95: The Last Picture Show

oilThe Last Picture Show, 1971.

From Jon:

I’m not really sure what to write about The Last Picture Show.  It’s a well-made movie.  It’s filled with great actors and great performances.  It’s wonderfully stylistic.  But I just couldn’t connect with it.  There were moments when I came close, moments when I felt I was in tune with what was going on, and then someone would randomly grab a young girl’s crotch.  It was a good movie and watching it never felt boring or forced, but ultimately I didn’t take much from it and that leaves me at a loss for how to fill up this post.

It was fun seeing a bunch of actors that have been mainstays throughout my life looking so young.  It was shocking to see Jeff Bridges and Randy Quaid before they went crazy.  And I finally understand what all the noise was about Cybill Shepherd; she was stunningly beautiful in this movie.  It was also amazing to see Cloris Leachman in such a dramatic role.  I really only know her as a comedic performer and as brilliant as she is in those roles, it was truly stunning to watch her nail the part of a disillusioned middle age housewife and wring every ounce of emotion out of it.  For me, Leachman was the heart and soul of the movie.  I was excited to see that she won an Oscar for the performance.  Ben Johnson, on the other hand, I didn’t really understand.  He won for Best Supporting Actor and set the record for the Oscar winner in that category with the least amount of screen time, 9 minutes and 54 seconds.  I didn’t take the time to look back and see who he was up against, but there was nothing in those 9 minutes that really blew my mind.  Jeff Bridges did just as strong a job and played a much more integral part in the story being told.

I’m told that The Last Picture Show is a movie about a small town that is slowly dying.  To me, it was more about how monotonous small town life can be, how one day, then month, then year is just like the next.  Bogdanovich did an amazing job masking the passage of time.  By filming in black and white and setting it in Texas, each scene looked exactly like the last without any color or changing scenery to mark seasons or time periods.  Each shot of Main Street looked the same and it was only through the dialogue that you knew a month or two had passed.  It gave me a feeling of stalled time more than wasting away.  The idea that you couldn’t tell one day from the next added to the sense of boredom all the characters seemed to be fighting, Cybill Shepherd’s Jacy searching for a boy who could give her something more interesting than life in the oil fields, Jeff Bridges’ Duanne looking to join the military, Cloris Leachman’s Ruth wanting to feel love from someone other than her ignorant husband.

I see why people like this movie and I guess I understand why it’s on this list, but I find it hard to say I would list it as one of the one hundred best American movies of all time.  It has some wonderful performances that I really enjoyed.  And the storytelling and filmmaking is bar none.  But I feel like I could list a handful of movies that were of the same quality but much more meaningful to me.  Big Fish, Good Will Hunting, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, I know there are a bunch more I can’t think of, are all movies I think are more worthy than this.

I give The Last Picture Show 3 out of 5 bowls of Rocky Road ice cream.  It’s a well made classic but just not for me.

 

From Jenny:

This movie was so slow that I felt compelled to ask Jon a couple of probably annoying questions, because I kept drifting off: wait, is that the same guy, who is that?  Are they brothers?  Did I miss something?  Here’s what I remember, what stood out to me:

I found myself thinking about when this movie took place, a lot.  It was filmed in 1971, but set in 1951. I think about what it must have been like to live during that time. But the point was, it didn’t matter when it was. The themes and situations are universal, recurring: teenagers outgrowing small town, falling in love for the first time, falling in love and it’s not love, learning about ourselves and our friends, learning who’s a friend and who isn’t. The characters (comprised of a whole lotta famous people– I knew six right off the bat, so movie people probably know more) are no one you know but everyone you know. The fictitious town in which the movie is set, Anarene, appears to be a handful of years away from being an entry on one of my favorite sites, Abandoned But Not Forgotten.com. The title alone refers to the closing of the movie theatre in town, a sad and powerful symbol. This movie is filled with loneliness and jealousy, a cyclical feeling like there’s nothing more to life, and that the kind of family and town a person is from determines one’s fate. Only one person seems to be at peace, and that’s Sam the Lion.  If I watched this movie again, I’d pay more attention to him.

