The Last Picture Show. Really, what more can be said about this incredible film? Unlike Coming Home (1978), watching this movie the second time was an equally, if not more, wonderful experience than before. There were some new discoveries this time round that I really loved, while the old elements that I enjoyed so much back then were still as great as ever..
The brilliance in The Last Picture Show is in its extremely strong direction by Peter Bogdanovich. The whole minimalist approach adds to the simplicity of the people living in this dying town, and I especially love how the film’s music only comes from the radios being played. What is amazing about this film is how the different stories and themes gel together, be it the coming of age and sexual awakening of the high schoolers, or the reminiscing of broken dreams and old love by the adults. As such, what you get is a haunting and saddening representation of people together living in a community, yet at the same time their colourful personalities breathes life to the bleak setting of the film. The way the stories intertwine, the way everybody knows whats going on (I love how everybody talks about the football match in the beginning) grounds the earth with a certain realism that easy to watch. It brings out all kinds of emotions, be it humour through the bitchy and cynical Lois Farrow (played FANTASTICALLY by Oscar-nominated Ellen Burstyn), or immense sadness by the lonely Ruth Popper (played by Oscar-winner Cloris Leachman, very deserving win), or disturbing moments like when the gang forces a young boy onto a prostitute. It’s all very well-handled without becoming overly cluttered and messy. The final shot of the dying town with the howling winds always stayed with me because of the sadness it evokes.
Another brilliant aspect of the film would be its sharp, distinct characterization among the characters. The youngsters aren’t the most interesting to me, but the characters are all very well-written; There’s the cocky Duane (played brilliantly by a very young Jeff Bridges in his first Oscar-nominated role), who finds his manliness being questioned because of his inability to “perform”, the sensible Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) who is confused about the concept of love, and Jacy (Cybil Shepherd), who is curious about, well, sex. To me, it is the adults who steal the show. Tying everything together is the almost symbolic character “Sam The Lion”, played by Oscar-winner Ben Johnson, whose performance is one of the most deserving winners this category has ever seen (although I must admit I’m a tiny bit less enthusiastic this time round). Sam is like the wise man and the heart of the town; everyone loves him, everyone respects him and after his passing, the town saw itself going into decline. It’s a brilliantly written part, and the famous monologue about his old love is one of the finest acted scenes ever. The same goes for Cloris Leachman, who plays the lonely Ruth Popper who gets into an affair with Sonny. The sadness, loneliness and desperation of the character as she gets made use of then neglected is just heartbreaking to watch. However, the one performance that really captivated me this time round a lot more than previously was Ellen Burstyn’s brief but brilliant turn as Lois Farrow. She brings humour into the film through her cynical and sarcastic personality, such as when she tells her daughter to sleep with Duane to learn that he is nothing special, and when she tells the other woman to “kiss my ass”. However, despite the briefness of her role, Burstyn turns Lois Farrow into a three-dimensional human being, and her final monologue to Sonny where she reveals that she was the true love of Sam the Lion is just heartbreaking. What is even more amazing is how Ben Johnson and her never had any dialogue or scenes together, and yet she manages to make it believable that they were once in love. It’s a captivating, heartbreaking performance that would have been equally deserving of the win (she’s one of my favourite actress, so I’m very biased).
In short, I love this film. It gave me the chills, it made me laugh, it made me sad, and more importantly it made me feel human. No apologies here: 5/5.