The Last Picture Show appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. Though not the most dynamic presentation, the transfer appeared to replicate the original material well.
Sharpness was generally pretty good, with a relatively crisp picture for most of the film. A general softness tended to intrude upon the proceedings from time to time, but it usually wasn't problematic due to the stylized form of photography in use. Some softness that didn’t seem to be related to cinematography also occurred, but those shots remained modest distractions.
I saw no concerns with jagged edges or shimmering, and edge haloes weren’t present. No worries with digital noise reduction appeared here, as the film came with all its intended grain. I admit that the movie’s graininess could make the image a bit messy, but I understood that this fit with the film’s design, so it didn’t bother me.
As for other flaws, I noticed a couple of small specks and a tiny blotch or two, but nothing significant showed up here. Black levels were quite deep, and shadow detail usually seemed strong. Some nighttime shots could be a bit dim, but most of the low-light sequences displayed nice clarity. Overall, I felt pleased with this satisfying presentation.
Don’t expect a lot of fireworks from the film’s monaural soundtrack, but it reproduced the material with reasonable efficiency. Dialogue dominated the mix, and initially, I thought the lines seemed broad and indistinct. However, they cleared up pretty quickly and delivered good clarity the rest of the way.
Effects played a minor part, as they stayed with ambience the majority of the time; we got nothing more involving than vehicles and wind. These elements showed decent reproduction, as they appeared acceptably clear. No score showed up here; all of the film’s music came from country songs played on radios. That essentially made them effects, so don’t expect much vivacity from them; the tunes sounded like they should, given that they were intended to come across as though they emanated from cheap radios. All in all, this was a competent track.
When we shift to the disc’s extras, we find two separate audio commentaries. The first comes from the 1991 laserdisc and features director Peter Bogdanovich and actors Cybill Shepherd, Randy Quaid, Cloris Leachman and Frank Marshall. Each recorded their screen-specific comments separately for this edited piece. They cover sets and locations, cast and performances, cinematography and shooting in black and white, story and the adaptation of the source book, music, the depiction of sex and nudity, and changes made for this longer “special edition” cut.
For all intents and purposes, this is a solo Bogdanovich track embellished with the remarks of the others. The director delivers the vast majority of the information, and that’s fine with me. When Bogdanovich discusses films directed by others, he tends to be a fatuous bore, but he does a good job with his own flicks. That means we discover plenty of nice notes about the film and learn a lot across this useful piece.
One perplexing remark comes from Leachman. She claims that the film’s four main female actors – herself, Shepherd, Ellen Burstyn and Eileen Brennan – could’ve played any of the others’ parts. This is probably true – except for Shepherd’s role. The other three parts are all roughly the same age, but Jacy is supposed to be about 17. That was fine for the then-21-year-old Shepherd, but there’s no way any of the others – all between 39 and 45 – could’ve pulled off the part. Maybe Leachman meant to say that Bogdanovich would’ve let any of the three older actresses play their various roles, but there’s no way he would’ve cast them as Jacy – or let Shepherd take on their roles.
By the way, I mentioned Marshall because he’s listed on the disc’s credits. However, I maintain no memory of any comments he offered for the movie. Perhaps he popped up briefly and I mistook Bogdanovich for him, but if Marshall provided any info, I didn’t hear it.
For the second commentary, we get a 2009 track with director Peter Bogdanovich all on his own. He discusses sets and locations, the use of music, cinematography, cast and performances, the script and the adaptation of the source book, changes for the extended cut, and a few other production areas.
On its own, this track works well, but it loses some points due to redundancy. Quite a few of Bogdanovich’s notes already appear in the first commentary, so we don’t get as much fresh info here as I’d like. Oh, and Bogdanovich’s frequent references to bits that got a “big laugh” gets old; those appear throughout both tracks, so by the fourth hour of commentary, they make me want to punch someone. Again, this is a pretty nice piece in isolation, but it feels repetitive after the other track.
Originally found on the 1999 DVD, The Last Picture Show: A Look Back runs one hour, four minutes, and 39 seconds. It provides notes from Bogdanovich, Leachman, Shepherd, Marshall, and actors Timothy Bottoms, Ellen Burstyn and Jeff Bridges. They cover how Bogdanovich came to the project and its adaptation, the use of music, cast, characters and performances, locations and cinematography, editing and the film’s reception.
