11/29/2006: "The Last Picture Show: A Masterpiece of a Movie"

music: Hank Williams
mood: Amazed

The phrase "slice of life" came to mind when I was watching The Last Picture Show. This may be the most realistic movie I've ever seen. I'm not talking about plot plausabillity, I mean the details. It's the little things that count. From the way the characters behave, react, and talk, as well as the stark landscape of the small Texas town in the early 1950s. From the way a boy sits watching a movie to the quick and believable emotional outbursts, it all seems true to life. The movies the characters watch in the theatre remind me how much more realistic this is than other films. There's no original musical score, and the songs are all ambient. Overall its not a manipulative movie and the ending goes on and one and is ambigous, much like life itself.

The Last Picture Show is basically a story about growing up. The characters are late high school and the time afterwards, and all the frustration, sex, love affairs, confusion, decision and indecision are there. It's also a story about the end of an era, the final years of a small Texas town. It's fading as the oil runs out, its heros die, and the young move away.

It is also one of the most involving movies I've seen. I feel what the characters feel. In an embarrasing situation, embarrasment. Same with fear, grief, tension, excitement, guilt, arousal, anger, and uncertainty. True, director Peter Bogdanovich does sometimes use manipulative shots (such as in the near-rape scene), but I think we feel these things because of how well the movie allows us the identify with the characters. This is due to the performances being so great, and the movie gives me the feeling that we are really watching people's lives, by not omitting the most mundane of details in their daily business, and allow for silence when silence would natuarally occur (rather than the characters declare their feelings all the time). This script (written by Larry McMurtry and Peter Bogdanovich and based on the former's book), and movie has something you don't always see in movies: a heart. Its characters have hearts too, and they have faults. They're people. There are no heroes or villians, they're just real people, sensitive, capable of doing good and lible to make mistakes.

The performances are key, and they are all wonderful. Cybill Shepard, Ben Johnson, Jeff Bridges, Ellen Burstyn, Cloris Leachman, Sam Bottoms. But it is Timothy Bottoms who is the core as Sonny Crawford. He is complex, empathetic, and real.

The direction is beautiful, with the black and white photography heightening the feeling the stark scenery gives. And, saying this as a member of Film Society, the closing shot is sad, provacative, and powerful.

As one character says (albeit describing an event that didn't actually happen), I cannot describe it in words. You'de have to see it.