This year, famed Hollywood filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich is in Winston-Salem to work with aspiring young directors at UNC School of the Arts. His presence couldn’t be more timely, as 2011 marks the 40th anniversary of Bogdanovich’s masterpiece The Last Picture Show.
Picture Show launched the careers of Jeff Bridges and Cybill Shepherd, and produced Academy Awards for veteran actors Cloris Leachman and Ben Johnson, as well as nominations for future Oscar winners Bridges and Ellen Burstyn. In all, the 1971 classic garnered 10 Oscar nominations, including one for Best Direction. In 1990, the cast reprised their roles for the sequel, Texasville, which also starred Annie Potts (“Designing Women”). Back in the spring, I spoke with Peter, Jeff, Cloris, Ellen and Annie. I asked them to reflect back on the films, and on their time together.
Longworth: Did you shoot The Last Picture Show in black and white as a cost cutting measure?
Bogdanovich: That had nothing to do with it. In fact, it was probably a little more expensive to do it in black and white because the labs weren’t used to it. The period of the film was early fifties which was still a B&W period. The other reason is Orson Welles told me, “Every performance looks better in black and white,” and he was right.
One of those great performances was by Cloris Leachman, who had a particularly emotional scene to shoot where she gets angry and throws a coffee pot at Timothy Bottoms. Cloris told me of her shock at only getting to do one take.
Leachman: We ran through the scene and Peter said, “Cut.” And I said, “Wait a minute, aren’t we going to do it again?” He said, “No, you’re going to get an Academy Award for that.”
Bogdanovich: Anything that requires considerable emotion, I don’t like to rehearse it. I don’t like to do anything except shoot it. If you’ve got good actors, you don’t have to do it but once. There’s a certain tension within the actor when he’s doing it for the first time, which you don’t get again.
Bridges: First takes have a lot of ju ju on ’em, you know? They’re pretty good. Then the trap to fall into is to try and recreate what you did, and do it somewhat better.
One thing the entire cast did better was master the Southern accent.
Bridges: One of the cool things that happened on that movie was a guy named Lloyd Catlett, a high school kid, and he was hired to play a part in the film, and also help us Hollywood actors get up to speed with what growing up in Texas was really like, along with the accents, and all that stuff.
Leachman: Oh my God, we never stopped talking without a Texas accent. We practiced it, and then we never talked any other way.
Burstyn: It was funny because Cloris and I were both going through very dramatic domestic situations at the time, and we would be talking to each other, and crying, and having very emotional discussions, but always in our Texas accent.
In fact, the entire cast bonded while filming The Last Picture Show, which was shot entirely on location in the little town of Archer City.
Burstyn: We were in a motel on the side of a highway, with no cars and nowhere to go. So whenever we weren’t working, we were in each other’s rooms. The whole cast got together almost every night, and Jeff would play his guitar and sing. So we were very, very close.
Bridges: I remember everyone saying how this feels special. And we didn’t have that much experience to compare it to, but we felt we were involved in something special. It’s not like any other movie, and no other movie is like it. It’s just there by itself.
One could say the same thing about the film’s director.
Burstyn: Peter was wonderful to work with. he was very collaborative, and had great understanding.
Potts: Peter had pretty much what he wanted in his mind, and he was editing as he went along. I adored working with him. He loved actors, and he loved the process, and he loved being in that creative process with actors.
Bridges: He’s a dear, dear friend, and an incredibly knowledgeable director.
Thanks to Bogdanovich, his stellar cast, and the miracle of DVDs, The Last Picture Show is continuing to make converts. One of them, Matt Bomer, the hot young star of White Collar, told me recently that Picture Show is his favorite film. And why not? As Jeff Bridges said, “No other movie is like it.”
Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Fridays at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 10 p.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).