The Last Picture Show (1971)
Shot in evocative black-and-white, Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show, his third feature film, has a soothing and heartfelt quality to it. It is one of the most subtle coming-of-age films I have ever seen. Orson Welles called it a dirty movie, probably because of a skinny dipping party scene.
The plot follows a group of teenagers in the 50s living in a small town in Texas, where nothing much is happening. For pleasure and relief the youngsters can only go the local bar, pool hall or cinema, but when Sam the Lion (Ben Johnson), the owner of these accommodations, dies, they have to figure their lives out. Living in this dying town in Texas sure isn’t worth it, but escaping seems impossible for many. Although Bogdanovich shines a light on most of his main characters, the Sonny character (Timothy Bottoms) is the one everything revolves around. He shares most of his time with Duane (Jeff Bridges) and Duane’s girlfriend Jacy (Cybill Shepherd).
As is the case in the best coming-of-age films, The Last Picture Show does something to its audience. It doesn’t only lets its audience feel for the characters and their dire situations, but it also makes them think about their own lives. Everything just feels incredibly real. Bogdanovich’s directing and Robert Surtees’ cinematography (both nominated for an Academy Award in 1972), have a sense of familiarity and recognition. The filmmaker’s decision to shoot all but one of the scenes at eye-level makes this feeling even stronger, as if you are watching from the sidelines questioning your own life and decisions.
The Last Picture Show is one of the most important American films that has been produced. It is a masterpiece of mood, a movie that presently would be regarded as art-house approved slow-cinema, a movie that hits you.