Monday, November 14, 2011


I have so many films in my Netflix queue, sometimes I forget why they're there. Right now, however, between episodes of Chuck, I'm in a run of Jeff Bridges films, inspired, I'm sure, by seeing True Grit. Well, right off the beat, I threw in The Last Picture Show, which I hadn't seen for probably 20 years. It'd been so long, I couldn't remember what happened in the film, honestly. Which is actually great, as the film had the ability to surprise me. I would also say, at 20, I don't know that I was old enough to really "get" it.

Bridges was the draw, but the whole cast is quite amazing. You couple that with Peter Bogdanovich's brilliant direction, and the glorious black and white photography, allowing almost infinite depth of focus. Things in the far background are almost as clear as the foreground actors. It created this sense of place and time that was almost overwhelming.

In a lot of ways, it was overwhelming. I have a deep desire to own this film, now, because it made me so very sad. I don't know, maybe it's passing 40, feeling my options narrow, but It was almost breathtaking how much I felt the characters in this picture. The pervasive, almost oppressive, sense of loss. It felt real, and true.

The truly interesting thing is that the film embraces characters of all ages, people of this small Texas town at the beginning and end of their lives. All feeling the loss of something. The through line is clear, loss, and dealing with loss, is a lifetime endeavor. Be it Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) and Duane (Bridges) leaving high school, and finding exactly how limited their choices are, or Ruth (Cloris Leachman) and Lois (Ellen Burstyn) finding how trapped they are in the choices they have made. The high school princess, Jacy (Cybill Shepherd) learning of the sacrifices and compromises to ensure a "good" life.

All this is played out in front of the passing of the town, itself. Sam the Lion (Ben Johnson), who owned the pool hall, the cafe, and the picture show, passes away. Eventually, the woman he left the movie house to can't continue, and closes with a final screening of Red River, with Sonny, Duane and Billy (Sam Bottoms), the local half-wit, the only patrons. The scene is steeped in a true feeling of passing, with only these three boys (one of them oblivious) to reflect on it. You see how the giant heart of Sam, how he cared for the people of the town, and stood in as a surrogate father to the young men around him, can never truly be replaced.

I almost don't have words for the epic performance Ben Johnson gives as Sam. It is awe-inspiring. The Last Picture Show belongs to Ben Johnson, and he got a absolutely deserve Best Supporting Actor Oscar to show for it.

He marched through the film, with the twinkle in his eye of true love for these young men, that can turn to steely resolve when they stray from the correct path. You see the power that even his presence has over them, the pride and joy they take from his company, when he bans a group of boys from his pool hall.

Then, with one beautiful, brilliant monologue, Sam lets Sonny see that even he, too, cannot escape the specter of  loss, regret and sadness. I couldn't take my eyes off Johnson, the character that seeps from his face, the life that his squint hints at, as he spoke one of the best film speeches in my memory.

Despite the fact that I know doing movie monologues is a bad idea, I think I may have to use this one. I FELT it, deep down inside, as Johnson spoke the words. It made me think about my own life, and where I am now. I don't think I breathed. at all, during that scene.

That's also the highest honor I can make to Bogdanovich's movie, as a whole. I felt it, I felt like I understood those people, and that time. It tore me up, but the honesty of it all was absolutely enthralling.

Highest Recommendation.

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