Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Last Picture Show Effect

Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine

What is your favorite coming of age book or movie? Coming of age books and movies are always a big hit with readers and viewers. Each of us have our favorite. Mine is The Last Picture Show. Larry McMurty had written this semi-autobiographical novel during my high school years in the late 60’s. The era of the novel was near my birth year and the setting was in a small town in north Texas which seemed as desolate and boring as all towns seem to teenagers growing up in them.

It was pretty hot reading for 1966 and high school kids picked up on it early. I remember reading it and at that time as a reader of many books went on to others. Never giving it much thought until I found myself in a movie theater in the early 70’s trying to figure out why I knew the story portrayed in the film. I seemed to know what was about to happen as it unfolded. Nothing connected about the title of the movie, same as the book, TheLast Picture Show. It was unsettling that I knew plot, story and had a complete understanding of the characters. Then finally it hit me, I had read the book!

I wasn’t the one to choose the movies we saw but I was always willing to go. My life was busy and honestly I was always in such a hurry I failed to be aware of things that didn’t need my utmost attention. But seated there and realizing the connection, I become more aware of my failure to connect to the many things I had taken in over the years. What I remembered as a great book was now before me in black and white, living color was decided against for this Peter Bogdanovich classic. The characters played by Cybil Shepherd, Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, Ben Johnson and Cloris Leachman were more vivid than ever.

The fact that I had lost myself in the book and now in the movie validated to me that I’m not such a bad judge of good reading. For someone to spend a million dollars making a movie from a book I enjoyed was fantastic. Then the movie getting nominated for 8 Academy Awards was all I needed to again validate my judgment.

Today if I find myself lost in a book I tend to think about the effects of The Last Picture Show. I begin to wonder if there will be a movie, which actor will play the part of the various characters and, for my sake, will the title of the movie be the same as the book. I have hit some and missed some. The ones I hit reassure me to continue reading and getting lost.       

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