Another point about the movie being set in 1951.  I like old movies, but sometimes for not the reasons they’re considered good. I like The Amityville Horror because I like looking at Lutz’s kitchen and furniture, and Margot Kidder’s ugly and bizarre lingerie, and details about the structure of the house that scream “1979, but from 1946.” But this movie was more like a play, with sparse props, scenes that didn’t really contain a lot of stuff that told me it was 1951.  Interesting choice.

After seeing this movie then waiting a really long time to process it, one more thing stands out in my mind: the affair between Cloris Leachman’s character, Ruth, the “middle-aged” depressed housewife, wife of the high school basketball coach, and high school senior Sonny (I’ll call him the protagonist for the sake of this entry*), played by Timothy Bottoms. Watching the moment the two of them dive from “thinking about it” to “too late” is kind of painful, because there is no possible good ending to that kind of thing, and you just have to wait it out.  It’s sad in a similar way to how Benjamin Braddock and Mrs. Robinson’s affair quickly turns from exciting to monotonous, but way faster. Like the second time. And watching how happy Ruth was to have something in her life fulfilled by Sonny, that had nothing to do with sex, made me feel really sad, like I wanted to stop watching. It demonstrated how two people who have nothing naturally to do with one another, who should really just pass each other by on the street, can end up intersecting in such a confused and misguided way. Both of them had such delusional expectations because some other part of their lives was lacking, and the best the viewer can hope for is that maybe one of them escapes unscathed. In Sonny and Ruth’s case, it’s the older woman who chooses to keep her feelings to herself, choosing to switch gears into an almost motherly role by the end of the movie. Instead of reacting in anger when Sonny’s immaturity and self-centeredness takes center stage over whatever attracted her to him in the first place, she has some kind of mercy on him, but it’s all hugely unsatisfying. I suppose that’s the way lots of life goes though, like a teenager snickering at an adult for being cheerful, having no idea what years of hurt, disappointment, and loss may be underneath that decision to be happy– to cover up one’s real feelings with what’s best for the situation.

I don’t know when I’d realistically have time, but I’d watch this movie again.  I’d probably get a lot more out of it, but I’d also need to be doing something else while it played, like painting a room or organizing socks. I’d recommend it, even though I probably did a pretty bad job of explaining why.  I hope you don’t totally agree.

For The Last Picture Show, I give three bowls of French Vanilla ice cream (because it’s plain) but I’d put a little butterscotch syrup on it, because that seems like something people in this movie might really enjoy.  I wouldn’t ask for it, but I get why people like it.  Sort of.

*I’d hate to know how old she actually was supposed to be.

**Although Jon just said “maybe the town is the protagonist.” Oh jeeze.  I just need to finish writing this.  

Up Next: Pulp Fiction

Jon: Great movie… highly overrated

Jenny: I already saw this movie more than I wanted to, which was once.

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The Beginning of the Journey

From Jon…

When Jenny and I started dating we went through all the normal getting to know you conversations.  What kind of music do you listen to?  What’s your favorite TV show?  If stranded on a deserted island, what five books would you want with you?  And of course, what are your favorite movies?  Our society has developed in such a way that movies have become an integral part of dating another person.  It’s a shorthand way to establish common interests and upbringings.  It’s a shared experience that opens discussion.  It’s about as cliche a first date as one can find.  Pretty early on in our relationship, Jenny asked if I had ever tried to watch all the movies on the AFI top 100.  I said no, but I had the list printed out and had always wanted to try.  So we decided to try together.  We took AFI’s tenth anniversary Top 100 American Movies list and made the agreement that we would start at #100, Ben-Hur, and work our way to #1, Citizen Kane.  But of course, that wasn’t enough.  Being that we both enjoy writing, being that we already both had blogs of our own, being that we needed something to keep us on task and make this whole experience a bit more enjoyable, we decided to create a blog that showed two perspectives on AFI’s list.  We will watch the movies together and then write separately about our experiences and reactions.  Hopefully, you guys, the readers, will get two different view points and two different reading experiences.

