Movie Review #761
This is a review of the Director’s Cut, released in 1992.
Directed by Peter Bogdanovich. Screenplay by Larry McMurtry and Peter Bogdanovich. (Novel: Larry McMurtry.) Produced by Stephen J. Friedman for Columbia Pictures Corporation and BBS Productions. Uncredited producer: Bob Rafelson. Starring Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepherd, Ben Johnson, Cloris Leachman, Ellen Burstyn, Sharon Taggart, Randy Quaid, and Barc Doyle. Uncredited voice cameo: Peter Bogdanovich. Distributed by Columbia Pictures in New York City, New York on October 3, 1971; and in wide release on October 22, 1971. Also released by the Criterion Collection. Rated R: sexuality, nudity and language. Runs 127 minutes. (Theatrical cut: 118 minutes.)
I always try and watch a director’s cut when I have a choice between that and the theatrical version. The director’s cut generally shows the intended creativity. The theatrical cut appeals to a wider audience, and it’s the one that the studio agrees to release because it’ll make more money this way. There’s scenes that were excluded from the theatrical cut of “The Last Picture Show” for god only knows why. I’m talking simple, short, but greatly emotional moments that add so much to the movie when it is seen in its fullest version. On the other hand, there’s two longer scenes that slow down the movie quite a bit. One of which is an extended sex scene between a teenager and an old woman. Perhaps this was inspired by “The Graduate”, but it’s more graphic and a lot more awkward than “The Graduate”, despite the intention being poignance.
That’s likely my only real complaint about the director’s cut, or the movie. “The Last Picture Show” is a beautiful coming-of-age film, and notice that my only issues happen to concern the director’s cut. The theatrical version, I’m sure, is perfect. (You can find the theatrical cut on laserdisc and VHS, or the director’s cut on virtually any format.) Regardless of which version is watched, god, what a heavy film. “The Last Picture Show” sets its modest stage in 1951 Texas, and the era is captured authentically, as if this were a movie straight outta the early bit of that decade. Yet it’s still as accessible today as it was when it was released in 1971. The tragedies of becoming a man, versus what society might label as “becoming a man,” face Sonny Crawford (Timothy Bottoms) pretty harshly. Sonny’s problems are self-inflicted, but in his defense, they seemingly can’t be avoided. For various reasons, we don’t exactly root for this character, though he’s likable. Not in a sense that we like him, but that we understand him as a human being.
“The Last Picture Show” is an artful rarity in any age of the movies. What elevates the emotion of the movie is the fact that the movie theater is used purely for symbolism. The most touching sequence is near the end, as Sonny realizes the cinema, his favorite pastime, is closing down. Not just that, but on a deeper level, he’s realizing that it’s come time to depart from the sheltered reality he grew up with (for which the cinema is symbolic) and face the real world. This sequence is only the second time in the whole movie that Sonny visits the movies, and everything in between is reality hitting him head-on. And yet Sonny still isn’t quite sure he’s ready to face it. What makes the scene so powerful is that we don’t need a montage or a narration to understand how worried Sonny is to continue his journey in life. It’s quite hard not to cherish a movie can bring us that close to the characters’ thoughts. ✴
– Alexander Diminiano