#380- The Last Picture Show

Quick recap: A coming of age story set in a dying Texas town in the 1950s. Bleak doesn’t even begin to describe this film.

This movie is crawling with stars! Pictured here is Cybill Shepherd and Jeff Bridges

Fun(?) fact: Orson Welles was the one to convince director Peter Bogdanovich to film in black and white.

And another BONUS FUN FACT: I have visited the real life town of Archer City, where this movie was filmed and based off of. Unfortunately all I remember are the massive bookstores owned by Larry McMurtry and a cat that followed me around.

see, Mom? My memory remains intact.

Thoughts and Observations:

Not having grown up in the 1950s I don’t know how accurate The Last Picture Show is, but I did grow up in a small Texas town and there were many scenes that felt uncomfortably familiar. This Larry McMurtry fellow might be on to something!  My town didn’t have a tradition of parking our cars outside of a motel when our friends lost their virginity but we did have a bunch of old men who cared more about high school football than is healthy. We didn’t have teenagers sleeping with older women in unhappy marriages (I don’t think) but we did have our fair share of scandals that literally everyone knew about. And finally, I don’t remember my friends ever throwing a nude swimming party but there were plenty of times we rode around town and visited the couple of spots still open past 8 on a weeknight.

Don’t let the description fool you. This is not a Texan version of American Graffiti. Although this is a ‘coming of age’ movie, it happens as everything around them, especially the town is dying. I related to that more than anything I think. I live in a big city now and stores opening and closing is a daily occurrence. But in a small town, its impact is felt by everyone to some extent. And I think everyone goes through a shift at some point when they feel like they are too big for their town and it’s time to move on. I found myself thinking about this a lot during the movie. What would’ve happened to these teens had they lived in Dallas? Would Sonny have had a better life? Would Jacy have ended up with someone she truly loved? It’s interesting to see how the teens shaped the town and more importantly how the town shaped them.

  • If I had to rank the bleakest scenes, Billy’s experience with sex was the worst. Even worse than his death at the end of the film. I loved the character and I love how it showed Sonny’s humanity but it was a heart wrenching story to experience.
  • To the opposite end, I don’t know if I really enjoyed any of the scenes but I wish I could’ve seen more of the Picture Show since it seemed to be the hotbed of all teen activity and was the title of the film.
  • Cloris Leachman’s character Ruth was another sad one but I felt more sorry for her when she was having an affair with Sonny than when she screamed at him for abandoning her. Her life was hard, yes, but Sonny only offered her a false hope that couldn’t be sustained.
  • As mentioned, there are a ton of stars (both up and coming as well as established) and I had a tough time naming them, except for one :  Randy Quaid, whom I recognized immediately.

  • I could go on and on about the characters but what really did me in was the setting. It’s no secret that I love Texas and its scenery and The Last Picture Show made me want to jump in my car and visit Archer City all over again. The scenes where Sonny headed out of town and watched the sunset felt so familiar and calming.

Final review: 4/5. I’d give it a perfect score but those nude scenes really snuck up on me.

Up next: L’Atalante

#373- Judge Priest

Quick recap: A judge dispenses good ol’ Southern wisdom with a lot of love and just a touch of racism.

Fun(?)fact:  Stepin Fetchit played Jeff Poindexter, a ‘stereotypical 19th century black male’ in Judge Priest. Despite mostly playing dim-witted characters on screen, Fetchit was considered very aggressive and cunning when it came to getting compensated like his white co-stars. He was one of the very first Black actors to fight for equal treatment in the entertainment industry.

My thoughts: If there is one thing I learned from this movie it is this: If you ever find yourself on trial in the Deep South, tell a story about your confederate great-great uncle while someone whistles Dixie. It’s apparently that simple. In fact, tying an issue somehow to the Civil War could really solve all of our current problems. See, many people in the South don’t believe that global warming exists and why should they? Right now it’s only affecting penguins and polar bears up north. However, rising oceans will become a problem very soon for states like Mississippi and Alabama, and there are a lot of confederate cemeteries there. Doing something about climate change pays honor and respect to those brave, racist soldiers!

Stepping off my soap box and back into this review, I really enjoyed most of this movie even though parts made me really uncomfortable. Judge Priest was a sweet guy and got along with almost everybody. And I think he was a good judge too, although a bit mischievous, like paying Poindexter to play Dixie to tug at the heartstrings of the jurors . Still, it seems as though 19th century Southern small towns weren’t really concerned with following all laws, as long as justice was served at some point. The beginning of the movie has Jeff Poindexter in front of Judge Priest, accused of stealing chickens. It seems an easy conviction until Priest reminds the prosecutor about various times he did basically the same thing. Maybe that wouldn’t fly in a big city but in this instance, people were satiated with the outcome.