After two audio commentaries, should you expect to learn much fresh information here? Nope – there’s an awful lot of repetition, especially since Bogdanovich continues to dominate the proceedings. Still, “Look Back” does have more than a few good moments that we don’t get elsewhere. If you can tolerate hearing some of the same stories for a second or third time, you’ll enjoy this quality documentary; really, it’s only sin is the fact the two commentaries covered so much of the same territory.
More fun with potentially erroneous credits: the disc’s menu claims that author Larry McMurtry pops up in “Look Back”, but if this happened, I blacked out during his appearance. If so, this was the second time that occurred; I didn’t mention McMurtry in my review of the 1999 DVD.
We get even more from the director in A Discussion with Filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich. A 2009 chat between Bogdanovich and documentarian Laurent Bouzereau, the 12-minute, 51-second piece involves notes about the director’s life/career pre-Last Picture Show and how he became a director, influences and what led him to the movie, casting and shooting on location, his behavior on the set, what he likes about the filmmaking process, his feelings about reviews and where Show stands in his filmography.
To the relief of many – well, me – “Discussion” largely avoids repetition with the prior programs. Thank God for that – I don’t know if I could’ve tolerated another telling of some of those stories! Bogdanovich manages to reveal a lot of good new info here.
Picture This comes from the set of the 1990 sequel Texasville and runs 41 minutes, 59 seconds. It features Bogdanovich, Shepherd, Bridges, Bottoms, Quaid, Leachman, Burstyn, author Larry McMurtry, McMurtry’s mother Hazel, production designer Polly Platt, casting director Gary Chason, actors Ben Johnson and Sam Bottoms, McMurtry’s classmates Ceil Slack Cleveland, Sean Alsup, Bobby Stubbs, and Junior Wakefield, and Archer City residents Reverend Deerinwater. The show takes us to Archer City, Texas, the town that inspired Show, and looks back at Show. It also lets us know about McMurtry’s life in Archer City and a smidgen related to Texasville.
Inevitably, some of the same old stories reappear here, but we get a nice mix of additional topics, and the visit to Archer City offers a welcome touch. I expected this to be a promotional exercise but it turns out to be much better than that.
Exercises in Erratic Memory: Bogdanovich 2009 does contradict Bogdanovich 1999, though. In “Look Back”, he claims he came across the novel on a paperback rack, while in “Discussion”, he tells us that Sal Mineo told him about the novel. 1990 Bogdanovich states that “three or four people” let him know about the book, but he includes Mineo as one of them, so I’d guess this is the most accurate version. It does seem weird that Bogdanovich cited Mineo in 1990 and 2009 but forgot him in 1999.
Next we get Screen Tests for a number of actors. These fill two minutes, 14 seconds and feature a mix of mostly unnamed participants. The tests lack original audio or text, which robs them of much utility; we just see quick snippets in this montage. The lack of context makes it a disappointment.
In the same vein, we find six minutes, 27 seconds of Location Footage. We see more silent footage as we travel through the Texas setting. Again, this feature loses points because it lacks any form of commentary, but it offers some value as a way to look at the locations.
From 1972, we get Truffaut on the New Hollywood. During the four-minute, 36-second clip, filmmaker Francois Truffaut discusses his appreciation for Show. This isn’t the most fascinating program, but it’s a decent piece, as it’s good to hear thoughts from a legendary director.
Two trailers finish the disc. We get the film’s original theatrical ad as well as a re-release promo.
A big old 112-page booklet covers all seven films in the “America Lost and Found” boxed set. It includes essays on five of the seven flicks: Head, Easy Rider, The King of Marvin Gardens, Five Easy Pieces and The Last Picture Show. It also delivers an essay about BBS, credits and photos. Criterion usually produces excellent booklets, and this one delivers another terrific companion to the movies.
The Last Picture Show launched some careers and capped others. Almost 40 years after its release, it remains an insightful, indelible glimpse of small town American that continues to resonate. The Blu-ray provides quite good picture, perfectly acceptable audio, and a strong set of supplements. This becomes the best rendition to date of a fascinating movie.
Note that as of November 2010, this Blu-ray version of Last Picture Show can be found only in a seven-movie boxed set called “America Lost and Found: The BBS Story”. This package also includes Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, The King of Marvin Gardens, Head, Drive, He Said and A Safe Place.