The Last Picture Show

This past Saturday was the 40th anniversary of the release of the film, The Last Picture Show, based on Larry McMurty’s 1966 novel of the same title. It’s an excellent film with a terrific cast.  To preserve the irreplaceable experience of celluoid cinema, distributors have re-released a digitally restored cut for theatres to screen around the country.  For me, whenever a reference is made to the film, the following personal anecdote comes to mind…

My mother had a very close friend named May – later Maya. They met as young mothers living in neighboring apartments then moved into neighboring houses. Simultaneously, each gave birth to three baby boomers. They shared many commonalities, and at the same time, their differences complemented each other. One thing they had in common was that they were always looking for interesting, cultural and fun things to do with their children.

In 1971, director Peter Bogdonavitch made the cinematic version of The Last Picture Show. From its charming title, my mother surmised that the film was about old time movie houses when movies were referred to as “moving pictures” and then just “pictures.” She thought the film would not only be charming, but possibly educational with a history lesson on the movie industry! So the two mothers, with us in tow – Aunt May’s 11 year-old son and 15 year-old daughter and my 15 year-old brother, and me (having recently turned 12), took off for one of our many outings. Because it had been a last minute decision, we arrived at the theatre moments before the start of the film and ended up sitting in the first few rows. I apologize for this spoiler, but about 15 minutes into the film, a female character took off her top and there she was bare breasted on the 512 x 384 screen. Not long after that, severely depressed Cloris Leachman was having sex with a teenage boy. The film continued for the next two hours with several characters engaging in “rites of passage.”

It obviously left a lasting impression on me and begged the question, why didn’t our mothers find the nearest exit and get us out of there? We left the film that day and never spoke about it again. So after all these years, I decided to ask my mother. She didn’t have as strong a memory of the incident as I had, and nonchalantly explained that she figured we didn’t understand what was going on anyway. All this time I thought it was because she was embarrassed that she had taken us to see it!

My husband shared a similar story. In 1974, while home on a college break, he went with his grandfather to see the movie Lenny, the life story of the very irreverent Lenny Bruce.  He was squirming in his seat with embarrassment as one expletive followed another, and thought maybe they should get up and leave. He hesitantly glanced over to see how his grandfather was reacting, only to find that he was sound asleep!  Relieved, he stayed till the end of the film, figuring that his grandfather didn’t understand what was going on anyway!

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