The Last Picture Show
The Last Picture Show is one of the key films of the American cinema renaissance of the seventies. Set during the early fifties, in the loneliest Texas nowheresville to ever dust up a movie screen, this aching portrait of a dying West, adapted from Larry McMurtry’s novel, focuses on the daily shuffles of three futureless teens—the enigmatic Sonny (Timothy Bottoms), the wayward jock Duane (Jeff Bridges), and the desperate-to-be-adored rich girl Jacy (Cybil Shepherd)—and the aging lost souls who bump up against them in the night like drifting tumbleweeds, including Cloris Leachman’s lonely housewife and Ben Johnson’s grizzled movie-house proprietor. Featuring evocative black-and-white imagery and profoundly felt performances, this hushed depiction of crumbling American values remains the pivotal film in the career of the invaluable director and film historian Peter Bogdanovich.
The Criterion Collection presents Peter Bogdanovich’s classic The Last Picture Show on Blu-ray in their America Lost and Found box set. The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on this dual-layer disc in a new 1080p/24hz transfer.
The transfer, done by Sony, is a gorgeous black and white presentation, and sits up there with Easy Rider as one of the more film-like transfers I’ve seen. Blacks are inky, and whites are fairly strong without any blooming, and gray levels are distinct and defined. Detail is high and the image remains sharp with the film’s grain structure left intact and looking natural. The transfer doesn’t present any noticeable artifacts or problems.
The only issue or disappointment is damage that is present. Though this presentation is considerably better than any other home video version I’ve seen I was still a little surprised at the number of marks that can be found scattered about. But beyond that this is still a striking presentation, and one of the stronger transfers found in the set.
(As a note Criterion presents the director’s cut, which is 6 or so minutes longer than the theatrical release. The only version I’ve ever seen is the director’s cut so I can’t comment on what was added, though Bogdanovich covers this in the commentaries, and there’s mention in other supplements.)
The lossless linear PCM mono track shows its age but it is acceptable. It’s a little weak and flat, but dialogue is distinct and easy to hear. Past that I can’t say it was anything particularly special.
Criterion’s America Lost and Found box set is basically a complete history lesson on BBS Productions and the supplements found on each disc in this set are primarily about the production company as a whole, though each disc still contains supplements that focus on their respective films. Of the releases in the set, The Last Picture Show probably has the strongest collection, despite some repetition.
Criterion first presents a group audio commentary featuring director Peter Bogdanovich, and actors Cybill Shepherd, Randy Quaid, Cloris Leachman, and Frank Marshall. This is the commentary originally recorded for Criterion’s laserdisc edition released in 1991. Similar to most of Criterion’s group commentaries (or at least their laserdisc/early DVD ones) everyone has been recorded separately. Bogdanovich has the bulk of the track, probably 90% of it, and carries it fairly well. Though a lot of his comments do get repeated elsewhere in the supplements (especially in his fairly redundant solo commentary track that was newly recorded for this edition) there’s still a lot of unique material here, specifically some of the issues he faced when trying to film in certain parts of town, especially at the school (and he got in trouble thanks to the scene involving the dogs humping in front of the school) and he also points out all of the added/extended/rearranged scenes for this director’s cut. He also mentions scenes that never ultimately made it. He talks about specific scenes and miracles that occurred while filming (Ben Johnson’s speech being one of the biggest ones) and he talks about his shooting style and “cutting in camera” among other technical details; he really pushes the depth-of-field advantage of black and white all throughout the film. Unfortunately the actors each show up briefly, usually involving only their scenes, with Cybill showing up the most. Their comments are limited and disappointing, focused primarily on their role or character. Quaid may have the least amount of time. Though the actors getting little time is a big disappointment it’s still a strong track.
Unfortunately the second audio commentary by Peter Bogdanovich doesn’t add much, in fact it pretty much repeats everything in the first track, including the additional scenes, adding only some minor details here and there about the scenes in question. Best example would probably be an early scene in the classroom, where Bogdanovich repeats comments about actor John Hillerman and the dogs outside, but then adds a comment about directing Cybill Shepherd and then the book that appears, I, The Jury. He also points out some mistakes or things that nag him. But basically, if you were to jump back and forth between the two commentaries you’re almost guaranteed Bogdanovich will be talking about the same thing. Shockingly it has very little dead space, unlike the newer track Dennis Hopper had recorded for Easy Rider, which also appears in the America Lost and Found box set. In all I’d say you can listen to either one, though I think I prefer the group track.
