Tuesday, April 15, 2008


The event I’m about to discuss happened well, well over a month ago, but so it goes with Celluloid Hut. I’m talking about a screening of Peter Bogdonavich ’s 1971 classic “THE LAST PICTURE SHOW” at the Castro Theater in San Francisco, with not only Bogdonovich present, but one of the film’s stars, Cybill Shephard as well. This was a packed event on a Friday night, a prelude into an entire weekend of Bogdonovich films shown at the theater – yes, including the ones everyone hated, like “They All Laughed” and "At Long Last Love" (I had a friend who went and saw the former, and he said it was mocked and vilified with good reason). Anyway, I’ve seen “Last Picture Show” a good four times now, and I still love it, despite the common consensus that it could’ve used about a 15-minute haircut. It’s the film that made Bogdonovich & Shephard’s names, as well as built the reputations of Cloris Leachman, Ellen Burstyn, Jeff Bridges, Timothy Bottoms, Randy Quaid (absolutely classic in the 2 or 3 scenes he’s in) and Ben Johnson. It’s a cinematographic masterpiece, and it’s not easy to call up the beginning & ending images of the windswept 1950s Texas town whenever the film enters my mind. They’re beautiful, and say as much in a few minutes of visuals than all the dialogue in between.

Bogdonovich took to the stage before the film to give it an intro, and he was charming, self-deprecating and had a few good yarns to spin, about this and his other films. One concerned star Ben Johnson and his complete reluctance to take on this role, having in past films been a mostly silent, chaw-chewing western star. Bogdonovich cajoled him into the role through all sorts of trickery and half-truths, and obviously the film was the better for it. The moderator for our evening, Jesse Ficks, was unfortunately not quite up to the task at hand, despite his best intentions. When Shephard came out afterward (in dark glasses, at 11pm in a crowded theater!) and sat in directors’ chairs with Bogdonovich, Ficks' questions were less than probing, and seemed relatively unplanned – so the result was a total anticlimax. Having not really prepared any witty repartee, the two stars seemed somewhat uncomfortable with Ficks and the lack of good questions, so they actually ended up singing an impromptu song together from "At Long Last Love" and then self-canceled the (at most) 10-minute interview. Considering that most patrons paid for their appearance, and had already seen the film, it was sort of a bummer to say the least. Next time I recommend bringing in a heavyweight interviewer to match the heavyweight interviewees, as this could have been something a lot better than it was. That said – “Picture Show”. Totally holds up. Celluloid Hut says check it out.


Andre said...

Great assessment of that classic. I havent seen it in many years so time for a revisit thanks to you.
What a wasted opportunity for you and the audience. That is too bad. Bogdanovich is always an engaging interview with tremnedous insight into the craft. At least he is anytime I've seen him interviewed and thats a lot of times.
Definitely not a wasted evening though. A great film and PB and Shepherd breaking into song? A little surreal perhaps but a great story.

Dave said...

A film I really like, though I feel that my enjoyment of it has been compromised ever since I read "Easy Riders Raging Bulls" about 9 years back and found out what a loathesome creep Bogdonavich was, and how he and Shephard were widely considered the most egotistical and demanding assholes in all of Hollywood when they were a couple back in the '70s. Still!... I like Bogdonavich in The Sopranos, and at one stage he did make some fine movies.