern films from the classics.

 

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Edited by DanEngler

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A local art house theater played this movie as their last movie before they closed forever.

One thing Paul and Amy talk about is Red River playing at the end as championing how great Texas is. But the scene is specifically a bunch of people yelling about going to Missouri. I don't know if that's another level to the story of, even in the legend of Texas at its best, people are leaving.

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Yea, and in Red River, John Wayne is decidedly NOT the 'hero' of his reputation.  In the first ten minutes of the movie, he punches a boy in the face and stabs an Indian to death, before turning tyrannical and all the men he's leading turn on him.  I'm not sure the use of Red River was as a 'western paradise/movies are fake' as an inverse reflection on the reality of the LPS town.  It may have been the opposite.

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THE LAST PICTURE SHOW is one of my Top 10 Favorite Movies. I think I first saw it when I was 13, and by that point in my life I had seen many an R rated film, but it was the first film in my memory that felt like "an adult film," whatever that might mean. It wasn't just because there was sex and nudity. I had seen plenty of that. But perhaps this was the first time I had seen the idea of sex presented with an air of sadness to it. I think a lot of people now make jokes about the film being the melancholic version of a boner comedy, but it really did hit me on that level at that age. I am quite a Bogdonovich fan. Have great affection for his hits like this, WHAT'S UP, DOC?, THEY ALL LAUGHED, and PAPER MOON, and even a great deal of love for some of his supposed misses, like NICKELODEON, DAISY MILLER, and AT LONG LAST LOVE. I think this truly is his masterpiece, but about 15 years ago I began to wonder how much of my love for this film was based on Bogdonovich as a director (as well as Polly Platt's producing, who indeed did a ton of work to shape this film), and how much of it was Larry McMurtry's source material. I've read the book twice now and while I prefer the film, likely just because it was my first experience with the material, I have concluded that the novel is just as important a side of the coin of success that the movie is, which is something that I don't know if I would say for every great film adaptation. But of course McMurtry can't ever resist tainting a great first novel with a disappointing follow-up. It's kind of his thing. Texasville, The Evening Star, and too many follow-ups to Lonesome Dove. It was fun to hear Paul and Amy cringe over the trailer for TEXASVILLE. I have given it multiple chances over the years. Every time I watch it I tell myself "I'll appreciate it more this time," but I never do. But there are some people who love it. Specifically numerous people from Texas who I've spoken to vastly prefer it to THE LAST PICTURE SHOW. For as broad and silly as the film often feels to me, and in complete contrast to its predecessor, I think a lot of Texas natives see something of their home and upbringing in it. Anyone out there a die hard TEXASVILLE fan? If so, I envy you. I really do. I was genuinely surprised to remember that THE LAST PICTURE SHOW was on the AFI list, albeit in a low position. I didn't know that this film meant as much to so many others as it did to me. Especially because Bogdonovich made a career of gradually losing good will with Hollywood. I'm still fascinated by and adore him. He was a great get for this episode, even if he regurgitates the same stories again and again about all his movies. I love hearing them every time. The Quad Cinema in NYC did a retrospective of his work last fall and I went to almost every film, even the ones I don't care for, just to hear him talk (and talk, and talk) about them. So I'm happy THE LAST PICTURE SHOW is immortalized on this list, but I have to wonder that if the list is ever revised and updated again, if this will be one of the first titles to be knocked off.

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2 hours ago, grudlian. said:

A local art house theater played this movie as their last movie before they closed forever.

One thing Paul and Amy talk about is Red River playing at the end as championing how great Texas is. But the scene is specifically a bunch of people yelling about going to Missouri. I don't know if that's another level to the story of, even in the legend of Texas at its best, people are leaving.

I did see that as symbolic of them leaving Texas (or at least small town Texas) and their youths behind. Like the boy who got hit with the car was a literal death of their childhood and innocence(?). 

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I haven't listened to the episode yet, but I just have to say how impressed I am with Cybill Shepherd in Last Picture Show, Taxi Driver, and Bonnie & Clyde. 😍

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I was really glad they read that review from Stanley Kauffmann, because that's more or less how I felt about the film.  I really admire the filmmaking and the performances, but I just can't connect with Timothy Bottoms as Sonny, so he drags the film down for me.  Either Amy or Paul was saying in the episode that they thought Jacy was more the main character than Sonny, but there's a big chunk in the middle of the movie where Jacy just disappears.  I certainly feel like I would enjoy the movie more if Jacy were the main character, as her arc is by far the most interesting.

