Road to Hollywood: Last Picture Show
The Last Picture Show, the title of what could be Peter Bogdanovich’s only good movie, begins in the early 1950’s with a teenager named Sonny Crawford (Timothy Bottoms) trying to have a smooth drive in his heap of junk of a truck while the Hank Williams on his radio fills in between the sound of tumbleweeds and violent dead wind. The scene develops, he gets out in front of a pool hall, meets the owner Sam (Ben Johnson), the latter’s son, and Sonny’s best friend Dwayne (Jeff Bridges). Methodically the grubby cinematography and the camera’s closeness is almost un-cinematically counter-intuitive but it also feels like a welcome change, like Kenneth Anger and Maya Deren chronicling the smutty lives of straight rural Texans. It’s a good old evocation of mood while simultaneously cutting the BS.
These men are in between stages of feral wolf-boyhood and foreshadowed deep-voiced manhood. The older men see them as members of their incompetent football team but within the same day they neck with their girlfriends in the dark while watching an Elizabeth Taylor picture. The Last Picture Show, like many late 20th century young adult texts, is about sexual awakenings and missteps. Sonny meets an older woman named Ruth Popper (Cloris Leachman, looking her best in a deserved Oscar-winning performance) and stands her for a few more minutes. While their friendship gets uncomfortably close, Dwayne’s girlfriend Jacy Farrow (Cybill Shepherd, a more girly version of Faye Dunaway) does her own exploring. Both characters repeat the patterns of the previous generation, Jacy taking after her mother Lois (the versatile Ellen Burstyn being hilarious and foxy). All of these are going on while these teenagers, walking slowly into being roughnecks, express their cynicism for a school and town that isn’t worth saving.
The audience knows what’s going to happen when Sonny takes out the trash with Ruth the same way that they react negatively to the relationships and friendships that the insufferable Jacy ruins. And yes, you’re allowed to use that and the phrases in the previous paragraph as euphemisms as long as you give Bogdanovich and co-screenwriter Larry McMurtry some credit. Anyway, the impressions that these characters take in their worst and most shocking scenes are so strong that we forget how Bogdanovich and McMurtry plants the seeds for these outcomes to happen. The movie doesn’t give us alarum bells when Sonny’s coach asks for him to drive Ruth to the clinic the same way that we don’t see Jacy’s layered reaction to Lois’ lessons of shrewdness. These pivotal moments and decisions occur in seventeen seconds instead of minutes.
It has echoes in others tackling post-Western desolation but it also references past movies like the magnum opus directed by Bogdanovich’s idol Orson Welles. It has delightful moments, like a Western-styled non-standoff between Sonny and Sam, referred by the latter’s diner cook/hamburger expert Genevieve (the tough Eileen Brennan). Or real standoffs when its frank characters squeak their voices and destroy the English language, not that I’m one to talk. Then there’s all the awkward sex in between and all the scenes everyone else has talked about because this movie deserves it. The Last Picture Show is part of the Road to Hollywood, its next dates being April 3 and 5, promoting the TCM Classic Film Festival in LA between April 12 and 15. To the two people I know who are going to the festival, I am extremely jealous of you.
Coen’s True Grit
Mattie Ross’ story is back on the movies again, and this time we hear her adult voice first while blurry yellow lights shine somewhere within the centre of the screen. Eventually the audience gets an image of her father, Frank, lying dead in front of a porch.
The camera shows Frank’s body from a safe distance. Eventually the film shows dried skin from cadavers in a mortuary where young Mattie (Hailee Steinfeld) has to sleep, hollowed out eyes, a man (John Goodman?) shot in the head, bodies that become exposed on the snow, men who die because their heads will fall on rocks, a man who has long passed with a snake living where his stomach has been.
Do you want me to count the injuries too? The multiple gun wounds, the ranger Laboeuf (Matt Damon) mangling up his mouth and teeth, Mattie getting spanked, getting a boot on her head and a gun pointed at her, threats of rape directed at her at least once. And that’s not the end of her suffering. As a frank depiction of the Western, the beautifully shot True Grit honestly show the corporeal effects of a violent civilization where the dead are disrespected, some of whom deserve that fate.
We’ve seen this realism in the Coen’s No Country for Old Men, but what makes the violence more shocking is that it’s seen and experienced by a girl. Mattie, who backs up her claims in knowing the legal aspects of 1870’s Arkansas, behaves as if her father’s death has always been a possibility. In his passing, she aims to take care of his business matters, since her mother’s apparently not so good at those things. She also looks for a hired Marshall to hunt for the coward Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), the man who killed her father.
The sheriff gives her three choices for her Marshall and she chooses the meanest one, Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges). The men she encounters already brand her as a headstrong, young woman in pursuing Chaney and going to the country with him despite Cogburn’s advice. Yet in hiring Cogburn, she concedes that she can’t do the job alone. The film exposes other symbolic manifestations of her shortcomings. A hat that’s too small for her that she modifies with a newspaper, her oversized clothing. Buying a pony instead of a horse – although she doesn’t ride side-saddle. She asks Cogburn or Laboeuf what should they do in instances like gunner showdowns, her question actually meaning what are the men going to do for her.
