Watching The Last Picture Show: The Definitive Director’s Cut (Special Edition) again after all these years felt almost like reexperiencing those times in my life.
It was released in 1971, at the beginning of a decade charged with revolutionary emotions and challenges. Depicting a time in small-town Texas (the 1950s), this movie leads us through a few months in the lives of several characters in coming-of-age moments. A frank, bittersweet drama of social and sexual mores that are shifting, it is also most notable for the talent-laden cast of characters: Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepherd, Timothy Bottoms, Cloris Leachman, and Ben Johnson, to name a few.
Filmed in black and white, the movie is set against a dreary tumbleweed-cast backdrop, with an almost ghost-town appearance. It called to mind for me where I was when it was released. I had just moved to what could almost be a twin of the dreary town of Anarene, Texas. The counterpart was a small former oil town to the west of the Central Valley city where I now live. The desolation in the film mirrored the emotions I felt when “dropped into” this town; I was young, with three small children, and cast rudderless onto what felt like a barren landscape. Uprooted from the urban life I loved (in Northern California), I could completely identify with the feelings of desolation experienced by the characters.
As I watched the film today, those same emotions swept over me, and I almost felt as though I were back there.
Directed by Peter Bogdanovich, the movie can best be described as a timeless coming-of-age tale that spotlights a season in the lives of a disenchanted group of young people.