Judge David Johnson's legendary work ethic is on full display here.
Our reviews of America Lost and Found: The BBS Story (Blu-ray) Criterion Collection (published December 20th, 2010) and The Last Picture Show (published December 14th, 1999) are also available.
Judge's Note: This release was a surprise assignment and while I certainly appreciate our beloved Chief Justice's desire to expand the genre horizons of his staff, I wasn't feeling particularly up to a double dose of Pete Bogdanovich this week. So, anyway, I outsourced the review to Rudy Willmann, the accounting director at the agency where I have my day job. The following is the interview I had with him after his mini-marathon.
Editor's Note: While I have long appreciated Dave's creative approach to challenging reviews, he did in fact request this assignment. As a result, I've set up an appointment with a mental health care professional in Manchester, NH to have him evaluated for work-related brain trauma.
Dave: Thanks for taking the time Rudy. I know that I appreciate it and I'm sure our readers will enjoy your unique perspective on classics.
Rudy: Hey, you're welcome. It was my pleasure. I love movies. Accountants have other interests besides decimal points, you know.
Dave: Terrific. Let's start with Nickelodeon with Burt Reynolds. I assume this film has nothing to do with the children's cable network.
Rudy: Um, no. Do you want me to tell you what I think it's about?
Dave: You bet. Fire away.
Rudy: The film's about the development of the film industry from about 1900 to 1915. At that time when movie theaters were known as nickelodens. The industry was very young and there were a lot of people trying to get into this business and it was before the era when screenwriters and actors had contracts and things like that. There was a lot of violence in the industry. The people that had the patent on the cameras would go in and bust up sets and beat up people and try to keep control of the entire industry through their patent. This was before the movie industry was concentrated in L.A.
Dave: Where does Burt Reynolds fit in?
Rudy: Burt Reynolds plays a kind of bit actor in some of these upstart movies. He didn't have any intention of getting into the business and hooked up with people that offered him jobs. The same thing is true for the character played by Ryan O'Neal. So all these people just fall into this budding industry. This was before the age of talkies, so these were all silent movies with subtitles.
Dave: The excitement is palpable.
Rudy: The great thing about Nickelodeon is that these people are all presented as caricatures of their roles, like the leading man caricature played by Burt Reynolds and the director caricature played by Ryan O'Neal. It's really almost slapstick. Nickelodeon is essentially a series of short skits about them making movies. The have train chases, cowboy and Indian standoffs but they're all short vignettes.
Dave: So what's the plot?
Rudy: It shows the industry maturing to the point of the full length movie, Birth of a Nation. It weaves together the personal lives of these characters set against the backdrop of the industry's growth. And it's funny. It's a funny movie.
Dave: It's a comedy then?
Rudy: I think it's designed as a comedy. It's a serious social movie put in a light way. I really liked it. I thought it was fun. I laughed.
Dave: And as an accountant, you tend not to laugh.
Rudy: I'm a very unusual accountant. I also have my own secret desire to be a movie star, so that plays into it.
Dave: Let's move on to the second half of your double feature, The Last Picture Show, also directed by Peter Bogdanovich. What's the story here?
Rudy: This is everything the other one isn't. This is a very dark movie. No caricatures. It's sort of real life to the extreme. It's based in 1952 in a small town in Texas in the middle of nowhere. Like Nickelodeon it's shot in black and white and that contributes an awful lot to the somber tone of the movie.
Dave: Sounds like a real pick-me-up. What's it about?
Rudy: It's about three high school seniors, two guys (Jeff Bridges and Timothy Bottoms) and a young woman (Cybill Shepherd). The focus of this thing is not only on these kids but the other people in this small town, about coming to grips with their sexual development—it's a story about how these kids grow up and become their dysfunctional parents. Everyone in this town is depressed and angry. There are only a couple of characters in the whole movie who presented themselves as a little more upbeat, having come to grips with the, shall we say, lousy condition of their lives. It's not a movie that starts and progresses towards a happy ending. It's a segment in the life of these kids as they graduate, and it ends the way it begins, which is sort of screwed up.
Dave: I want to open a vein just listening to you talk about this movie.
Rudy: I thought Bogdaonvich was basically like Bergman (Judge's Note: In the five years I have written for DVD Verdict, this is the first time Ingmar Bergman has ever been mentioned in one of my reviews) in the way he shows a very dark side of life. There are no happy endings. There's not much more to say about it, though it is very sexually explicit and has a lot of nudity, which was very unusual I think during the time this movie was made.
Dave: So taken together, how do these two movies come across in this double feature release?
Rudy: It's pretty amazing since they're opposite ends of the spectrum. Nickelodeon is a light-hearted period drama and The Last Picture Show is like staring at your navel for a couple of hours.
Dave: But staring at your navel in a good way?
Rudy: If you have a dirty navel then you're right where this movie wants you to be. I loved it actually. I thought it was a good movie.
Dave: So fans of Bogdanovich would definitely want to check this release out.
Rudy: Yeah. It proves the guy can do all kinds of stuff. I guess. Beats the hell out of me. I am only an accountant, you know.
Dave: No need to remind me. How did these movies look on DVD?
Rudy: They looked great, but you have to be OK with black and white, because black and white tends to accentuate the extremes of thing. Don't count on any beautiful sunsets. Everything is dark.
Dave: How does Burt Reynolds's mustache look?
Rudy: I'm not a big fan of Burt Reynolds, but his mustache was vibrant.
Dave: And the sound?
Rudy: Absolutely fantastic. The musical overlay of The Last Picture Show is a bunch of these 1950s country western songs that are honky-tonk and full of disappointment and they fit great with the film.
Dave: How about the extra features?
Rudy: Surprisingly robust and playfully articulate.
Dave: Playfully articulate? I have no idea what that means. Anyway, thanks Rudy. Any closing comments?
Rudy: Yeah, when Cybill Shepherd was 19 she had great --
Dave: Thanks Rudy. That'll be all.
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Distinguishing Marks, The Last Picture Show
Scales of Justice, Nickelodeon
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