Friday, August 29, 2014

Take Off: Timothy Bottoms in The Last Picture Show

'Everyone knows everything about everyone else in the insular, claustrophobic town.'

The Last Picture Show (1971) is an evocative and bittersweet slice-of-life 'picture show' from young newcomer, 31 year-old director Peter Bogdanovich, formerly a stage actor and film writer/critic. The screenplay was based on the novel of the same name by Larry McMurtry. [Bogdanovich had previously directed only two other smaller feature films, the low-budget Targets (1967) with Boris Karloff cast as a horror-movie star, and the awful Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women (1968) with Mamie Van Doren.]

Bogdanovich's first major film, was a gritty, authentic-looking, black and white film (considered obsolete at the time since it was the first mainstream Hollywood feature film shot in B/W since the early 60s), with expressive, high-contrast cinematography by Robert Surtees. It was widely acclaimed at the time of its release.The rich character study with a non-star cast dispassionately (but affectionately) depicts the contrasting, mediocre lives of two generations of aimless townspeople with frustrated, unhappy, unfulfilled, routine, despairing and shallow lives (middle-aged adults and naive adolescent teenagers) who cling to the dying and barren town, and try to find solace and escape from boredom in lost dreams, drinking, temporary and manipulative sexual encounters (adulterous and promiscuous relationships), the local movie theatre's shows (and television), or by moving to the big city.

Filmsite's review, along with the many other accolades The Last Picture Show received, should have been enough to have put the film on my radar, but of course it did not. I wrote a few years ago about my aversion to old movies, an aversion I have since over come! Thanks to the blog, it's many generous readers, TCM, and more than few celebrity deaths, I am now finally enjoying the many many masterpieces shot before my birth.

As stated however, my introduction to The Last Picture Show did not come from a review or my love of film, it came from my love of television. Don't judge me, but I am not sure I even heard of this film until watching The Longest Day, a 2000 episode of Dawson's Creek. In one of the shows best episodes, Dawson is trying to get Joey to watch the film, a film they went to on their first date, but never got to finish. Throughout the episode, clips of the movie were shown, along with Dawson's continual praise of how great the movie was.

Dawson was of course correct, the movie is fantastic. After diving into Bottom's work, this was the first movie I looked for. A fascinating cast ranging from Bottoms and Jeff Bridges to Cloris Leachman, Eileen Brennan and Ellen Burstyn. Even Cybill Shepherd, who usually bugs the shit out of me, came off beautifully. What the film did so beautifully was to capture the feeling within that town. This was only Bottom's second film, but it is one of his best, and one of his biggest roles in film. I especially loved the relationship, and scenes, between Bottoms and Leachman.

The Skinny Dipping Scene:

Sadly Bottoms did not appear in the film's skinny dipping scene, but we are compensated by a great nude scene featuring the relatively unknown, but adorable, actor Gary Brockette.  Brockette, 23 at the time of filming, went on to other small roles on television and film, including guest spots on Charlie's Angels and Trapper John M.D, but by the 1990's had mostly moved to writing, directing and producing. Prior to his death in 2010, Brockette's last job in the entertainment business was as assistant director on the movie The Legend of Awesomest Maximus.

Cybill Shepherd also strips down to dive into the pool, and all of the extras, including Randy Quaid (if you care to look closely enough...) appear to be nude in the scene. I am sure the buzz at the time was all about a naked Shepherd, but today, many of us can enjoy and write that the hottest person, walking naked and wet out (and then back in) of the swimming pool was Gary Brockette.

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