Movie #95: The Last Picture Show

The Last Picture Show

Directed by:  Peter Bogdanovich | Starring:  Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepherd | 1971

The film is above all an evocation of mood. It is about a town with no reason to exist, and people with no reason to live there. The only hope is in transgression.
— Roger Ebert

The Last Picture Show is uncomfortable to watch. 

Perhaps it's just me, but this film is awkward. Awkward, silent skinny dipping scenes; awkward, silent sex scenes; awkward, silent funerals. 

Yet it's awkward in a way that feels honest. The Last Picture Show is a coming of age story, and even though my adolescence was different in a variety of ways, being a teenager is nothing if not awkward.

Based on the semi-autobiographical book by famous Western author (and fellow Texan) Larry McMurtry, the movie follows a couple high school students in the months before and after graduation. It's also a portrait of a dying small town and a changing way of life in America.

And included literal death: Two of the most sympathetic characters die during the course of the film.

This movies has the most interesting female characters on the list so far. Although both Jacy (Cybill Shepherd) and her mother Lois (Ellen Burstyn) fit the stereotype of beautiful, cold, manipulative women, there's a depth to their portrayal. The boredom and loneliness of Lois and the anxieties and ambitions of Jacy are palpable.

Still, despite Jacy and Lois and two other interesting female characters, Ruth and Genevieve, The Last Picture Show doesn't pass the Bechedel test. 

The Bechdel test is simple. For a movie to pass, it just needs to have two named female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man. I'd heard of the Bechdel test before, but I didn't think much of it until I started this project and noticed just how poorly women are represented in most movies. 

The only movie I've watched so far on the AFI list that passes the test is, surprisingly enough, Ben-Hur. Although it's brief, especially in light of the movie's 212-minute length, there is a scene in which Judah's lover talks with his mother and sister about the fact that they've contracted leprosy. (MOST of their conversation is about how this relates to their relationship with Judah, but they avoid his name long enough that it scrapes by.) 

Bechdel test: Fails.

Thumbnail: Archer City, Texas, by wikipedia user Renelibrary.