Peter Bogdanovich was one of the strongest cinematic voices of the New Hollywood, and his major impact on cinema in general can be directly felt in his classic 1971 black-and-white drama The Last Picture Show. A story of a dusty, old Texas town and its young, wily denizens cuts right through crumbling American values to reveal heartbreaking, full-throated explorations of humanity in the face of adversity. Criterion brings the classic to 4K Ultra HD coupled with the film’s much-sought-after sequel, Texasville, on standard Blu-ray. The stunning presentation of the first film makes up for the lackluster transfer of the sequel, but more on that later. This Recommended release comes with plenty of supplements to enjoy as well.
Surprise! Thanks to our editor-in-chief and his previous review of The Last Picture Show from Sony’s Columbia Classics collection, I leave you with a few words from him on the film. That way I can spend the majority of this review talking about Texasville. This isn’t to say that I don’t love The Last Picture Show, as it’s truly one of my all-time favorite movies, but I think Matt did a proper job in his review already.
“In Anarene, Texas, the town is already dead but the people living there just haven’t accepted it or moved on. One by one, once busy storefronts and restaurants rest dust-covered and derelict. All but the pool hall, cafe, and movie theater owned by local fixture Sam (Ben Johnson) have shuttered for good. Local boys and best friends Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) and Duane (Jeff Bridges) are finishing their last year of high school. As much as they’re trying to figure out what to do next with their lives, they’re trying to figure out what to do with their free time. Duane is dating local beauty Jacy (Cybill Shepherd) but her need to marry up in life hinders their relationship. While Sonny struggles with local girls his own age, he’s sparked an unconventional romance with Ruth (Cloris Leachman) the wife of his football coach. As the summer drags on and the dust claims more of their once-thriving oil town, Sonny and Duane will have to come to terms with the futility of staying home and the frailty of their friendship.
It’s films like the late Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show where I am simply stymied trying to write anything meaningful about it that hasn’t been said by better writers already. I'll do my best. Released in 1971, Bogdanovich perfectly captures a town in decline at a specific point in time in American history. The era of the Greatest Generation is coming to a close with no one left to keep the town alive. The economy, war, and the greater opportunity of the American dream have left Anarene behind. It’s a somber meditative film that traverses a range of themes and ideas. It’s simply a magnificent piece of work that is just stunning every time I see it. But I can’t watch it all that often.
This is one of those genuine “once-a-decade” films for me. I can count on one hand how many times I’ve seen this film and I don’t need all the digits to do so. With the amazing performance from the younger cast members and veterans like Ben Johnson, a particularly creepy turn from Clu Gulager, and a tellingly tragic turn from Ellen Burstyn, the film is far from being a joyful experience to sit down to. I know plenty of people who actively hate this film because they simply can’t take how bleak it all is. And I understand that it’s not exactly a movie you want to watch when you’re feeling down and need a pickup but it's a film I wouldn't say is completely without hope. You just have to look for it in those small spaces.”
Finally, finally, finally! Peter Bogdanovich’s Texasville, the official sequel to The Last Picture Show, can finally be seen in high definition for the first time ever at home. Now, everyone can hopefully see what I’ve seen in the film, a much warmer and hopeful picture despite the years of unspoken yearning, broken bodies, relationships, town culture, etc. The Last Picture Show cut right through American values to discover people at odds with the decrepit structures meant to hold up those values, while Texasville enjoys the humor and beauty that comes with aging and years upon years of reflection. A dusty, old Texas town and its many denizens brought us to a fully realized world meant to evoke what it means to find happiness in a place that’s slowly dying, and the sequel delivers on that promise in all of the melancholy, warm ways that aging tends to bring.
Texasville revisits Anarene’s citizens 32 years after the events of The Last Picture Show. Based upon the novel written by Larry McMurtry, Anarene is on the cusp of its centennial. Duane (Jeff Bridges) is a middle-aged oil man 12 million dollars in debt and with a gaggle of kids that misbehave in all of the ways he did back in the day. His wife Karla (Annie Potts) drinks too much while trying to play the matriarch, and she thinks Duane may be cheating on her with one of the many women in town. Duane, though, is tired and a sad sack while being relied upon by so many people, including Sonny (Timothy Bottoms), who is losing his mind and poses a risk to himself. Oh, and Jacy Farrow (Cybill Shepherd) just rolled back into town as a successful woman. Will Duane and Jacy rekindle?
That last question may be marketed as the big question of the entire film; the idea of two people reconnecting and finding love again after three decades. So much has changed, though. Duane has aged into a much kinder, though helpless soul who can’t seem to get out in front of himself. His philandering son and the local cougars he plays around with posits Duane right against the kind of trouble he got into as a kid. But here, Duane just lets everything happen. There’s no wisdom to dispel or anything to change, as Duane now understands how valuable it is to make mistakes. Duane and Jacy rekindling their love would make everything much too clean, thus a dynamic is created between Karla and Jacy that returns the focus to the value of the people and relationships we surround ourselves with during life. To Duane, Jacy doesn’t dredge up deep-seated, unheard love that he’s got to work against, though she certainly reminds him of all the ways he fucked up as a kid.
