The Last Picture Show (1971)
For a brief moment of time, Peter Bogdanovich was one of the freshest and boldest young filmmakers around. Picking up a paperback edition of Larry McMurtry's social satire, Bogdanovich assembled an expertly chosen cast and went on location in Texas to shoot this fine study of intergenerational life in a dying, rural town. Bogdanovich's direction here is delicately subtle. His camera tails the diverse gallery of characters in an almost ghostly manner. The interpersonal drama is engaging, at times powerful, but the foremost achievement with The Last Picture Show is its timing and relevance. Incidentally, the report of the decline of American townlife was perhaps even more generally applicable at the release of the film than in 1952, which undoubtedly helped generate the buzz from contemporary critics and audiences alike.
The Last Picture Show is beautifully photographed in black and white, framing haunting images of wide, remote and secluded land, with largely corresponding people. This is a world where the old mentality gets tangled in the new set of morals, which include sexual liberation and the rise of the youth culture. And Bogdanovich suggests that neither one nor the other will make us any happier. If anything, the film can be criticized for a lack of optimism, but that doesn't mean it is humourless.
The performances are fine throughout. Timothy Bottoms' intelligent, sensitive performance in the lead makes his subsequent decline completely uncomprehendable. And Burstyn, Leachman and Brennan convey the wisdom and ache of a generation in their supporting roles. On the other hand, Cybil Shepherd might not have gone on to become the next Katharine Hepburn, but here in her film debut, she was one of the most delicious young things ever to grace the big screen. Of course, Bogdanovich couldn't help falling for her, and he would never make as important a picture again.