THE LAST PICTURE SHOW (1971)
Directed by Peter Bogdanovich
Cinematography by Robert Surtees
This week’s edition of Hit Me With Your Best Shot at The Film Experience focuses on the late Peter Bogdanovich’s most acclaimed movie, the coming-of-age drama The Last Picture Show. Among the film’s many accomplishments is the work of veteran cinematographer Robert Surtees, for which he earned his 10th of an eventual 16 Oscar nominations (he was actually double nominated that year, also earning his 11th for Summer of ’42). I had the good fortune of seeing this on 35mm a couple of months ago at the New Beverly, and the black-and-white cinematography is fantastic on a big screen, especially on film. The black-and-white is well-utilized too in conjuring up the nostalgia of a small town in the midcentury, I really can’t imagine this movie in color.
I love the stark shadows you often get from a black-and-white film, and here they’re especially prevalent in most of Jacy Farrow’s (Cybill Shepherd) love scenes. With her face often being the only part of the shot that’s not completely covered in shadows, her point of view is the focus of these scenes, as she yearns to be a woman and have more adult experiences. I also wouldn’t be surprised if this was also Bogdanovich’s growing affection for Shepherd coming through the way she’s framed in these scenes.
This sequence comes shortly after the funeral of Sam the Lion (Ben Johnson), a beloved figure of the small Texas town whom Sonny Crawford (Timothy Bottoms) especially admired. It’s a moment that literally shows a window into Sonny’s thoughts, as he reflects on the loss of a hero and wonders where his aimless, young life heads now.
My pick for the best shot of The Last Picture Show is this quick scene of the high school graduation, which comes shortly after a rather lackluster time in a motel room between Jacy and Duane Jackson (Jeff Bridges). This obstructed shot of the protagonists conveys how while some teenagers like Jacy are more than ready to move on and grow up, others like Duane aren’t quite ready to let go of what they’re familiar with.
Be sure to check out what others have chosen as their best shot from The Last Picture Show here!