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THE LAST PICTURE SHOW

Now that Oscar season has come and gone, we can all relax a bit and not drown in the complete saturation. On movies, I’m simply able to reflect more clearly. One opportunity came recently, after pondering TRUE GRIT and watching Jeff Bridges do his friendly guy thing on the red carpet– I popped in THE LAST PICTURE SHOW and gave it a whirl (Criterion released it on blu-ray in December). I reflected – what a career Jeff Bridges has had. And what an ensemble cast – particularly the wonderful Timothy Bottoms. It’s worth going back to.

The film exists for me as a uniquely original adaptation. Instead of reducing, cramming, or excerpting, chronology here has been treated with respect, in that the film, like the book, really does follow one year of several characters’ lives. The transitions between time periods are both sudden and subtle. Sudden – CUT – we’ve gone from fall to the holidays in one fell swoop, after only being located in fall for a very short period. Subtle – a date written on a chalkboard indicates it’s now months later. These transitions differ from the usual “one year” movies in that they are extraordinarily gentle – not filled with holiday shopping or spring flowers as context. It’s as if life in Texas really does not change – but ahhhh, yet it does. Dramatically, once one really counts.

My students said, “Nothing really happens.” And indeed, it FEELS as if nothing does! (The poster even tells us so.) But take stock of the events: a break up, an affair, teen skinny dipping, loss of virginity, drunkenness, death, nostalgia, a beer bottle to the eye, war, death – does anything happen? YES!

So why doesn’t it feel like it does?

Again, Bogdanovich exercises beautiful restraint, the Texas seasons don’t exist (except for the winds), and performances of truth and subtlety feel so real, so lifelike, that the drama bubbles underneath instead of becoming a great geyser, so common in today’s movies. That heat rising just below the surface – sad and true – the events of one year leaving their permanent mark on each characters’ life trajectory – what could be more dramatic? The implications of one year are as big as the Texas sky.

–AH