Saturday, March 28, 2015

#552: The Last Picture Show

1971, TSPDT Rank #290

In the documentary The Last Picture Show: A Look Back, included on the supplements for the film in the Criterion box set America Lost and Found: The BBS Story, director Peter Bogdanovich relates a conversation he had with Orson Welles about Greta Garbo. In response to a comment Bogdanovich made concerning the lack of truly great films in Garbo's filmography, Welles said, "Well, you only need one." In the context of Bogdanovich's career and legacy, The Last Picture Show is definitely his "one great film" (although I've long considered his first film, Targets, to be one of the great masterpieces of the 1960s). His filmmaking career went downhill pretty quickly afterward, which isn't altogether surprising, considering the immense amount of effort and control he exerted over this film - and the overwhelming success that came as a result. It's the type of early peak that's difficult to continue living up to, but in view of Welles' comment, maybe it's not necessary. Bogdanovich might not have made any more masterpieces throughout his career, but he'll always be remembered for this film about the lost and lonely people of a small Texas town in the dawn of the television era - which certainly isn't a bad thing. The film has a strangely plaintive timelessness. It doesn't really fit in with other films of its own era, or of the era in which the film is set. It's certainly an anomaly amongst films by the likes of Bob Rafelson and Dennis Hopper in the Criterion BBS box set. The characters in the film have parallels in many other films and books - but never before had they seemed as rich and human as this. It's a very original and powerful film - a lone, wistful monument that seems destined to stand for posterity as Peter Bogdanovich's most valuable contribution to cinematic history.

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