Monday, September 09, 2013

The Last Picture Show (1971)

Generally, when I go back and watch some of the "classics" for the first time, I'm fairly disappointed.  Take, for example, "The Searchers". I found the movie to be terribly executed.

The thing is, we live in an age where no-budget movies can be executed extremely well. With a fairly low cost camera and a computer, you can make a feature film. The techniques of filmmaking are well known, and many books are available on how to structure your story. There are tons of well-done, no-budget movies on Netflix.

So it's hard to compare old movies -- especially shot on location with no instant feedback -- to the capabilities of a modern filmmaker armed with a digital camera, instantaneous feedback and editing (maybe even basic VFX) while the shot is still set up in front of them. You have to forgive older films a little bit in terms of execution.

The Last Picture Show needs no excuses. It is awesome. A fantastic character piece with a lot of big name actors. I count 4 Oscar winners among them... two winning for this movie, Cloris Leachman and Ben Johnson. Shot entirely on location here.

This is a coming-of-age movie that's 40 years old. You'd think I would be so burnt on coming-of-age at this point that I'd never enjoy this movie. The decisions to leave town, the people left behind, going to war, hooking up with older women and men. These themes have occurred so many, many times in film -- Dead Poets Society, Say Anything, Breakfast Club, Dazed & Confused, even American Pie (Stiffler's Mom) -- they're ridiculously tired now.

And yet, the movie pulls them all together with a great story, great acting and execution in a way that stands the test of time. Bogdonovich plays to the audience a bit by putting a lot of scenes in POV. I think he's saying "This is you. You KNOW this stuff. These themes are universal."

As far as the acting goes, Ben Johnson's monologue at the lake is remarkable -- really the shining moment of the film that leaves you going, "crap, have I become that decrepit old bag of bones?"

JSS Rating: Good/Good.

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