Friday, January 07, 2005

The Last Picture Show

I love Larry McMurtry's work.

More than any other American writer of the latter half of the 20th Century, McMurtry has captured the emptiness of the human experience and the passing of eras with such clarity and beauty that it has become a near art form. "Lonesome Dove," McMurtry's Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece, may in fact be the best piece of American fiction written since 1950. It is by far the most enjoyable novel I have ever read.

McMurtry is also adept at telling coming of age stories, and nowhere is this more effectively the case than in his 1966 classic, "The Last Picture Show." Based on his own experiences growing up in tiny Archer City, Texas, the story focuses on the coming of age of two teenagers, Duane Jackson and Sonny Crawford, and the duplicitous nature of small town life in the 1950s.

Peter Bogdanovich adapted the novel into a 1971 movie and the result is without question that director's best work. Not only does the film literally bring the book to life, it also serves in many ways as a tribute to the passing of the Golden Age of moviemaking. Appropriately enough, the film screened when the town of Anarene's picture show closes down (hence the book and film's title), is Howard Hawks' "Red River." Talk about a bygone era.

"Nobody comes to picture shows anymore," a character says at the end of the film. "They got baseball in the summer and TV all the time..."

By 1971, U.S. box office attendance had plummeted to its lowest point in the history of the medium. The character might as well have been speaking about the early 1970s as much as she was about the mid 1950s.

I saw the film version of the McMurtry novel on TV last night. It remains very much a classic. The film spawned a 1990 sequel, "Texasville," which itself was based on McMurtry's book sequel to his novel. While not near as emotionally powerful as the original film, it is something of a lost classic and probably deserves a reevaluation.

McMurtry has released a new novel called "Loop Group." When I spotted a review on the cover of last Sunday's New York Times Book Review, I was ecstatic. There's no greater feeling in the world to a bibliophile than hearing that your favorite author has released a new novel.

Then I began to read the description and my heart sank. McMurtry's latest work isn't a western. It isn't even a "Last Picture Show" type story. It's about two aging women taking a road trip through Texas. And about middle-aged women and their sex lives.


Oh, well. Shouldn't complain too much, I don't' guess. McMurtry recently completed an ambitious four part western saga called "The Berrybender Narratives." I received the fourth novel for Christmas and given that I haven't read any of them yet, that should keep me busy for a few weeks. Plus, after viewing 45 minutes of "Picture Show" last night, it might be time to reread that novel again.

One can't get enough of good prose, after all.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

speaking of good prose. i enjoy reading your weekly articles in the shopper. i am trilled that you have restored this blog. however when will you write a book o great one.

jake's #1 fan of man from tennessee

11:02 PM  
Blogger Jake Mabe said...

You are too kind. Thanks so much.

I have no idea when I will write a novel. I do have one in mind that I hope to get an opportunity to work on soon. Thank you for the encouragement.

11:16 PM  

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