Going back to being unable to do the job alone, that fits not only Mattie but the rest of the major characters as well. Mattie and Laboeuf successfully petition to Cogburn and each other that they’re necessary in the journey, even if they have to do so repeatedly. Laboeuf, who has investigated Chaney, his other crimes and his whereabouts, convinces Cogburn that it takes a two-man job at the least to take Chaney. Mattie is the ethical heart of the journey, her presence in the trek a reminder of Chaney’s crimes.
Along the way, there are some pauses and silences within the film that eventually leads to Coenesque humour. Mattie’s encounters with the men in town, their awkward if not mean-spirited treatment of her greeted with laughter and not of the nervous kind. Cogburn’s encounters with Native kids [ETA] made me feel uncomfortable. And of course, the dentist with the bear suit, taking us away from one-note solemnity that the rest of the journey could have been.
I saw this film with my sister, who lauded Mattie for being a feminist hero and Steinfeld’s fast yet smooth talking performance, besting veterans like Bridges and Damon in the Coenesque dialogue. There are also racial dynamics minimized here. Strangely enough, the black and Asian characters having fewer lines within the narrative compared to the John Wayne vehicle 40 years ago. She lastly pointed out Chaney, as Brolin adds paranoia and vulnerability to his irrational villain. 4/5.
ReCasting: Mid August Lunch, the Hollywood Version
I’m scared because I haven’t done this before. This could have been a reunion film, but sadly, only one of them is still alive. I have rudimentary skills in looking for these names and faces, but I said that this was a good idea so here goes. And this is my blog, I can do whatever I want. And someone do this because obviously, time is running out.
John (Gianni) – Michael Douglas – He’s itching for a comeback and this can help on that leap. And he has that voice too that can be both calming and commanding at the same time. I kinda wanted Michael Caine in this role because di Gregorio reminded me of him, but I wanted a younger guy too.
Valerie (Valeria) – Elaine Stritch. Well if this is gonna be made, Betty White will have to take the meatiest role, but Stritch is more acidic.
Marina – Betty White. We love to see her be in a flirtacious diva role as always.
Mary (Maria) – Angela Lansbury. A conversation in the kitchen. Tempting another woman to eat macaroni casserole. Nobody can do it better.
Grace (Grazia) – Eva Marie Saint. She can knock a nostalgia monologue out of the park.
Al (Alfonso) – Jim Belushi. He played a suit in “The Ghost Writer,” he can play one here.
Doctor – Robin Williams. The perfect guy to light a fire on someone, and he’ll make a great impression on a small role. My first choice for this was Ian Holm, but again, age concerns.
Viking – Jeff Bridges. Everyone loves drunk Jeff Bridges. Unless he’d wanna do something different or larger from his Oscar-winning role in Crazy Heart, this is a fit for him.
“Mid August Lunch,” the only real version of the movie still with Italian actors, is showing at the Revue Cinema in Toronto from today until the 21st. Go see it now!
Late Thoughts on Crazy Heart
(The last person who did this was Orson Welles. ph. secret)
- I’m pretty sure Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal were drinking during their drinking scenes. I know the teary eyes and the blushing cheeks when I see ’em. My friend Matt called it method acting.
- Watching Bad Blake be an asshole, be sandbagged, and have sex with Maggie Gyllenhaal made me feel really uncomfortable. No pathos nor tragedy is conveyed, just plain awkwardness.
- Don’t wanna hate, but watching Bad Blake shirtless is tolerable unless he stands or sits up.
- Kudos to the cinematographers for the colours in the movie, the cameramen for getting into Jeff Bridges’ face, the location scouts. Great movie in the technical aspects.
- Sure, it’s Jeff Bridges, but he wasn’t the best this year. But then it took me two months to get Colin Firth in “A Single Man.” Will I change my mind about Bridges by May? Also, Maggie Gyllenhaal only had one great scene. Jeff Bridges has zero, or at least he does a little nuance-y things instead of having a bait-y scene, which is typical and refreshing compared to other people’s work. But still, Colin Firth and for that matter, Samantha Morton, got robbed.
- Jean Braddock is not professional. I’ve made out with older men after a few drinks before, but not while working and not while a babysitter is looking after my child at one in the morning. The rest of the movie made it look like Bad Blake had her on his fingernail, which isn’t her fault at all. And although I’m not an expert at her oeuvre, I’ve never been convinced that Maggie Gyllenhaal can play someone trashy enough to do these things.
- If my creative writing prof saw this movie and heard Bad Blake sing, “The sun shines brightly,” he would cut a bitch. It’s the sun. Sometimes it’s yellow, white, but it’s always bright.
- Colin Farrell is a good fit as Tommy Sweet, but he should have shown his face more.
- This movie featured a mostly healthy relationship between a grown man and a child. Finally.
- Time went by really fast watching this movie, and I haven’t said that about a movie I liked in a long time.