Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
Columbia-TriStar, widescreen 1.85:1/16x9, languages: English Digital Mono [CC], subtitles: English, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai, single side-dual layer, 28 chapters, rated R, 126 min., $27.95, street date 11/30/99.
Academy Awards: Winner for Best Supporting Actor-Ben Johnson, Best Supporting Actress-Cloris Leachman. Nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor-Jeff Bridges, Best Supporting Actress-Ellen Burstyn, Best Cinematography, Best Screenplay, 1972.
Directed by Peter Bogdanovich. Starring Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepherd, Randy Quaid, Cloris Leachman, Ben Johnson.
The Last Picture Show is the brilliant screen adaptation of an award-winning novel which is described as the definitive coming-of-age saga of a small and dying Texan town called Anarene.
Featuring a star-studded cast, the critically acclaimed film is a truly haunting and unforgettable character study which features Timothy Bottoms as Sonny Crawford, an impressionable young man who learns "the hard way" that his actions have consequences and he must never take anyone for granted. His life is entwined with his lover, played by the Academy-Award winner Cloris Leachman, the football coaches suicidal wife.
We also meet Duane Jackson (Jeff Bridges), who is scorned by the beautiful, self centered and manipulative, Jacy Farrow (Cybill Shepherd) and we see how they both find salvation, Duane through enlisting in the army and Jacy through leaving Anarene for a Dallas college and all its men. There is also Sam the Lion (Ben Johnson) who seems to be the quiet teacher and when he dies, a little of Anarene dies with him. Director Bogdonavich paints an unsurpassed portrait not just of small-town life or of growing up, but of what it is to be human.
The Last Picture Show is one of those movies onto which I'm having a hard time capsulizing my thoughts. I found it to be a compelling and unusual film but it's one I almost feel unqualified to evaluate.
Why? Well, although I'd heard a lot about the picture throughout the years, I'd never seen TLPS prior to receiving this DVD. Now that I've watched it, I have an understanding why it's remained such an enduring classic, but I don't know if I have much of a grasp on the piece as a whole.
I think it's a movie that can be interpreted a number of different ways, and all of them are probably correct. I saw it as symbolic of the time in which it was made - the early Seventies - even though it takes place about twenty years earlier. The late Sixties has been a period of great upheaval, and we see some of that patterned in TLPS. While social issues are almost completely omitted from the film - some mention of the Korean War occurs but without opinion - the occurrences mirror the changes in the US that took place in the Sixties.
Interestingly, the whole house of cards starts to collapse after the sudden, shocking death of one of the town's leaders, Sam the Lion (Ben Johnson). The lives of many of the participants really start to unravel after that, and I couldn't help but think that Sam's demise mirrors the assassination of President Kennedy.
Am I reading too much into the film? Perhaps - this could be just so much hot air from me. But that's part of the beauty of TLPS. It seems to be a film that offers ample room for viewer interpretation about its meaning and intentions. It's not a completely blank slate, but it's certainly more subjective than most films. Take a look at the opinions voiced over on IMDB - few of them seem to see the same things in the movie.
Even without delving into interpretation, TLPS is a well-made and compelling film. It almost completely lacks a plot and prefers to amble along in a vaguely episodic manner as it follows the lives of a few main characters. Without exception, these roles are well-acted. I can't spotlight any particular standouts since the entire cast is so good, though I suppose Cloris Leachman probably did the most with her role; she delivers a tremendously rich and honest performance that belies her modest screen time.
One interesting thing about the way that director Peter Bogdanovich shoots TLPS stems from its black and white cinematography. Bogdanovich tries hard to replicate the appearances of older black and white movies and really succeeds in making it look like a film from twenty or thirty years earlier. He uses extremely stylized photography much of the time, especially when shooting women; he often gives them a glamorous appearance very reminiscent of Hurrell's still photography. It's an effective technique which makes it quite shocking when we see some full-frontal nudity or other sexually explicit material; you get vaguely lulled into feeling like you're watching a movie from the Forties until that happens! (By the way, for those who care, yes, Cybill Shepherd appears nude in the movie, though she doesn't go all the way for full-frontal. Take heart - we do get to see Randy Quaid in all his glory! Woo-hoo!)
