One of my favorite films is The Last Picture Show. It is a film that was directed by Peter Bogdanovitch in 1971, yet almost 30 years later it still seems fresh and alive to me. There is a desolate, spare quality to the 1950's small west Texas town we are invited into and its desolation is apparent to us from the opening scenes. It was filmed in black and white, which enhances the dramatic quality of the town and takes us back to a simpler time. Just as our lives are discontinuous, with jarring scene changes and ridiculous episodes of embarrassing events, so is life presented to us in this small town. The film's purposely jarring editing is transformed in our minds, as we watch, from a disjointed amalgam to a stream of consciousness effect that is very lifelike. One knows, then, that you are entering an alternative world just as real in its way as your own. This movie pulls you in.
There is no musical score in this film in the normal sense. The only time you hear music is when a radio is on or a phonograph is playing in the background. This lack of a musical score dubbed over the film enhances the illusion of reality. Another aspect of this sound editing is the choice of music that is being played by the different characters. Bogdonavitch uses song and artist selection to subtly comment on the character of the person or people who are listening to it. In the case of Sonny the music he selects is always Hank Williams and it alludes to the hardscrabble life and down to earth quality of his character. In contrast at JC's home, the manipulative teenager played by Cybil Sheppard, you hear a cover of a Hank William's song that has all of the life sucked out of it, similar to a Pat Boone cover of an Elvis Presley song. It is a direct comment on JC and her family; her family has grown wealthy by owning oil wells and they pretend they are still the same people as before. It is obvious they are not just by this simple musical selection. It is eloquent in its simplicity.
The center of the film and the major theme should you listen to your heart or your libido if the two don't combine in the same person? Perhaps the saddest comment in this film is that too often these two halves to a whole do not come together as a package and people are forced to chose. None of the characters are particularly happy with their mates. Everyone is on the prowl for that perfect person they know they will be happy with. Time and again they think that they've found the perfect person based on their sexual attraction but when they begin to show their authentic selves are then rejected. Those in long term relationships with an emotionally compatible mate but with no sexual interest face an equal dilemma a lack of excitement and joy and are destined to be the ones that reject. It exposes both sides of this human dilemma, a duality that can become split and non-integrated, and does it in a sophisticated and lyrical way. Most people experience this split at some time and in this film, as in life, there are no easy answers. That's why I love this film.
And there is Billy, the boy who continually sweeps the street in a hopeless gesture to turn back the inevitable, representing that demented and futile longing for a past that was never quite as good as you remember it. He represents that longing for an illusion that disappears just as we are about to grasp it and the sadness of that. The broom that is never fast enough for the blowing dust of time.