The name Peter Bogdanovich may not be a household name but he’s made a career out of making movies, writing about movies and occasionally acting in movies and television (The Sopranos). While his film output is slim compared to other filmmakers of his generation, he made two classic movies in the 1970’s that alone, would establish his cinematic credentials. These two films are Paper Moon (1973) (DVD coming soon!) and The Last Picture Show (1971). Both films put the spotlight on young actors that would go on to become big stars (Ryan O’Neal, Tatum O’Neal, Cybill Sheperd, Ellen Burstyn, and Jeff Bridges). Both films were filmed in black and white and both looked back to a past milieu that seemed a life time away from the early, counter-cultural 70’s when they were made. The Last Picture Show is a moody, bittersweet portrait of teen life in a gloomy, withered West Texas town, one that’s literally been abandoned by the rise of corporatism and the growth of urban and suburban development. It’s a visually rich film that avoids sentimentality while arousing a deep lament for the death of small towns and the innocent, one-dimensional values associated with them. The word ‘longing’ comes to mind when watching this film--the longing for community, for a left behind past, and to be understood.
No less somber in its depiction of desperate living in times of economic decline, Paper Moon does have its moments of levity and humor. Overall however, the film’s two protagonists, a grifting duo conning their way across the Midwest, understand that survival in the midst of hard times is at best precarious and at its worst, fraught with danger. The movie’s heart and soul is animated in large part from the wonderful performances of the father/daughter team of Ryan and Tatum O’Neal. These are two American classics that continue to inspire and influence today’s best filmmakers.
The last picture show