I still think it deserves its place on the top 100, but like Kauffmann, I wish I liked it more.

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I'm not sure the movie really has a "main character" . . . the town is the main character. Sonny is just the one who observes the most stuff.

Anyway, that Simpsons reference is too recent for me to find any shareable clips of it, but nice to know they've now done one!

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I was extremely disappointed in this, the most overrated movie I can recall seeing in a very long time. I don't see what others value in it, as I was bored & uninterested in the characters & their boring town for most of it. I guess I never got into the teen sex comedies attributed to this (though this wasn't funny enough to qualify as a comedy), but I'm able to see the merit in Lady Bird & Stand By Me (even if I would consider them more good than great). French Connection still stands as a titanic film in my book, but this is just the black & white period film Bogdanovich did before getting it right with Paper Moon. My first reaction when seeing it was to compare it to American Graffiti (due to all the music & driving), which could be considered a more minor work preceding Star Wars, but then I also think that's overrated. I think that of The Graduate too, but at least there's some interesting direction in some sequences.

I also didn't think the film sympathized that much with Cybill Shepherd's character. There's a little bit of her relationship with her mom where she see how she might turn out that way, but she still seems like arguably more of a misogynist's idea of a woman than Sonny's first girlfriend.

Like Amy, I didn't pick up any hints that the coach was gay, and just had to read about it on wikipedia. I initially thought his wife might have some medical problem (something the audience might care about!), but we never get any follow-up on why she's going to the doctor and she doesn't seem to deteriorate. I also read about Jeff Bridges being cast because it would contrast with his jerk of a character, but his jerkdom mostly seems limited to that one scene where he fights with Sonny. He's a more interesting actor than Timothy Bottoms, so it's a shame he wasn't the lead.

I initially thought Billy was Sonny's brother, but the way everyone kept referring to him as his friend made me think perhaps that wasn't the case. I didn't have a clear sense of who they were related to, which might have contributed to my lack of enjoyment.

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Despite listening to a movie podcast whose title is inspired by this movie, this is the first time I've seen it (or any Bogdonovich movie it looks like - For some reason, I did not decide to watch To Sir, with Love II, after In the Heat of the Night), and I'm still not sure what I think of it overall.

I think I can confirm that I do enjoy the sound of wind blowing in movies.  Even in movies, I still don't know how I entirely feel about them.

Also, apparently it has to be in black and white.  I guess because it makes it feel more desolate?

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I think in the episode they said the black and white was used for it's ability to pick up facial expressions differently. It actually made it difficult for me to differentiate between Sonny and Duane until I realized the latter was Jeff Bridges. However, I do think it was overall effective. Also reminiscent of the time in which it was set. 

Sonny was horribly miscast, and I found it problematic that there was no real villain, and it felt like there were no real stakes, so parts of the movie felt like it wasn't moving anywhere; like the trip to Mexico. We don't actually see them do anything, and it doesn't seem to advance their characters in any way other than that the two boys are then gone when Sam the Lion dies. Was that something I would have done at that age? Sure! But I didn't see where it fit in. 

That said, Cybill Shepherd stole the show. I really liked the way the film treated her exploration of her sexuality. There wasn't this virgin/whore dichotomy (hello, June!). In most movies a character like her seems to be shown as a Jezebel who men should avoid at all costs. But here, she's sympathetic, if not entirely likeable. I also liked the way they treated her nervousness at undressing at the pool party, and the pool hall scene seemed actually pretty realistic for a young woman exploring her curiosity and a man taking advantage of that. (not to say he was taking advantage of her, but that he took advantage of the opportunity). I do think he was disgusted with himself afterward because I think he had real feelings for Jacy's mom. 

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I disagree with the Sonny hate.  I think he was terrific.  I found him to be a relatively unique character for a film, a quiet non-vocal type.  What was interesting, and perhaps disorienting for most, was that he wasn't given any sort of desires.  Like we connect with Jacy's experimentation and trying to stop herself from this boring town and find some excitement and life experiences.  Duane we could see his goal was trying to impress Jacy.  But Sonny was just there.  Oh sure he found some occasional moments of life - that's what the Mexico trip was - but I found him a great comparison with those other two, and frankly it is probably realistic to a lot of kids.  Not everyone strives.  I liked seeing that.

