Festival Prize "Last year, who knew?" asks the ad for the New York Film Festival, Manhattan's annual exhibition of new cinema. Below the question is the old announcement of Five Easy Pieces, first shown at last year's fete. "This year, who knows?" continues the ad, exhibiting an array of 18 fresh announcements and obviously hoping for more Easy Pieces. Not a forlorn wish. The festival already boasts one film strong enough to be both a commercial and aesthetic hit.
The Last Picture Show seems modest to the point of extinction. Its actors are unknowns, its scene a Southwestern tank town, and its subject boredom. To make matters even less promising, it is not in color. Yet the choice of black and white, like the choice of cast and subject, is shrewdly apposite.
For Director Peter Bogdanovich has seen Anarene, Texas, in the cinematic terms of 1951the langorous dissolves, the strong chiaroscuro, the dialogue that starts with bickering and ends at confessional. To be sure, from Summer of '42 to Carnal Knowledge, total recall gluts the screen. There is nothing very ingenious about replaying Hank Williams records or showing a kinescope of Strike It Rich. But Bogdanovich has gone far beyond simple souvenirs. His film miraculously recaptures life-styles and attitudessexual, social, political that have almost vanished from the national consciousness.
There are no crescendos in The Last Picture Show, adapted (as was Hud) from a novel by Larry McMurtry. The film is, essentially, a two-hour countdown to maturity. A couple of high school football players, Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) and Duane (Jeff Bridges), carom slowly toward responsibility in Anarene. There the primary pastime, as always, is sex. Furtive sex. Tainted sex. Hand-on-the-thigh-in-the-back-seat sex. Nice girls never let boys go "all the way," and nice boys never deflower a virgin. All the townsfolk are decent types, but the featureless landscape and the oven-like days render them insensible. Any diversion suffices; the torturing of a feeble-minded boy soon becomes no more than an evening's entertainment.
Sonny, weary of unhooking his girl friend's brassiere without being allowed further incursions, drifts to the wife of his basketball coach, and then to the high school tease, Jacy (Cibyll Shepherd). Duane, Jacy's jilted lover, swiftly belts Sonny with a beer bottle, impairing his sight but, oddly, not their friendship. The night of Duane's departure for Army service in Korea, the youths attend the town's last picture show. Anarene's only theater is shutting down; Sam, its owner, has diedalmost because there is nothing else to do. On the final bill is Red River, the definitive John Wayne Texas epic. Outside, the real Texas waits in the dark, choked with weeds and dust, cramped in spirit and dimension, the butt end of the Old West.