It’s hard to land on a true opinion about this movie because so much of it is steeped in racist culture. Poindexter and Priest are considered friends but he still bosses him around and has him do unethical things for money as his puppet. And Aunt Dilsey is a sweet housekeeper but very stereotypical in that she lives for taking care of Priest and her main social activities consist of cooking and going to church functions. Still, there are glimpses that the director very much knew that these black actors were capable of so much more but maybe the audience wasn’t ready. It’s surprising to see a film about the South not completely turn into African-Americans being the butt of all the jokes. But maybe I’m just surprised because the bar is set so low.

Final review: 3/5

Up next: Toy Story

#372- Beauty and the Beast

Quick recap: Stockholm Syndrome is alive and well in this classic fairy tale of a Beauty being made to fall in love with a Beast.

me, knowing that Monday is just around the corner

Fun (?) fact: Many, many people preferred the Beast to his alter-ego prince that he transforms into at the end of the film. Upon viewing this movie, actress Greta Garbo is said to have screamed, ‘ Give me back my beast!’

Now he’s just another white guy!

My thoughts: Of all the Disney princesses, I think Belle is my favorite. It used to be Ariel but at some point I realized how very stupid she is and so she was eliminated from the ranking. Sorry, 5 Year Old Me. This version of Beauty and the Beast is not sanitized like the cartoon version but there are still many similarities between the two. In fact, Walt Disney wanted to do a cartoon version of the fairy tale back in the 40s but once he saw this film he thought it would be pointless. When the animated feature was released in the early 90s it had several homages to this version, like the castle design and the magical items.

I wasn’t all that impressed with this movie right after watching it because it just seemed like yet another fairy tale brought to life. But, some of the scenes have really stuck with me, almost to the point of wanting to rewatch because I think I missed so much the first time. For one thing, there is a wonderful horror element I didn’t know existed but it totally fits. All of the candles in the castle are held up by torsos and arms and the statues have eyes that blink and follow Belle but they never talk or interact with her in any other way. When she arrives to take her father’s place, I love how she glides down the corridor, mist billowing around her and blowing the curtains. And then there is this sexual element that I completely missed. As the Beast falls for Belle, his hands start smoking when she is near. He is literally hot for her. And there is a bunch of symbolism about him giving her his ‘key’ to his ‘treasure’ which just went over my head completely. Put it all together, though, and you get this fairy tale that has so much more depth than I gave it credit for at first. There are a few nit-picky things about the plot that confuses me, such as why it was so easy for Belle to break her promise to the Beast when she knew how evil her sisters were. But every story has its holes so I’ll just let it be for once and  enjoy a good tale.

Final review: 5/5

Up next: Judge Priest

 

#371- Bringing Up Baby

Quick recap: A woman with a pet leopard forces a hapless scientist to fall in love with her. Congrats?

It happens to the best of us

Fun (?) fact: Bringing Up Baby was considered a commercial failure at the time. It was so bad director Howard Hawks was fired from RKO Pictures and Katherine Hepburn was considered ‘box office poison’.

All cats interrupt phone calls, no matter how big or small they are

My thoughts: Bringing Up Baby is the original ‘screwball comedy’ because literally everyone is insaneHoward Hawks, in discussing why the film did so poorly, hypothesized it was because there’s no straight man to calm things down. Everyone, from the constable, to the housekeeper and to the main characters has their own ridiculous personality. Susan, played by Hepburn, exists as pure chaotic energy. She’s the first Manic Pixie Dream Girl! Everything she does sets off consequences (usually negative) to those around her, especially David, whose only fault is that he engaged with her. After that, it was all over. From what I’ve seen, it’s this frenetic pace that also helped turned audiences off. It was too witty, there were too many jokes being thrown around and too many characters who needed the spotlight. I’ve seen all sorts of comedies and this movie was ridiculously fast even for me.

But I still loved it. The main draw for me is the attraction Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn had. They were perfect to play opposite each other. Grant was a seasoned Vaudeville actor so slapstick comedy was nothing new for him, but Hepburn had never done anything quite like this. I think what makes her so successful is that she truly enjoyed herself. You can see how much fun she is having causing all this trouble and seems perfectly at ease in front of the camera. It’s hard not to fall in love with her. I enjoyed all of the acting, really, because in this movie, there was no such thing as over the top. And of course the leopard was just icing on the cake. I was worried he would be used to do tricks and would be seen throughout the whole film, but that wasn’t the case. He’s integral to the plot but he really isn’t shown all that much.

Despite how well Susan and David worked together, their romance made me all sorts of uncomfortable. I know that’s the joke but she really did ruin so much of his life in 24 hours, including the final scene when she destroys his life’s work in a matter of seconds. Still, he tells her that their time spent together was the happiest in his life so far so maybe this will be the beginning of changes for him. One can only hope.

Final review: 5/5

Up next: Beauty and the Beast