That’s the beauty of Texasville through and through. Where you expect the story to go, it politely sidesteps and doesn’t buy into the tired histrionics that the film could have easily become. The shift to shooting in color, to me at least, exemplifies a much warmer, kinder, optimistic view of America than we were presented in The Last Picture Show. That isn’t to say that America’s many values haven’t failed, it just means people started making their lives prosperous outside of all the failures they’re so focused on. And hell, if we share in our failures, then it makes life that much easier to live. Texasville climaxes on Anarene’s centennial, where all the various threads come together beautifully and leave us in a much happier spot than we began. Duane went from making a joke about shooting his dick off to falling back in love with his wife, spurred on by Jacy’s constant attempts to break down his emotional guard. And because Bogdanovich is at the helm, all of the performances feel remarkably lived-in, plus having so much of the original cast makes the viewer feel that we’ve lived with these people for those decades between the two films.
Then there’s the matter of the Director’s Cut of Texasville. If you enjoy the Theatrical Cut presented on this release, then you’ll find much to enjoy in the Director’s Cut. As noted in the booklet interview with Bogdanovich, the Director’s Cut is like a quilt with many more pieces. Not necessarily changing the story overall, but giving much more credence to the small, sad and funny moments that Bogdanovich focuses on throughout. In particular, a small moment with Duane visiting the graves of Sam the Lion and Billy provides the film with deeper context as to Duane’s position, not dissimilar to how we found Sam the Lion in the first film. If you love these characters, then the Director’s Cut will love you back. Bogdanovich much preferred this cut.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-rays
We return to Anarene, Texas, with a three-disc set from Criterion that comes housed in their standard clear scanavo case. The UHD disc is a UHD100, while the two standard Blu-rays are BD50s, and they all boot up to the standard menu screens with options to play the film, set up audio, explore chapters and browse special features. A booklet with writing by Graham Fuller and excerpts from an interview with Peter Bogdanovich is included in the case as well.
The Last Picture Show is presented in 2160p with an HEVC-encoded presentation sourced from a master provided by Sony Pictures. For those wondering how this disc compares to Sony’s 4K release of the film, I’ll say that Criterion definitely gives the film much more space to breathe in its encode than Sony did, resulting in a slightly better picture. Like Matt said in this review, deep, inky blacks, brilliant whites and is just jaw-droppingly gorgeous through and through. HDR benefits shadow detail greatly in Bruce Surtee’s black-and-white cinematography, plus the source is truly in incredible condition with no damage to note. This is the best presentation of the film, full stop. Score: 5/5
As for Texasville, both cuts here are sourced from the same decades-old master. No transfer details about the film are listed in the booklet included, although I can ascertain from DVD screencaps that this very well could be the same master used for the 2002 DVD. This is to say that damage marks are pretty clear throughout the presentation, with black nicks and bumps popping up every so often, plus fine detail isn’t very clear in much of the presentation. Digital artifacts are abound, especially if you pause certain shots, and blacks are certainly crushed given the rough encode. Both cuts of the film are included on one disc and max out the disc size, leaving very little room for anything else, thus the presentations suffer from low bitrates (peaking around 15 mbps). This is certainly an upgrade from the old Laserdisc rip of the Director’s Cut that I’ve been watching for years, although it’s very clear that this presentation is not sourced from a new restoration or scan. Some cleanup work was definitely done on this old master, though the results are very mixed, with film grain being uneven throughout and contrast sometimes struggling. As much as I’m glad to finally have Texasville in HD, the treatment here leaves plenty to be desired. Score: 2.5/5
Both The Last Picture Show and Texasville are presented with LPCM audio tracks that sound good on the whole, with a good balance of dialogue and music throughout. Naturally, there isn’t a lot of dynamic audio to be found, though the soundtrack of Texasville allows for some country hits to drop some added bass to the proceedings. Sources seem to be in good condition, with little-to-no damage to be heard throughout.
As for special features, Criterion has carried over the majority of features from their previous Blu-ray of The Last Picture Show in the America Lost and Found: The BBS Story box set released in 2010. One notable exclusion is the Picture This documentary by George Hickenlooper that was in that previous box set, but Criterion has added a few supplements to Texasville to sweeten the deal. Although there isn’t much by way of supplements on Texasville, the Picture This documentary on that disc provides a nice, worthwhile look into the original production.
Disc 1: 4K Ultra HD Features & Supplements
Disc 2: Standard Blu-ray Feature & Supplements
Disc 3: Texasville Feature Blu-ray & Supplements
Peter Bogdanovich’s classic film The Last Picture Show makes its first solo appearance in 4K Ultra HD courtesy of the Criterion Collection with largely the same excellent Dolby Vision presentation. Getting the film on its own without purchasing five other films with it is certainly a plus, but the draw for many will be the film’s sequel Texasville has been included in its first-ever Blu-ray release. While the transfer of Texasville leaves plenty to be desired, I’m happy to see the sequel in HD finally. And with a good package of supplements to dig into, this release comes Recommended!