Monday, September 29, 2014

Date Night with TCM: The Last Picture Show

A friend asked me one of those "ice breaker" type questions the other day; you know, the ones you ask someone for a zany work interview or that you pose to your coworkers in team building activities.  "If there was only 1 television station you could watch for the rest of your life, what would you choose?"  My immediate thought was ESPN, because I can watch pretty much anything except live sports easily on the internet these days.  "No, that's cheating.  Pretend there's no internet, and you have to only watch what is on that channel forever."  Well, the choice is simple: Turner Classic Movies.  Why would you ever need anything else if you could watch generations worth of the best films ever made--all without commercials?

If you have not bought in to why TCM should be your favorite television channel, then you are in luck.  I plan on bringing you periodic posts about the best movies you need to check out the next time TCM brings them to your screen.  Soon you will also be obsessively stalking their monthly calendar to find new classics that need a home on your DVR.

This week I had a date night with TCM and a glass of wine, all to myself since my husband is finishing up his last few courses at school.  Showing was The Last Picture Show, a progressive classic from 1971 that I should have actually saved for my husband to watch with me (yes, he is a sort-of-TCM-convert, too thanks to my persistence).  This film is definitely not just for women, even though I had first heard it mentioned as a high schooler on Dawson's Creek.  There is a love triangle, but this is no Joey/Pacey/Dawson teen angst.  Set in the early 1950s in a desolate nowhere town in Texas, these high school seniors are exploring some heavy stuff.  Poverty, depression, sexual freedom, and the loss of the idealistic freedom of what the West once was.  This town of cowboys turned blue collar oil riggers is enough to make anyone need a glass of wine (and plenty of the inhabitants are drinking), but don't worry there is plenty more to cry about as things progress with the story than just the oppressive setting.  At the time the movie got a R rating and plenty of backlash for its overt depiction of sexuality, but by today's standards it is very tame.  Apparently when a young Cybil Shepherd goes skinny dipping for the first time, disrobing in front of a pool full of country club kids, it was seen as quite tawdry.  In actuality there is nothing sexy about it-- she is awkward, embarrassed, and slips and falls on the diving board.  But because Peter Bogdonavich was doing something different, there was a lot of negative attention.  Not enough to prevent a pretty good showing at the Academy Awards that year, though.

Cybil Shepherd plays the female lead in The Last Picture Show.  There are so many times in this movie where she looks just like Reese Witherspoon in Cruel Intentions (the above being a great example).  Apparently that movie took some heavy inspiration.  Her character gets a bad rap since she is constantly using men to find herself, but there is a lot of depth here.  You meet her as a "good girl" with a mom that is full of advice about how to prevent her from becoming unhappy in marriage (like she did).  And as she tries to explore her own awareness of her growing sexuality, she leaves plenty of victims in her wake.  But she isn't mean-spirited really--just so confused about what she should be wanting and how she should get it. via
Timothy Bottoms and Jeff Bridges play lost high school seniors in a washed up town. via
Also, did I mention this is the first on screen appearance for Jeff Bridges and Cybil Shepard?  Cloris Leachman is also great as the wife of a homosexual high school coach dealing with the depression of her lonely life; she won an Oscar for the role.  All in all, if you are looking for a movie to watch with yourself, with the girls, or with your guy, I can't recommend this more.  Because it was so progressive for its time, The Last Picture Show feels quite current in its pacing and cinematography, so it won't feel like you are watching an old movie quite so much as just that you are watching a movie set in the past.  An easy transition into the glories of TCM for you first timers.

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