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1 hour ago, AlmostAGhost said:

I disagree with the Sonny hate.  I think he was terrific.  I found him to be a relatively unique character for a film, a quiet non-vocal type.  What was interesting, and perhaps disorienting for most, was that he wasn't given any sort of desires.  Like we connect with Jacy's experimentation and trying to stop herself from this boring town and find some excitement and life experiences.  Duane we could see his goal was trying to impress Jacy.  But Sonny was just there.  Oh sure he found some occasional moments of life - that's what the Mexico trip was - but I found him a great comparison with those other two, and frankly it is probably realistic to a lot of kids.  Not everyone strives.  I liked seeing that.

Exactly. He's the "observer" character, and by nature a passive person. That's why he's still in town at the end.

I remember also being "not impressed" by this movie the first time I watched it (must have been in my early 20s?), but this time it played much better. Maybe it was more about knowing what to expect: there's no central plot and no major incident, and that's the point. It's giving us a true "slice of life" in a dull, decaying small town. This time I was able to take that as a given and see how Bogdanovich used it to comment on other things, like the transition from movies to TV (he doesn't like it), or a tribute to black-and-white cinema, or how one generation of kids interacts with the prior generation of parents. On that last point, it's interesting how Bogdanovich doesn't portray his "coming of age" as a pure rejection of the past, like plenty of other filmmakers were doing at the time (compare this to Bonnie and Clyde or Easy Rider or The Graduate) -- it's more elegiac about things that were lost while also acknowledging that the past can't continue. Given that, it's not surprising to hear Bogdanovich in his interview still pining for the great stars of the past.

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On 1/17/2019 at 12:48 PM, WatchOutForSnakes said:

I haven't listened to the episode yet, but I just have to say how impressed I am with Cybill Shepherd in Last Picture Show, Taxi Driver, and Bonnie & Clyde. 😍

I think you might be confusing her with Faye Dunaway in Bonnie & Clyde.  Unless I'm missed her role.  (I still need to rewatch it).

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I think my biggest issue with the movie's handling of Jacy.  Her character seems to have to navigate a changing worldview of love, sex, and just, what is the world, itself.  And all the different character arc points she has to jump between seem plausible and possibly complex, something in the handling of it - I just didn't feel the emotional transition between all those points.  I guess another way to phrase it, the camera left me feeling like I was exterior to a teenage girl having emotional fluctuations and not the internal emotional state.  I don't know how much of it might play better a second time, knowing how things play out beforehand, or what scenes that maybe I should be paying a lot more attention to.

 I agree with @AlmostAGhost and @sycasey 2.0 on Sonny.

Compared to Jacy, I have to actually try to recall Duane's arc, so I guess it didn't leave as much of an impression on me.  I guess it was the whole, went from semi-popular jock-ish guy in high school with the prettiest girl in school, to being dumped by her, thinks he'll get her back, finds out he won't, doesn't let go, kind of drops out of even blue-collar work society, just kind of drifts and loves his car.  From Sonny's perspective, the drifting away/the fight is also one more part (their friendship) of the town that is lost.

The more I try to recall the movie, the more I feel like there might be a lot more little details I'd appreciate a second time through - but I've only gone through once, so I can't really assume those details are there.

I am a little surprised by the relatively little talk about all the age inappropriate relationships.

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On 1/18/2019 at 10:33 AM, AlmostAGhost said:

I disagree with the Sonny hate.  I think he was terrific.  I found him to be a relatively unique character for a film, a quiet non-vocal type.  What was interesting, and perhaps disorienting for most, was that he wasn't given any sort of desires.  Like we connect with Jacy's experimentation and trying to stop herself from this boring town and find some excitement and life experiences.  Duane we could see his goal was trying to impress Jacy.  But Sonny was just there.  Oh sure he found some occasional moments of life - that's what the Mexico trip was - but I found him a great comparison with those other two, and frankly it is probably realistic to a lot of kids.  Not everyone strives.  I liked seeing that.

I'm 100% with you on this. I thought Timothy Bottoms was perfectly fine in the role. I guess maybe he's "flat" or doesn't outwardly show a ton of emotion but I think that is the character. A lot of people don't have big personalities.

I think what's unusual with The Last Picture Show is that, unlike a lot of movies about small town life is that it's not focused on the kids like Duane or Jacy who live some Springsteen-esque desire to shake the dust off this one horse town. It's not about the adults who never left and lived stagnant lives never accomplishing their dreams and their reflections on that (even though Cloris Leachman and Ben Johnson are here). It's about the teen who isn't going anywhere and maybe doesn't have a lot of dreams. Sonny is the best friend of the main character in most movies.

