One of the blind spots in my movie-watching lexicon is the work of the late, great director Peter Bogdanovich. Last year I talked about The Criterion Collection’s fantastic release of Bogdanovich’s first film, “Targets.” Again, Criterion has dipped into Bogdanovich’s filmography with the movie he made after “Targets” and his first big success as a filmmaker, 1971’s “The Last Picture Show.”
Based on Larry McMurtry’s novel of the same name, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Bogdanovich, “The Last Picture Show” is a portrait of three teenagers in a small and dying Texas town in the early 1950s. The three leads are all played by then relatively unknown actors, Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, and Cybil Shepherd in her first movie. I was excited to see “Picture Show” for the first time, given its long-standing reputation as one of the great American movies and a cornerstone of the American “new wave” of the 1970s.
I watched the movie two days ago and I’ve been sitting with it ever since. I’ve been thinking about it. The film is a stunning work of filmmaking, with truly incredible performances from all involved, and the amazing Cloris Leachman who deserved the Oscar she won for her performance as the neglected wife of the high school football coach. There were aspects of “The Last Picture Show” that did hit a little close to home. The longing and desire to escape your hometown while also trying to figure out who you are.
Shot in breathtaking Black and White, the stark and bleak landscapes of the film really stand out. Right from the opening shot of a desolate and decaying main street with the sight and sound of a wind that you can feel the cold from, the film truly creates a stunning landscape of quiet desperation and heartbreaks. This 4K UHD edition of “The Last Picture Show,” which has the film in Dolby Vision grading for high dynamic range, only goes to show one thing. There is something that we lost when black-and-white filmmaking faded away.
Bogdanovich passed away last year, so we don’t have him to approve this new 4K UHD/blu-ray combo edition from The Criterion Collection, but nonetheless, I think he’d be pleased. The 4K, Dolby Vision master was created from a 4K wet gate scan of the 35mm original camera negative. “Wet gate” scanning is a fascinating process in which the film is gently treated with a special liquid which makes scratches on the film stock disappear when light hits the frame.
This is an amazing-looking image, I was downright shocked by how a film that is over 50 years old, at times, looked like it was made yesterday. The image is beautiful, with a dynamic depth of field and a very nice layer of natural film grain. The included blu-ray of “The Last Picture Show” doesn’t use the 4K master, but a 2009 HD master scan that was approved by Peter Bogdanovich. It looks quite good too, as the blu-ray is where the bulk of the bonus material lies.
We start with two audio commentaries. The first features Bogdanovich with actors Shepherd, Bridges, Randy Quaid, and Leachman. This was recorded in 1991 for a Criterion laserdisc release. The second commentary is from a 2009 release of the film, featuring Bogdanovich alone. Three making-of features of the film from around 2009 are included as well. We also have screen tests, location footage, and trailers. Plus, we get French filmmaker Francois Truffaut talking about New Hollywood in 1972.
This is all great material and makes this the definitive release of the film on home video. Adding to this is a wonderful bonus, the 1990 follow-up to the movie “Texasville,” presented on its own disc in both the color theatrical cut and Bogdanovic’s black and white director’s cut. This is a stunning, impressive three-disc release from The Criterion Collection, and an absolute must-own for any home video library. It all comes highly recommended. See you next week.