I thought I had seen every movie back in the years I was studying film. But a few gems eluded me, including this one. I am in a 1970’s funk right now, owing to the copy of Biskind’s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls that I got for my birthday. More on that later.
I loved this movie, I find myself sinking into it with so much comfort. It felt like home, reminded me where I would spend vacations with my cousins (Higginsville, MO).
This is a great big slice of Americana, served in beautiful black and white, shot by Robert Surtees, a DP whose credits include Ben Hur and The Graduate.
Sex and death are on the menu in this small town in Texas. But I had never seen sex dealt with in this way in a movie. Everybody is doing it. But there is a kind of aura of the forbidden that makes it totally exciting.
One key scene was of Cybill Shepherd making love on the pool table. This was shot with a power and immediacy that you never get in love scenes. The way that her outstretched hands grasp each pocket is so potent and filled with sexual energy. The way it was shot reminded me of a love scene some 30 years later in Traffic (2000) between Michael Douglas’ daughter and her drug dealer.
The camera loves Cybill Shepherd. Bogdanovich fell in love with her, and you can feel it. That dynamic is captured on film. For me, this intense desire is most present in Cybill’s closeup during the scene when Jacey and Sonny first make out in the car.
A word about Timothy Bottoms. He is the heart of this movie. He gives a soulful performance as Sonny that is the very glue that binds everything. He is so simple and so beautiful to watch, just being there, being present to everything. He has a sweetness about him too. He is also great in a very different role in The Paper Chase (1973). What kept him from being a big star?
Seeing this film made me also think of another film, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993). This film owes a lot to Picture Show. So many similar plot points, but Gilbert Grape has less to say, it seems. It takes all the wrong turns. Dicaprio’s character is too spastic. The Depp-Steenburgen romance is too contrived, lacks depth, seems too throwaway.
Picture Show is a great American film. I am particularly interested in this kind of film, because I myself want to make this kind of film – something that is a throwback to my own time growing up in Middle America. I can see myself coming back and watching it often.