For 1 Year, 100 Movies, contributor/filmmaker Trey Hock will watch all of AFI’s 100 Years, 100 Movies list (compiled in 2007) in one year. His reactions to each film will be recorded here twice a week until the year (and list) is up!
I feel like I have been playing chess with giants. Going through any list of great or important things whether movies, art, or anything, at some point becomes overwhelming. I’m not crushed by the awesome weight of the films on the AFI list yet, but I hope I can survive a year of really good movies. So far, so good.
This next film is one of the few I had never seen. “The Last Picture Show” is a stark and beautiful film about a small town in Texas, as it slowly atrophies and dies. Set in the early 1950s, it focuses on three high school seniors, Sonny (Timothy Bottoms), Duane (Jeff Bridges), and Jacy (Cybill Shepherd). When describing “The Last Picture Show,” I told a friend that everything in this film is flat and hard, the landscape, the people, the emotions and every relationship.
I was impressed by the way director Peter Bogdanovich portrays the small town and people who populate it. These are not stupid or simple people. What makes them different is a lack of hope that something other than the harsh landscape and poverty that surrounds them is possible. And it goes beyond a mere hopelessness. There is a disdain for those with hope, and distrust or resentment for the innocent. The happy or the emotionally vulnerable are scorned or preyed upon.
Jaime, my wife, is from a small town, Ravenwood (Pop.200), and though I am happy to report that her family and friends are not like the characters in “The Last Picture Show,” there is a tone or feeling that rings true. I’m not sure that this should be standard fare for those small town Midwesterners, but for the bookish small towner or the small town ex-patriot, this film may be a way to get a little flavor.
Now I haven’t mentioned awards in any of my previous postings and every single one was awarded many, but there are two performances that need special attention. It is a little hard not to talk about everyone since this movie was something of a star factory with Ellen Burstyn, Bridges, Eileen Brennan, Shepherd, and even Randy Quaid, but two actors out shine them all.
First, Ben Johnson’s portrayal of Sam the Lion is incredible. He is quiet, strong, and brings a gravitas and sense of righteous authority to this role. Johnson does all of this with a subtlety that makes pinning down just how he did it difficult. It would have been easy to over do this role, and turn it into a caricature. Johnson’s restraint makes the character strong and amazing, and it won him the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor (1972).
The second role is Ruth Popper played by Cloris Leachman. Now in the spirit of full disclosure, I feel it my responsibility to come clean. I love Cloris Leachman. I have always thought her role in “Young Frankenstein” is one of the most underrated performances ever, but she absolutely outdoes herself in “The Last Picture Show.”
Ruth Popper is meek and homely, but she is also powerful and one of the only genuine and honest voices in the whole film. Her love affair with Sonny, a boy of half her age, could have been awkward or strange.Instead it is sincere, and wonderfully tragic. Cloris Leachman won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for the role, and Ruth Popper now lives in my dreams forever.
Peter Bogdanovich would never quite reach this level of mastery with any of his other films, but luckily “The Last Picture Show” is strong enough that no one should really care.
Next up: #94 Pulp Fiction (1994).