 I’m a self-proclaimed movie buff.  I didn’t go to film school and I haven’t kept up with the latest trends in Iranian cinema, but I enjoy watching movies, analyzing the story and film-making techniques, and discussing them with people.  I’ve watched a ton of movies and enjoy nothing better than sitting down for a few hours and losing myself in a world of someone else’s creation.  Some may say that this is a form of avoiding my own existence, but really that’s neither here nor there.  I’m not going to change the world with my thoughts on a movie or a director’s style, but I have my opinions and I love to share them and hopefully they cause someone out there to think or agree or get really pissed off.

 I’ve learned quickly that watching movies with Jenny is a different experience than I am used to.  At times it will take a month to watch something that should really only last two hours.  I’ll be sure to include when I think that has changed or affected my thoughts on a film.  I’m not saying this is solely a negative.  Taking time to digest certain scenes may enhance the viewing experience.  We will have to wait and see.

From Jenny…

I like movies enough.  But compared to Jon,  I’m no movie buff, not even an amateur one.  I won’t comment on cinematography or light or the repeated use of oranges in various scenes unless it’s something that has been pre-brought to my attention, and it’s relevant to my review.  I won’t fake any knowledge here.  Still, I will try to provide a thorough and sincere write up of each movie from my perspective.

 Fact is, I do get bored easily.  Jon and I have watched movies that are a little on the slow side, and a scenario like this might play out: I’ll begin by looking around the room, thinking about other things I need to do, when was the last time I saw my checkbook, or where the Christmas tree should go this year, and then I start to notice Jon and how much he is still watching the movie.  Then I wonder how long I can stare at the side of his face before he notices I’m staring at him.  Then I realize that he already knows I’m staring at him, but he’s doing his best to ignore me and concentrate on the movie.  And I don’t say that to be mean, he doesn’t generally ignore me, but he knows that I’ve begun to lose interest in the movie, but he’s very good at concentrating (he does it all the time!) and can do it even with someone staring at him blinking loudly, such as during a long movie or a four-hour lecture on classroom management and the dangers of over-lecturing.

 It’s usually at that point that Jon and I come to terms with our take on the movie to that point.  His, “slow, building, intense” is usually my “good God when will this end?!”

 Jon is always very kind when he finally does acknowledge me and my face staring.  He has also never argued with me when I can’t take it anymore and must go to bed and finish the damn movie tomorrow. I will try not to push this too far.

 When I met Jon I realized he’s not only seen almost anything that’s ever been made (with the exception of a few “ICBYNS”*) but he’s also very into movies, which I think is great. For him. 🙂

 It’s true, I can have a pretty hard time sitting through movies.  I’m getting better though. I went through a phase in which I was a complete psycho and could not do fewer than three things (badly) at the same time, including dishes and writing and watching a movie and organizing my sock drawer. Good news: I’ve calmed down a bit and have taken to things such as doing one thing at a time, sometimes, whether it be finishing a book, a movie, or painting a room in under four years.  I am excited to watch these movies, referred to as classics, for reasons I’m going to find out.  I’m looking forward to freely writing in the second person, including sentence fragments, without so much as a care in the world. I’m looking forward to being able to discuss, in passing, these movies at a cocktail party over a tall frosty guava soy lime concoction.  But mostly I’m looking forward to embarking on this adventure with Jon, and with you, dear reader.

 

  • ICBYNS: “I Can’t Believe You Never Saw” movies– movies where one person CANNOT COMPREHEND that the other person NEVER SAW THAT OBVIOUS THAT EVERYONE ELSE HAS SEEN IT movie.  The kind of movie where one of the following must be true:

– Something is wrong with you; you were raised wrong, or raised by animals (i.e. not being allowed to watch E.T.)

– You do not have any friends, or your friends lived in the same protective shoebox that you lived in, growing up

– You have a very secret special reason for refusing to watch this movie.  Like your name is Jon and you became enraged at the fanfare that accompanied Titanic. And then you spent the next 17 years bragging about how you “won’t ever watch it.”  And then you meet Jenny…

– You were kidnapped and held in the back of a truck while Everyone Else of Earth watched that movie.  This happened to Jenny with The Princess Bride. No one has any actual evidence of the truck.