Most of the entries in this series so far have used the images as a jumping-off point for other ideas. Some of these ideas have been addressed directly in the films chosen, others less so. Up until now, I haven’t chosen an image and discussed its role in the overall plot of the film…until today. When I skimmed THE LAST PICTURE SHOW in preparation for this piece, I was truly amused to come across this moment in the opening minutes of the film.
It may not look like much as a screengrab, but trust me – in motion, it’s intriguing.
In a way , I couldn’t believe I’d never noticed it before over the two or three prior viewings of this movie since subsequent viewings are usually meant to catch details like this. Then again, it wasn’t much of a wonder, since this image is very much “Blink, and you’ll miss it”. Likewise, I couldn’t believe the way the plot of what’s to come was so skillfully conveyed in this one fleeting piece of composition. It is, to steal a title from a notorious site and meme, “one perfect shot”.
The oh-so-temporary moment happens early in the story when Sonny is fighting with the transmission on his ride. Sonny being a teenager who isn’t exactly well-off, he drives a truck that was probably passed down to him or sold to him for $50. He needs the vehicle badly, of course, since in a town like this a car is the ultimate key to one’s freedom. However, as much as he needs it, he doesn’t have the means to take care of it. He can’t keep the transmission working properly…fixing the broken window is far down the to-do list.
As he coaxes the truck into a parking spot, we notice Billy in the middle of the street sweeping. It’s a sight that will recur often throughout the film, but in this moment it’s new to us. Like the state of Sonny’s truck, the sight of Billy sweeping is very telling. Only someone simple would bother to sweep a dirt road, and yet the smile we see on his face tells us that he takes a great deal of pride in it.
For the quickest of moments, the broken window and Billy overlap. Not only do they overlap, but Billy stands in the centre of the crack…like a sniper rifle that has found its target. We have no idea what it is alluding to, of course – how could we? What’s more is that even once we come back and rewatch the film, it’s not as if this becomes a grand moment of foreshadowing. Again, that’s because if we blink, we miss it. But it’s there, it’s always been there, and it’s the sort of subtle detail that rewards rewatch and reminds us why it can be so wonderful to revisit familiar ground.
This is a movie about so many things – loss, lust, restlessness, angst, tradition, isolation. There are so many moments in it that convey all of these ideas and much more. Its reliance on black-and-white photography even harkens back to iconic images of The American Dust bowl. However, it’s hard to eclipse this momentary image of the shape of things to come. Not just for its elegance, but also for its subtlety.
Three more from THE LAST PICTURE SHOW for the road…
This series of posts is inspired by the “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” series at The Film Experience. Do check out all of the awesome entires in their series so far