History, Legacy & Showmanship
Monday, 31 January 2022 12:59

Life in Podunk: Remembering “The Last Picture Show” on its 50th Anniversary

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“With excellent performances from an ensemble cast, moody and insightful direction by Peter Bogdanovich, and a lovely melancholy that will stay with you long after viewing it, The Last Picture Show is one of my favorite movies.” – Raymond Benson, Cinema Retro

The Digital Bits and History, Legacy & Showmanship are pleased to present this multi-page retrospective commemorating the golden anniversary of the release of The Last Picture Show, Peter Bogdanovich’s (Targets, What’s Up, Doc?) critically acclaimed film based upon Larry McMurtry’s 1966 novel set in a small Texas town during the early 1950s.

The Last Picture Show starred Timothy Bottoms (Johnny Got His Gun), Jeff Bridges (The Big Lebowski), Ellen Burstyn (The Exorcist), Ben Johnson (The Wild Bunch), Cloris Leachman (The Mary Tyler Moore Show), and Cybill Shepherd (Moonlighting), and was nominated for eight Academy Awards (including Best Picture) and was the winner of two (supporting nods for Johnson and Leachman). [Read on here...]

In 1998 the Library of Congress selected The Last Picture Show for preservation in the National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.” Its most recent home media release (excluding imports), on Blu-ray Disc, was in 2010 as a part of Criterion’s America Lost and Found: The BBS Story multi-disc set.

Peter Bogdanovich and the cast of The Last Picture Show

For the occasion of the film’s recent anniversary, The Bits features a historian Q&A along with a package of box-office data and statistics, passages from film reviews, and a reference listing of its first-run theatrical presentations in the key markets of North America.

 

LAST PICTURE NUMBER$

  • 1 = Number of cinemas playing the film during its opening weekend
  • 2 = Box-office rank among films directed by Bogdanovich (adjusted for inflation)
  • 2 = Number of Academy Awards
  • 6 = Rank among top-earning films during the 1972 calendar year
  • 7 = Rank among top-earning films released in 1971 (lifetime/retroactive)
  • 8 = Number of Academy Award nominations
  • 9 = Rank among Columbia’s all-time top-earning films at close of first run
  • 77 = Peak all-time box-office chart position
  • $1.3 million = Production cost
  • $8.9 million = Production cost (adjusted for inflation)
  • $12.8 million = Domestic box-office rental (earnings through 12/31/1972)
  • $13.1 million = Domestic box-office rental (earnings through 12/31/1973)
  • $29.1 million = Box-office gross
  • $87.9 million = Box-office rental (adjusted for inflation)
  • $194.0 million = Box-office gross (adjusted for inflation)

 

PASSAGES FROM A SAMPLING OF FILM REVIEWS

The Last Picture Show is an exceptional and original work, not so much a movie-movie as a film buff’s film, an exercise in regret and a reminder of various losses.” – Charles Champlin, Los Angeles Times

“Young Peter Bogdanovich’s first major opus is one of the past year’s finest. With insight and compassion it deals with some teenagers and their elders in a wind-blown little Texas town in the early 1950s. Not to be missed.” – Clyde Gilmour, The Toronto Star

“My fear is that some unfortunates are going to confuse it with Dennis Hopper’s The Last Movie, to which The Last Picture Show is kin only by title.” – Vincent Canby, The New York Times

“Cybill Shepherd, in her film debut, makes Jacy the most memorable figure in the film–and the most convincing movie incarnation of a bitch in quite some time. I’m not sure if it’s imaginative acting or instinctive understanding, but whatever it is, her Jacy is right on the money, an uncanny mixture of desirability and treachery.” – Gary Arnold, The Washington Post

“The movie runs nearly two hours which is far too long. It is too complicated to have the simple impact that Bogdanovich obviously intended and it is spangled with gratuitous nudity to attract the with-it crowd.” – Emerson Batdorff, The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)

The Last Picture Show is one of the finest films of the year. It has already added considerable distinction to the New York Film Festival where it premiered last month and it is, I think, a classic American movie in a tradition that has long since been blithely abandoned by Hollywood. [I]t is a spare and honest evocation of sex and love, life and death in a small Texas town in the early 50s. Because it is told with simplicity, and genuine sentiment, it creates a common experience that touches us all.” – Kevin Kelly, The Boston Globe

