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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Great Last Scenes: The Last Picture Show

Year: 1971
Director: Peter Bogdanovich
Great Because...: It's so sad and so beautiful and so evocative. From Cloris Leachman's great speech to the final pan across the empty streets of Anarene, it's just perfect.

The Last Picture Show plays out like a eulogy for something that's still only in the process of dying. Slowly but surely it is all slipping away and perhaps no one feels that more than Sonny in the film's final scenes. His best friend has gone off to fight in Korea, the girl he loves was just using him for attention and now she's gone, too. The movie theater has just played its last show before closing forever. His friend Billy has died and so too has Sam the Lion, the heart of the town and perhaps the only thing that has kept it going as long as it has.

In the final scene Sonny, with no one left to turn to, returns to Ruth Popper, the older woman with whom he was having an affair and who he unceremoniously cut ties with the moment Jacy Farrow became available. In a moment of incredible unleashing, Ruth drops the facade of politeness and lets out the rage that's been building inside of her for months and her portrayer Cloris Leachman (who very deservedly won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress) allows her to metaphorically strip herself bare, revealing the extent of her inner turmoil, defenseless as she attacks. And then, with that out of the way, she sits down to comfort Sonny and tell him that it'll be okay and the shot dissolves into a long tracking shot down the seemingly abandoned main street.

I love The Last Picture Show. It's one of those rare films about which I would change absolutely nothing and while several scenes and sequences have particular and lasting power, there's just something about that final scene that I think is especially resonant. Leachman and Timothy Bottoms do everything exactly right, bringing these two wounded people to life. Their silent sadness as they sit together at the kitchen table is the embodiment of the state of the town itself. As the shot fades into the pan down main street, it's like a long sigh, one of the loneliest shots ever committed to film. And it's totally perfect.


blake said...

I just saw this film for the first time recently and was blown away at how moving it was. This a great pick for your 'Great Last Scenes' feature.

Norma Desmond said...

Honestly, I can't believe it took me so long to include this one. The ending it so perfect!