100 Movie Challenge: #95 The Last Picture Show

C+

The Last Picture Show 1971
The Last Picture Show 1971

Yeah.  That’s a low score for a film that experts and historians have agreed is one of the 100 greatest films of all time.  So maybe I’m missing something, but while I could recognize the provocative commentary on the redundancy of small-town life, Peter Bogdanovich’s 1971 critic’s choice, The Last Picture Show, left me bored and uninspired.

Set in the ’50s, the film focuses primarily on the lives of three highschoolers, Sonny (Timothy Bottoms), Duane (a young Jeff Bridges), and Jacy (Cybill Shepherd), as they navigate the monotony and legalism of their tiny Texas town. All three come-of-age through a variety of tragic events, sexual experiences, and unexpected responsibilities.  The film includes some standout performances, garnering 4 acting nominations, including wins for lonely adulteress Cloris Leachman and wise mentor Ben Johnson.  Those accolades are well deserved, but for this movie-goer, the acting alone cannot justify The Last Picture Show’s lofty status.

It is extremely slow. Many would argue that the pacing is necessary to indicate the tedium of small-town life, but it is so uneventful that I found it difficult to stay fully engaged. Perhaps this is just one post-modern baby’s opinion, but the lack of action, though thematically intriguing, fails to provide any sense of jeopardy or consequence, making it challenging to care about the characters and their journeys.

Cybill Shepherd in her Film Debut
Cybill Shepherd in her Film Debut

In a strange way, it reminded me a lot of Kathryn Bigelow’s Best Picture winner, The Hurt Locker. Both films use a non-traditional structure and methodical pacing to push the theme of monotony to the forefront of the viewer’s mind.  In The Hurt Locker, it’s an episodic structure used to assert that war is not always a glorious journey with a begining, middle, and end; but rather that modern warfare is, in the vast majority of cases, a banausic series of never-ending tasks. A similar technique is used by Bogdanovich to emphasize the inconsequential nature of life in Anarene, TX. There are few moments of hightened intensity, but they can feel a bit contrived or irrelevant in the context. As a critic I can recognize and appreciate the

A Contrived Comparison
A Contrived Comparison

cooperation of theme and formal structure, but as a distracted entertainment junkie, it left something to be desired; which is why it garnered just a C+.

Still, you may not want to just take my word. After all, the film is heralded as both an homage to classical and post-war greats like Orson Welles, and an extremely progressive experiment in the artistic limitations of censorship and morality. You’d be hard pressed to find many film critics who doubt the mastery of The Last Picture Show.

Next week we move to the cult-classic: #94 Pulp Fiction.

How about you? Do you share my opinion about The Last Picture Show‘s monotony? Or are you appalled at my post-modern naiveté? Let us know!

To see the rest of the list click here.

Richard Mattox

Richard Mattox is the head editor of Smash Cut Culture and a 2013 alumnus of the Taliesin Nexus Filmmakers Workshop and Internship program. Currently pursuing a Masters in Professional Writing (screenwriting emphasis) from USC, Mattox is an avid film-junkie, a singer-songwriter, and a die-hard Baltimore Orioles fan.

  • Matt Edwards

    During my 70’s film binge fest back when Netflix was the only place to get this film on DVD, this was one of my favorites. Out of the context of all the other films of the times I can see how one would grade this film so low. But seriously, there are way too many groundbreaking performances in this film to allow it to sit anywhere beneath a B+. But I get it.

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