“‘It’s beyond envy,’ director Mike Nichols is reported to have said after seeing Peter Bogdanovich’s film, The last Picture Show. That is about as succinct a critical statement as we are likely to get about this film which is, indeed, good enough to overwhelm with admiration any impulse toward jealousy on the part of a fellow craftsman.” – Howell Raines, The Atlanta Constitution

“Peter Bogdanovich is possibly the most exciting new director in America today.” – Stefan Kanfer, Time Magazine

“Credit for the authentic look of the film must be shared between Bogdanovich and his production designer Polly Platt. The Last Picture Show is certain to do for the clothing of the ‘50s what Bonnie and Clyde did for the fashions of the ‘30s. I’m hunting for a western shirt with flap pockets fastened with mother-of-pearl snaps.” – Gene Siskel, Chicago Tribune

The Last Picture Show has been described as an evocation of the classic Hollywood narrative film. It is more than that: it is a belated entry in that age–the best film of 1951, you might say. Using period songs and décor to create nostalgia is familiar enough, but to tunnel down to the visual level and that right, too, and in a way that will affect audiences even if they aren’t aware how, is one hell of a directing accomplishment. Movies create our dreams as well as reflect them, and when we lose the movies we lose the dreams. I wonder if Bogdanovich’s film doesn’t at last explain what it was that Pauline Kael, and a lot of the rest of us, lost at the movies.” – Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

“Ben Johnson gives the performance of his life as Sam the Lion. Known heretofore as supporting actor in Westerns, Johnson injects remarkable insight into a role that is both disturbing and appealing. Also effective–and outstandingly so–were Ellen Burstyn, Cloris Leachman, and Cybill Shepherd. The latter, a former top model, could be the screen’s next sex goddess, if she doesn’t let her fine acting get in the way.” – James A. Perry, The States-Item (New Orleans)

The Last Picture Show is going to look particularly quaint in its initial Twin Cities run. It is opening at the Cooper Cinerama Theater, a building whose total design was conceived for the showing of color films on the widest of screens. The Last Picture Show, occupying a fractional center arc of the Cooper’s vast curved screen, started out looking like one of those old black-and-white sequences inserted in a modern film for effect. The initial suspicion was that surely everything would widen and blossom into color. And, of course, it doesn’t. It just hangs in there and makes its points in nice, trusty old black-and-white. And boy, does it make its points!” – Will Jones, Minneapolis Tribune

“[Bogdanovich] accomplishes something that two expensive [recent] films attempted–Summer of ‘42 (corny, unreal), Red Sky at Morning (well made, unsuccessful at the boxoffice), and that perhaps no other American picture has ever been able to do. [H]e has captured America. Not just small town America, but ritualistic America, decent America, cruel America, intelligent America, ignorant America.” – John Huddy, The Miami Herald

The Last Picture Show is the most distinguished of the new crop of Christmas-season movies and one of the best of the year. [Y]oung filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich has drawn a moving essay on an America which is forever changing, not always for the better.” – William B. Collins, The Philadelphia Inquirer

“Add one more name to the long, long list of those who count Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show among the best American movies ever made.” – Susan Stark, Detroit Free Press

The Last Picture Show is one of the vital motion pictures of 1971 and it has already wreaked Texas controversy on the heads of Larry McMurtry, who wrote the book, and Peter Bogdanovich, who directed and helped write the screenplay.” – Francis Raffetto, The Dallas Morning News

“With The Last Picture Show we once again have the good film that is placed in danger of being a disappointment simply because it is oversold. It is indeed an impressive achievement in film directing, writing, acting and photography. It is unquestionably a film that will be considered a landmark by film buffs, whether it is a commercial bonanza or not. However, when such things are said, people go expecting to be overwhelmed, rocked back in their seats at the spectacle or moved to tears by the intensity of their involvement. Some may be disappointed because The Last Picture Show is not likely to affect them that way. Its effects are subtle. It impresses by its insights into its characters and the times in which they live.” – Ted Mahar, The Oregonian (Portland)

