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The Last Picture Show, Peter Bogdanovich (1971)

Wow, what a revelation. I should say at the outset that the story here is, to put it mildly, not without melodrama. But if you’ll indulge it, it will repay.

Bogdanovitch’s eye-level shots lend a flatness to the point of view in the picture that’s perfectly in keeping with its mood and geography. An endless variety of human emotions and an endlessly expanding Texas landscape radiate out from the camera in all directions, yet somehow no one seems able to change anything or go anywhere. The compare/contrast film for a double-bill would have to be American Graffiti, another rueful picture about the end of innocence and high school, but a very different one. If American Graffiti were left out to bleach and crack in the Texas sun for a hundred years, you’d get something like The Last Picture Show, perhaps. In Lucas’s film, the characters move through an Oddysean geography of episodic adventures; in Bogdanovich’s the characters are stranded forever on Circe’s island. In Lucas’s film, all the characters tremble with anticipation and anxiety about the possibilities of the future; in Bogdanovich’s, the characters are forced to confront the fact that they already know full well what the future holds. Put more succinctly: American Graffiti is about desperately wanting to get laid for the first time; The Last Picture Show is about the day after you get laid for the first time.

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  1. Veddy interesting. As usual, I think our gender perspectives are different. I never wanted desperately to get laid the first time; that’s an option so omnipresent to the adolescent girl as to be, per se, at least as I experienced it, less than thrilling. I loved The Last Picture Show too, though what I remember best (tellingly?) is Cloris Leachman’s fluttering about, getting ready for her lover, then sinking into annihilating despair when she’s stood up. Also Cybill Shepherd’s pitch perfect pique when she realizes (for the first time?) that women older than her might still be in the sexual game.So maybe I agree (thinking again about Leachman), it is about the day after, when you suddenly realize that in getting your heart’s desire, you have screwed yourself.

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