The Last Picture Show is undeniably a very unusual but compelling film. I didn't know what to expect going into it, and I still don't know fully what to think about it. I do know, however, that it's a strong movie that will remain in my DVD collection.
The Last Picture Show appears in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X0 televisions. Though it contains a fair number of flaws, I nonetheless was pretty pleased with the way the film looked.
Sharpness is generally pretty good, with a relatively crisp picture for most of the film. A general softness tends to intrude upon the proceedings from time to time, but it usually isn't terribly problematic due to the stylized form of photography in use. The only time I really minded the fuzziness was when we were shown a note that a character read; I had a tough time making out what it said. Moire effects occasionally appear, but for the most part, the picture seemed pretty solid and lacked any jagged edges or shimmering.
One pleasant surprise about the The Last Picture Show DVD stemmed from the quality of the print used for the transfer; it's really quite good. Scratches and hairs pop up on rare occasions, some speckles and marks appear, and much of it shows a mildly grainy look. One massively bizarre problem happens when a character walks by the movie theater midway through the film; the entire bottom half of the frame briefly shifts a couple of times! I've never seen anything quite like that!
Okay, so that description makes it sound like the print looked terrible, doesn't it? Well, though all these flaws do appear, they're far from prevalent, and the overall print seemed pretty clean. Considering the age and low-budget of the movie, I found the picture to offer about as flawless a presentation as we could expect.
Probably the best thing about this image is the gorgeous reproduction of the black and white photography. Black levels are fantastic, and shadow detail always seems strong. This aspect of the film looks spot-on; as many flaws as I found in other areas, I could find pretty much none on this portion, which is great since the atmospheric photography plays a very important role in the movie. While it overall seems just a little above average in quality, I nonetheless found The Last Picture Show to offer a satisfying visual experience.
Also fairly mediocre but pleasing is the film's monaural soundtrack. It seemed surprisingly clean and immaculate. The overall tone appears pretty flat and dull, unfortunately, with little life to the audio. However, dialogue almost always seems clear and easily intelligible, and music and effects are also pretty decent and the whole package lacks any distortion, which is very important to me when I evaluate these older tracks; many of them are shrill and crackle, which is never a problem here. It's not a great soundtrack, but it seems perfectly adequate and also very typical of its era.
One note about this DVD: according to its cover, this disc features the "Definitive Director's Cut" which runs for 126 minutes. How this differs from earlier editions is unclear. During the supplements, Bogdanovich explains that the film originally ran for 119 minutes because the studio insisted it be under two hours. When TLPS was re-released a few years later, Bogdanovich went back and reinserted a minute or two of material. That still leaves about five minutes of this release for which there is no account. Unfortunately, we receive no explanation about this from the DVD.
Speaking of supplements, TLPS includes a few solid ones. Easily the main attraction is the 64 minute documentary called "The Last Picture Show: A Look Back". This features new interviews with Bogdanovich, Shepherd, Jeff Bridges, Eileen Brennan, Cloris Leachman, Ellen Burstyn, and location manager Frank Marshall (who also played a small role in the movie as Tommy Logan). Overall, this is a fine piece of work. As is sensible, Bogdanovich dominates the program, but we hear a fair amount from each of the actors (another review I read stated that the documentary focussed on Shepherd much more than any of the others, but that's not the case). The program offers a solid look at the creation of the picture; it didn't add a lot of insight but it was fun and interesting, so it's definitely worth a look.
Also on the DVD is a promotional featurette from the mid-Seventies. This piece lasts about six minutes and was issued to promote a re-release of the film. If includes film clips and then-contemporary interviews with Bogdanovich. It's an interesting supplement to the longer piece, although we hear a few of the same stories. Still, it's much better than the glorified trailers that pass for featurettes these days.
Speaking of trailers, three appear on this DVD: one each for TLPS and two other Bridges pictures, Starman and Arlington Road. The usual useless CTS talent files exist for Bogdanovich and seven of the actors. Finally, the booklet offers some brief and basic production notes.
Ultimately, The Last Picture Show is a DVD I have to recommend. Image and sound quality are not great but seem as good - if not better - than one would expect, and the program offers some decent supplements. The film itself deserves its status as a classic and appears well-suited to repeated viewings. This is definitely a DVD to add to your collection.
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