I find Roger Ebert’s movie reviews consistently not quite on target. He tries to get at the art of a film, but his comments still seem surface-y to me. OK, I don’t read his reviews very often, so maybe that’s not fair. Here’s my case in point. Last night Ez and I watched The Last Picture Show. We’d Tivo’d it off of TCM. I can sing the praises of TCM again here. They can air it, uncut and in all its original complexity, late at night when most young kids won’t be up. And let’s face it, most young kids are not going to get through the first ten minutes of this nuanced black and white film anyway. So… I had tried to watch this film once or twice before many years ago. I think I had some idea in my head that I would watch it because I liked Cybill Shepherd from Moonlighting. I didn’t get past the first few minutes. Her performance is good, but there’s so much more going on in the film, and so many other great performances, it would be a shame to focus on her and miss or discount all the rest.
I really loved it. Most of the reviews I’ve seen focus on how it’s a story about a dying town. They debate whether it’s nostalgic or anti-nostalgic. They talk about how it fits into film history and how it shows Orson Welles’ and Howard Hawks’ influence. Those are all interesting and important parts of the film, but for me the best part are the shockingly great performances–and so many of them. The connection between Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) and Ruth (Cloris Leachman) works so well, and is so heartbreaking right from the start. They are both fantastic, and the end is just perfect for the film. I knew I wanted an ending something like that as I watched the film, and the way it’s done is just right.
So… After seeing the movie I poked around online and read some reviews. Ebert supplied this one , which is OK, but never seems to get to the heart of things, and this one, which is much better, but still not entirely satisfying (to me). I hate how he flatly states that one scene is “the best.” The scene he’s talking about is a great scene, and it’s very important to the film as a whole, but there are lots of other “best” scenes. It seems wrong to splice up the movie that way. I guess I like this review, from Neil Young (odd little coincidence, I guess!), because it finally gives lead actor Timothy Bottoms his due. Why don’t people rave about his performance? So many of the other actors in the film were nominated for and even won Oscars, and there seems to be lots of talk about how great they were and how this was their breakout film, but he is rarely mentioned. I thought he gave possibly the best performance in the whole film (along with Cloris Leachman, who is just devastating). I like that the reviewer juxtaposes the film against American Graffiti. I made a similar mental comparison. And I guess I also like this review because he talks about the last scene. I love the acting in this scene. I love how the emotions come across more from their movements and their faces and their hands than from words. Sonny and Ruth have this deep sadness, and they “get” that sadness maybe more than any other characters in the film. That the town is dying is interesting. Where it fits in American cultural history is interesting. But what’s much more interesting to me is what’s happening inside all of these people in that town.