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On 1/18/2019 at 10:33 AM, AlmostAGhost said:

Sonny was just there.  Oh sure he found some occasional moments of life - that's what the Mexico trip was - but I found him a great comparison with those other two, and frankly it is probably realistic to a lot of kids.  Not everyone strives.  I liked seeing that.

 

On 1/18/2019 at 11:41 AM, sycasey 2.0 said:

He's the "observer" character, and by nature a passive person.

 

1 hour ago, grudlian. said:

It's about the teen who isn't going anywhere and maybe doesn't have a lot of dreams. Sonny is the best friend of the main character in most movies.

My problem with this line of reasoning is that in terms of actions, Sonny is not at all passive.  I mean, I don't see it as a passive move to start a sexual relationship with a woman his mother's age.  And he had plenty of other moments of life: he married the hottest girl in school, he inherited a pool hall, his best friend nearly blinded him, he lost his marriage to the hottest girl in school, and his little brother figure gets killed in the street*.  I think it's a bit of a stretch to say this is a realistic year in the life of a normal American kid, and it's a lot to happen directly to someone for them to be considered merely an "observer."

Now don't get me wrong: the fact that things ARE happening to Sonny is part of the reason why I like The Last Picture Show much much more than, say, American Graffiti or Dazed and Confused (I know both of those films take place over a single night instead of a year, but since they're all coming of age period pieces, they feel spiritually connected to me.)  I don't like those two movies because I absolutely do not care about a single character in them.  But I do care about Jacy and Sam and Ruth and Genevieve and even Duane in his own way.  And then I care about Sonny because these characters care about Sonny.  But the problem with either the character or the performance is that I never really understand WHY they care about Sonny (except maybe for Ruth).  And that just leaves an emotional hole for me in the middle of this otherwise wonderful group of people.

 

*How did this not happen sooner?  Billy is standing in the middle of the main road of town every single day without anyone paying any attention to him.  It's a miracle he made it to 14, or however old he is.  Is this part of Bogdanovich's commentary on the changing times?  That you used to be able to stand in the middle of a well-traveled road without any fear of danger, but in these troubling times, people who idly stand in the middle of the road are liable to get hit by a truck?  And as I wrote in my Letterboxd review, where is Billy's adult?  Who is looking after Billy?  

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1 hour ago, bleary said:

And he had plenty of other moments of life: he married the hottest girl in school, he inherited a pool hall, his best friend nearly blinded him, he lost his marriage to the hottest girl in school, and his little brother figure gets killed in the street*. 

Everything you mention here is totally passive.  They happened TO him, on little effort of his own.  Even the relationship with Ruth, he was just sent to her house, and they connected.  All these things served to keep him in that town.  If he was thinking of leaving, and he probably was, these things would happen and then he'd have to stay longer.

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9 minutes ago, AlmostAGhost said:

Everything you mention here is totally passive.  They happened TO him, on little effort of his own.  Even the relationship with Ruth, he was just sent to her house, and they connected.  All these things served to keep him in that town.  If he was thinking of leaving, and he probably was, these things would happen and then he'd have to stay longer.

Bingo. Yes, there are things happening in Sonny's life. Mostly they happen to him, not driven by him.

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7 minutes ago, AlmostAGhost said:

Everything you mention here is totally passive.  They happened TO him, on little effort of his own.  Even the relationship with Ruth, he was just sent to her house, and they connected.  All these things served to keep him in that town.  If he was thinking of leaving, and he probably was, these things would happen and then he'd have to stay longer.

Sure, but I don't think that's realistic to a lot of kids, and I think that's substantially more than the occasional moments of life that you cited before.

Also, you talk about him thinking of leaving and that he probably was.  I think the fact that we can't make any reasonably strong inference about his internal feelings and motivations makes him lacking as a character.  You might say that's the point and that's what makes him unusual.  That's fine, but I don't find that interesting.

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I don't understand the hype. All this movie is about, is people having sex and being sad in a small Texas town. There's no real protagonist, no real antagonist, no real triumph, no real story arc, nothing actually happening of any real significance, no actual stakes for anything. 

The acting was fine, but that's it. I would not recommend this film to anyone and I would never watch it again.

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