This edition also comes with two documentaries on the film, the first being the 1999, 64-minute The Last Picture Show: A Look Back. Featuring interviews with Bogdanovich, Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepherd, Frank Marshall, Cloris Leachman, and Ellen Burstyn, and is a fairly detailed and lengthy making-of. Bogdanovich first talks about how he came to adapt the book, and the lengthy process he and author Larry McCurty went through adapting the novel. He covers the casting process, like the chance encounter he had with a magazine cover featuring Shepherd, casting the older women, and there’s even mention of alternate casting choices. There’s a lot of time devoted to Shepherd’s nude scene in the film (and the lawsuit brought against Playboy after they published photos) and there’s some minor details brought up about some on set “scandals” I guess one could say (though the second doc gets into more detail about that.) Mentioned elsewhere in other features in the set, including the commentaries found on the disc, but given more detail here, is the concern by producer Bert Schneider over Bogdanovich’s filming style, which didn’t include a “master shot.” Bogdanovich was almost fired for this because the dailies were incomprehensible but Bob Rafelson explained that Schneider shouldn’t worry, that Bogdanovich was editing “in camera” and that the film would “cut like butter” with Rafelson ultimately saving him. The actors appear and talk about their parts (Leachman giving a particularly thorough and insightful analysis of her character) and the last part of the documentary goes over the film’s release. It’s primarily a “talking heads” piece but it’s quite engaging and manages to go by fairly quickly.
Following this is a new discussion with filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich, recorded in 2009. Running 13-minutes it features the director talking about his career prior to his first feature, Targets, and then, somewhat repeating comments made in the previous documentary, talks about The Last Picture Show. He also talks about his favourite directors, his style, how he casts, and location shooting. He also talks a bit about reviews for his films. Though the title cards featured for each question being asked are presented in a fairly annoying manner, it’s decent, informative piece.
The next documentary, directed by George Hickenlooper, may be the best feature on here. Running only 42-minutes it may offer the most interesting perspective on the making of the film. Made in 1990, while Bogdanovich was working on the follow-up Texasville (which brought all the cast members together and allowed Hickenlooper to get interviews with just about everyone) it really focuses on the events around the film an production of the people that influenced both the novel and the film. We not only get interviews with Bridges, Shepherd, Quaid, and Bottoms (as well as Bogdanovich of course) but we also get intriguing and entertaining interviews with some of the locals of Archer City, including author Larry McCurty’s mother, who talks about, amongst other things, first reading the book. The locals have mixed feelings about both the book and the film and the people involved in its production (one remarks that a “name like [Bogdanovich], I knew he wasn’t from Wichita Falls.”) Criticisms are brought up, and rumours are mentioned, but the real meat is of course the affair that went on between Bogdanovich and Shepherd while Bogdanovich was still married to Polly Platt. I usually don’t care about this kind of material, but Hickenlooper handles it well and finds a an center to it, surprisingly in Bottoms. While Platt humourously recalls the affair (yes, humourously) Bottoms still shows some pain, because he had fallen for Shepherd, and he was still carrying this with him to that day, as shown by some behind-the-scenes footage from Texasville where Shepherd teases him a bit, though not maliciously, but Bottoms wears his emotions obviously. A true gem is that we get an interview with Ben Johnson, who talks about how director John Ford convinced him to do the film and his Oscar acceptance speech. In all it’s a fabulous documentary, and if one were only inclined to watch one feature on here I would say it should be this one.
The remaining supplements are all quickies. First is over 2-minutes worth of screen tests for the actors in the more minor roles, some of whom look to be possibly trying out for other roles. The footage is silent, with music playing over (my knowledge on country music is limited so I can’t say what song it is.)
Location footage presents over 6-minutes of footage show of Archer City, Texas. The footage is of the downtown and outskirts, with some shots of the town from a roof top. Though the location footage show a fairly small, quiet town, it amazingly looks far more deserted in the film.
Criterion then includes a portion from a French television program called Vive le cinema from 1972, featuring director François Truffaut on the new Hollywood. For 4-and-a-half minutes he talks about the changes in Hollywood and it what it means, focusing primarily on The Last Picture Show. He seems fairly thrilled with these more realistic films and how this door opening allows for new ways of storytelling in American cinema.
The disc then concludes with a theatrical trailer and a re-release trailer for the director’s cut.
The box set overall offers some wonderful supplements, providing a comprehensive history of BBS Productions and the films they released (the set even coming with a 111-page booklet) and it may be one of Criterion’s more comprehensive collections. Though repetition is a problem throughout (Bogdanovich is probably the worst offender possibly, every one of his comments on the town, the casting, the nudity, etc. repeated a few times,) the nice thing is that each feature does at least present new, fascinating information that makes everything, except maybe Bogdanovich’s solo commentary, worth the time.
America Lost and Found is one of the more fascinating box sets to come from anyone, offering a comprehensive look at one of the more important and interesting production companies to ever get into the business, making an impact that can still be felt today.
The Last Picture Show is possibly the strongest release in the box set, presenting a stellar transfer and the best collection of supplements. I’d give this box set a recommendation solely on this disc. Great job all around.