95 – The Last Picture Show (1971)

Lois Farrow: I guess if it wasn’t for Sam, I’d have missed it, whatever it is. I’d have been one of them amity types that thinks that playin’ bridge is about the best thing that life has to offer.

 

Seen before?

R: No, another one I came to with fresh eyes.

F: Nope but I always find Jeff Bridges very watchable so had high hopes for this!

 

Thoughts?

R: Did you work out why this film is in black and white?

F: I think it adds to the feel of the film – it’s set in the 1950s even though it wasn’t made until the 1970s so gives it a more timeless feel. I guess you could also argue that the whole idea of the film is these characters are stuck in a dead end town with no real excitement so using black and white rather than colour makes it feel more bleak – a bit like Kansas vs Oz in The Wizard Of Oz.

R: I suppose the fact the title mentions a picture show sort of excuses them using the gimmick, but it felt like a bit of a cheap trick to me. Other films and TV shows (I’m thinking of Mad Men particularly here) have managed to capture the feel of a historical period without also resorting to using production techniques from that era. I was waiting for the moment when the decision would start to make sense, but it never really came. Maybe you could argue it helps some of the racier moments feel more elicit? Is full frontal nudity more shocking somehow in “quaint” black and white than it would be in colour?

F: It didn’t really feel like a gimmick to me but I can see what you’re getting at. For me it worked well, in the same way it worked for a film like The Artist, setting the film firmly in a certain period. This film did definitely push its 15 rating in places! 

R: I’ll accept I might have let the black and white thing distract me more than it should have, but you mention The Artist and I think that film much better justifies its old-time approach. But there’s more to talk about here than the cinematography. To me the film overall felt like an unusually well-acted and thoughtful episode of a soap opera, perhaps one that never got beyond a feature-length pilot because it was too racy. Is that horribly unfair?

F: Yes! Is this the first film on the list where we’ve disagreed? Seems like you aren’t much of a fan whereas I think it was rather wonderful. It’s an ode to a forgotten time and forgotten people. Coupled with probably some of the best performances we’re going to see on this list – I thought that Cloris Leachman who played Ruth, the older housewife who begins an affair with Sonny, was especially terrific.

R: You make it sound very sophisticated but the implausible love triangles and odd tangents the plot takes would be right at home in a soap opera. I’ll agree though that the acting was generally excellent and I felt invested in the characters. You talk about a “forgotten time and people” but I thought the message of the film was really “good riddance to them”. It’s not a great advert for living in a small town in Texas in the 1950s.

F: Exactly why they feel forgotten! The film definitely doesn’t have rose tinted glasses when it comes to looking at the past. I actually thought the characters acted in the way I would expect rather than there being any implausible storylines. Some of them actually had some fairly modern views – I’m thinking of Jacy’s mother mainly.

R: I agree they’re a great set of characters and their existential crises feel very relevant to the 21st century. The sex scenes are key to that, aren’t they? With the possible exception of the bit on the diving board they are not at all erotic and mostly very awkward. And consistently sex only leads to more trouble in the long run. I’d guess that’s why the BBFC thought this was unlikely to corrupt 15 year-olds!

F: Yes I thought the scene where Jacy’s mother tells her daughter to sleep with her boyfriend to basically ‘get it out of her system’ goes against the stereotypical view of women in the 1950s being very reserved and conservative (of course they weren’t but that’s what films and TV often want you to believe). But yes this is a very raw, honest look at teenage life. It’s interesting we saw this in the same week as the fantastic 2016 film Hell Or High Water. I think there are comparisons to be made between the two and not just that they both star Jeff Bridges. Do you think so?

R: Yes they are both films about decaying communities, and perhaps it’s because I enjoyed Hell Or High Water so much that I’ve been tough on this. I think I prefer films where the protagonists actually have some meaningful affect on events rather than be the victim of them.

F: I definitely enjoyed this much more than you. And it’s a testament to how good Hell Or High Water is in that The Last Picture Show is only the second best Jeff Bridges I saw within a week!

 

Is it Worthy of the Top 100?

R: It’s obviously better and more interesting than a soap opera pilot, but there’s no question in my mind it’s been surpassed. It’s a no from me.

F: Yes I loved it!

 

Up next:
94 – Pulp Fiction (1994)
Previously:
96 – Do The Right Thing (1989)
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