Thursday, August 18

The Last Picture Show at 50: a melancholic ode to the ghost town | Drama movies

TOHigh school senior Sonny Crawford (Timothy Bottoms) makes his way down the main street in the North Texas town of Anarene, on The Last Picture Show, veterans complain about his performance football team last night, another in what appears to be a long list of embarrassing beatings. The softer blow comes from Sam the Lion (Ben Johnson), who owns the few remaining businesses in Anarene and puts money in the game, presumably for more sentimental than rational reasons. “Some football teams have been lucky with tackles,” Sam tells Sonny. “It prevents the other team from scoring too often.”

Sonny doesn’t take it seriously. He’s a multi-sport athlete, probably just because the school doesn’t have enough kids to fill out the lists. When basketball season rolls around, there is talk of a 121-14 loss that seems like a new state benchmark for futility, but he has skipped most of practice due to his affair with the coach’s wife. He is an affable child, generally unusually sensitive to the vulnerabilities of others, which explains his friendship with the intellectually disabled Billy (Sam Bottoms) and also the affair, which is based as much on pity as on a misdirected teenager. lust. However, the most surprising and important thing about Sonny is his passivity: why should he worry about something? Your generation has inherited a ghost town.

Although 50 years have passed since Peter Bogdanovich’s elegiac masterpiece was released, the town of Anarene in 1951 will be familiar to anyone who has driven through a small American town and witnessed the main streets marked by bricked-up businesses. , they will never return. It may not have the signs of 21st century failure: the Walmart near the freeway, Dollar General stores and check cashing places, a half block from fast food restaurants, but the vibe is more or less the same. While Anarene veterans probably remember the days when the soccer team won state championships, the teens are bored and looking for a way out. And it seems that there are no children in the city.

Based on the novel by Larry McMurtry, which he adapted for the screen with Bogdanovich, The Last Picture Show is a coming-of-age film set in a dead city, which could technically qualify as a zombie movie. Opening to the sound of a howling autumn wind kicking up dust on the empty street, the first take begins at The Royal, a single-screen movie theater that plays Father of the Bride with Spencer Tracy and 19-year-old Elizabeth Taylor, who piques Sonny’s interest more than the cold fish girlfriend he kisses with in the last row. The Royal is owned by Sam the Lion, along with seemingly every other business open in town, such as a restaurant where the waitress occasionally serves as a short-order cook, and the pool hall that doubles as a general store. When Sam bans Sonny and his friends from his establishments for trying to pay a local woman to deflower poor Billy, they are dumbfounded. They literally have nowhere to go.

Teens tend to live by the moment in the best of circumstances, but short-term thinking seems like a defense mechanism for the high school students in the film. Jacy Farrow (Cybill Shepherd), the glamorous daughter of the city’s only wealthy family, worries about her shaky relationship with Sonny’s best friend Duane (Jeff Bridges) and treats her sexuality with a combination of desire and calculation. She wants to lose her virginity to Duane, because that seems socially respectable, but her lustier interests lie elsewhere. It is up to her drinking mother (Ellen Burstyn) to worry that Jacy will get pregnant and marry too young, and end up in the same routine she is in.

The most poignant relationship in the film also stems from hasty and impulsive decision making. When his coach asks him to take his wife Ruth (Cloris Leachman) to a health clinic on the outskirts of town, Sonny eagerly accepts the assignment, because it pulls him out of civics class. But Ruth’s distinct loneliness traps Sonny in a similar place and the two begin dating on practice days, an arrangement not unlike Anne Bancroft and Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate: The older woman resolves her unhappiness and lack of marital intimacy, the young man gains experience. and trust. However, Ruth’s needs are too overwhelming for Sonny to understand, let alone accommodate, leading to a scene that earned Leachman, an actor best known for comedy, a well deserved Oscar.

Timothy Bottoms and Cloris Leachman
Timothy Bottoms and Cloris Leachman. Photograph: Columbia / Kobal / Rex / Shutterstock

The Last Picture Show is packed with meaning, beginning with a title hinting at one of the many deaths, and types of death, that permeate the film. American autotithology is based on the idea of ​​blooming little icebergs like Anarene, which are filled with ma-y-pa diners and movie theaters, and the multiple generations of residents who turned their hometown into a happy community. This movie is black and white like a tombstone, and the melancholy that hangs over almost every interaction is further underlined with a soundtrack packed with songs by Hank Williams Sr. It’s as if Bogdanovich is tired next to a Wurlitzer with a pocket full of quarters and spend all night.

There’s no getting away from the fact that The Last Picture Show is a bleak affair, made even more pervasive for moviegoers when the movie inevitably follows its title. What does survive this existential decline are the small benefits that are still transmitted among the citizens of this town: when the waitress, in a low moment for Sonny, prepares a hamburger after hours, despite the fact that he is excluded from the place ; when Jacy’s mother, realizing that she has lost her virginity to the wrong man, overcomes the cruelty that follows; and, most poignant of all, a look from Sonny that gives Ruth the recognition she needs at precisely the right time. These characters may live in a ghost town, but they are human.

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