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The Last Picture Show

"The Last Picture Show" on DVD

"Definitive Director's Cut"

by Jim Bray

Much honored upon - and since - its 1971 release, "The Last Picture Show" is a "slice of life" set during a dying era in early 1950's Texas. As with George Lucas' "American Grafitti," it portrays the people and situations of small town America at a particular crux in its history.

Where the films fundamentally differ, however, is in the fact that Lucas crafted a highly entertaining film, whereas "Picture Show" is bleak and plodding - deliberately so, I'm sure, but that doesn't change the fact that there isn't a lot of entertainment value in the film.

Still, it has a lot to recommend it. The cast, which were mostly virtually unknowns at the time, is terrific. Director Peter Bogdanovich crafts the film very well, and the black and white widescreen images highlight the bleakness and the townsfolk's feeling of being hemmed in by a dead end existence.

That cast includes Jeff Bridges, Timothy Bottoms, Ellen Burstyn, Cloris Leachman, Ben Johnson and Cybill Shepherd, with Randy Quaid in a smaller role. Their performances belie their relative inexperience, though I would submit that while Johnson may have deserved his "Best Supporting Actor" Oscar, Leachman (who's a fine actress) must have been at the head of a thin crop that year.

Not that she's bad; she isn't. But she doesn't really transcend the material the way Johnson's portrayal of the tired old Sam the Lion does.

The musical soundtrack consists of country and western standards from the time, and they enhance the film's mood very well.

In the end "Picture Show" is mostly a mood piece in its look at the lives and loves of Anarene, Texas. It succeeds at this very well; it's just too bad the mood it portrays is so dark and hopeless.

The DVD is in widescreen, Dolby Digital mono (from the two stereo speakers), and digitally mastered audio/video quality are very good.

There are plenty of extras on this collector's edition, too. Best are the hour long "Looking back" feature and the featurette made for the film's theatrical re-release a few years after its initial run. There's also a slew of other language choices, talent files, chapter stops, and a decent liner essay inside the box.

The Last Picture Show, from Columbia Tristar Home Video
126 minutes, Widescreen (1.85:1), Dolby Digital mono
Starring Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, Ellen Burstyn, Ben Johnson, Cloris Leachman, Randy Quaid, Cybill Shepherd, Written by Larry McMurtry and Peter Bogdanovich, Produced by Stephen J. Friedman,
Directed by Peter Bogdanovich


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Updated May 13, 2006