Friday, 12 February 2010

Fry Me A Steak And Try To Use Meat This Time!

So, I was sitting there reading Peter Biskind's Easy Riders Raging Bulls, all about the New Hollywood of the 1970s, and it kept occurring to me that I'd heard so much about these director's and their films but I'd actually seen very few of them. Hence viewings of things like Easy Rider, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore and this one, The Last Picture Show. I've seen Peter Bogdanovich's Paper Moon, distractedly, a few years ago, but otherwise this was my first of his, despite having known his name almost as long as I have been able to talk (ok, maybe not that long, but I've known it for a loong time considering I'd not watched his films.)

The film takes place in a small town in southern USA, around the time of the popularisation of television. Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) and Duane (Jeff Bridges) are two young residents of the town, friends. Sonny is dating Charlene (Sharon Taggart) while Duane is with Jacy (Cybill Shepherd.) It's between WWII and the Korean War, and the kids are pretty bored in town, going to films and dances, flirting with many, though for the most part staying true to their relationships. Jacy is invited to a pool party, where everyone is naked, and develops a bit of a crush on Bobby (Gary Brokette), but he won't have her as long as she's a virgin. After nailing Duane she ditches him over the phone, but then discovers that Bobby has eloped with someone else. Meanwhile, Sonny has broken up with Charlene (it never seemed like it was going anywhere much) and taken up with Ruth (Cloris Leachman), the wife of his high school basketball coach. Jacy finds out and goes after Sonny, who starts up with her, while Duane has joined the army. Jacy learns of this affair and starts going after Sonny, but ends up dabbling with the young Abeline (Clu Gulager), who is having an affair with her mother Lois (Ellen Burstyn.) While this is going on the old owner of the picture house Sam the Lion (Ben Johnson) has died (Sonny and Duane were on a weekend road trip to Mexico at the time) and Sonny has inherited the pool hall he also owned. The picture house is failing, and the last show is announced for while Duane is back in town briefly just before shipping out to Korea. At the same time, Billy (Sam Bottoms), Sam the Lion's old helper, is hit by a truck and killed. Devastated, Sonny runs back to Ruth while Duane goes off to war.

Writing it out like that (it's all a bit disjointed... it's a hard one to describe) it sounds like a big bed-hopping farce. It really doesn't play like that at all. The death of the picture house is really a metaphor for the death of Sonny and Duane's youth - death, inheritance, affairs all make themselves known in their lives.

Truthfully, I wasn't blown away by the film. I thought Johnson and Leachman deserved their Oscars for their work, and Bridges and Burstyn deserved their nominations. In fact, all of the performances were solid. And the film floated along fine, but it did feel like it was floating. It never really seemed to capitalise on the possibilities that lay before it, instead happily chugging along without seeming to have a great deal of point. That being said, it wasn't unenjoyable. I just expected a lot more.

And because I'm so behind on writing up and still have to watch another film tonight, I'm going to leave it at that. 3 stars. Maybe I'll revisit some time and like it more.

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