“A perceptive friend of mine said, ‘That wasn’t a movie at all. That was somebody hiding in one of those buildings watching that little town disintegrate.’ Precisely. The film vibrates with a life so real, an ache so acute, a laughter so accurate. The angst and elation, the anger and ennui of Bogdanovich’s ‘50s-fraught West Texas town are as perfectly observed as any emotion in any film, anytime.” – Tom McElfresh, The Cincinnati Enquirer

“A very good movie! Some of the best acting you’re likely to see this year! But what grants it a claim to greatness is its precise, humane understanding of how generations succeed and fail in communicating.” – Richard Schickel, Life

The Last Picture Show is a masterpiece! It is not merely the best American movie of a rather dreary year; it is the most impressive work by a young American director since Citizen Kane!.” – Paul D. Zimmerman, Newsweek

“The attempt to capture both time and place has been eminently successful! What happens to these people makes one ache with recognition and remembrance.” – Hollis Alpert, Saturday Review

“In making this admirable film of an appalling–but not unusual–small town Bogdanovich has used certain sentimental devices. To film the drama in black-and-white is a copout. Life is not in black-and-white so why should a movie be? Cinematically it may be more difficult, but that is beside the point. The waitress (Eileen Brennan) is more charitable than believable, the older men less sympathetic than one might expect when a mentally retarded town character is killed, but withal, this is an irresistible picture, unreservedly recommended.” – Paine Kickerbocker, San Francisco Chronicle

“Peter Bogdanovich is a 32-year-old film critic who has turned director because he wants to make the kind of pictures he used to enjoy, in a time when movies were less nihilistic and fragmented than they are today. He has succeeded beyond anyone’s dreams with his second film, The last Picture Show.” – John Hartl, The Seattle Times

“The film uncovers the cruelty, hypocrisy, loneliness and raunchy vice that lurk behind the town’s cheerless facades. In this respect, it calls to mind other exposes, like Peyton Place, only the sexual attitudes are treated more intelligently and never luridly.” – Stanley Eichelbaum, San Francisco Examiner

“Nostalgia is not what it used to be. At least not in The Last Picture Show. Writer-director Peter Bogdanovich has looked at the recent American past realistically rather than romantically. The result is a smashing motion picture experience not to be confused with Dennis Hopper’s The Last Movie.” – James Meade, The San Diego Union

“Bogdanovich and McMurtry have avoided soap opera and the nasty merely small-town sin exposes of Peyton Place and The Bramble Bush, by a realistic approach and dramatic integrity. The film is, on the whole, quite moving, a major work that is one of the best pictures of the year. The atmosphere, enhanced by a realistic score that is solely pop tunes of the day by entertainment names of the period, heard on car radios and juke boxes, is perfect, and the accents are authentic. All the principals deliver striking acting performances. But certainly [Ben] Johnson’s, with his simple, touching speech by the lake recalling the days of glory and the time a beautiful young married woman rode naked with him on horses swimming across the lake, deserves a supporting actor Oscar.” – Myles Standish, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“Peter Bogdanovich has accomplished something remarkable. He has retained fidelity to both a specific stylistic aesthetic and, distracting to that, to a humanistic realism, with its untidiness and incohesion. I deeply respect Bogdanovich for fusing these elements and making them not only cohabitate but serve each other. We are able to look at Last Picture Show as a superb piece of filmmaking and–remembering and forgetting that at the same time–react to the life that’s going on inside the frame as if no one were arranging and collating it for our consumption.” – Jeff Millar, Houston Chronicle

The Last Picture Show arrives just when it seemed time to announce that movies as pop culture were dead. The few movies for the mass audience that succeeded were–artistically speaking–so macabre that it was best to forget about them, and the new, smaller movie audience was becoming used to looking for sparks of talent and was learning to reconcile itself to messy, semi-boring, promising failures. I think that maybe everyone who has kept going to the movies has understood that the explosion of forms is messy, and has felt the excitement of what was happening. The old commercial crust was being cleaned away. Fiascos like Drive, He Said weren’t dead, in the way that fiascos like The Last Run were. And now Bogdanovich has made a film for everybody–not just the Airport audience but the youth audience and the educated older audience, too. The danger is that The Last Picture Show, which is a story about growing up in a small town in Texas in the early fifties–the kind of straightforward, involving, narrative picture that doesn’t often get produced anymore–will turn into a bludgeon to beat other filmmakers with.” – Pauline Kael, The New Yorker

 

The Last Picture Show

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