Rehearsals are well under way for Cosi, the first production of Australian Made Entertainment, the theatre (and eventually, film) company that Kat and I recently formed. We begin performances on September 7 in New York City, only three and a half weeks away, so if you're going to be in the area, get your tickets now.
We now turn our attention to the final nominee from the Best Picture race of 1971...
The Last Picture Show
Larry McMurtry and Peter Bogdanovich
(based on the novel by Larry McMurtry)
Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepherd, Ben Johnson, Cloris Leachman, Ellen Burstyn, Eileen Brennan, Clu Gulager, Sam Bottoms, Sharon Taggart, Randy Quaid, Joe Heathcock
2 wins, for Best Supporting Actor (Johnson) and Best Supporting Actress (Leachman)
Contrary to my usual rule, my viewing of The Last Picture Show was of the director's cut, not of the original version that played in cinemas in 1971, which appears to be difficult to find. Nonetheless, with only seven minutes of additional footage, I think we can let it slide.
It's 1951 in a small town in Texas. Sonny Crawford (Bottoms) is a senior in high school and doesn't really have any plans, either for tomorrow or for the rest of his life. His best friend Duane (Bridges) is dating the spoiled Jacy (Shepherd), a strained relationship if ever there was one. After Sonny breaks up with his girlfriend Charlene (Taggart), who he never really cared about anyway, he begins an affair with his football coach's middle-aged wife Ruth (Leachman). Stumbling from one day to the next, Sonny impulsively takes a trip to Mexico with Duane, takes over the town's pool hall, begins a flirtation with Jacy, and generally comes of age.
Being set in the early 1950s, director Peter Bogdanovich cleverly replicates the style of film-making during that era. The film is shot in black-and-white and, during some of the darker scenes, the lighting often employs that stark contrast effect in which an actor in close-up moves in and out of a small sliver of bright light. The performances, too, are sometimes filled with a 1950s bravado and enthusiasm, typical of the acting style back then.
However, the most fascinating element is the incongruity that results from the pairing of this nostalgic style with the solemn and crude subject matter. During the actual time period, it seems unimaginable that such sexuality and bad language would have appeared on film, but twenty years later, without the shackles of censorship, The Last Picture Show is free to create a sobering look at life in a small town. Stylistically, though, it remains in the 1950s, creating a slight feeling of unease.
The story certainly doesn't rush. With its slice-of-life approach, the characters plod along, experiencing things unfolding without any main driving goal at the forefront of the plot. Which is not to say that nothing happens. The film is full of major events, and considering the plight of the younger characters, could easily be described as a coming-of-age story - kind of a cruder small-town version of American Graffiti. Sex is clearly a focus, particularly the awkwardness of first encounters, but in no way could it be said that any of the sex scenes in this picture are actually sexy. In one scene, for instance, our attention is directed toward the awkward noises of the squeaking bed as one participant attempts to hold back tears.
For a bit of extra trivia appropriate to this blog, some of the characters in the film attend a screening of Father of the Bride, which is itself a Best Picture nominee.