Oct 22, 2021 1 min, 37 secs

As high-school senior Sonny Crawford (Timothy Bottoms) makes his way through main street in the north Texas town of Anarene in The Last Picture Show, the old-timers pelt him with complaints about his football team’s performance the night before, another in what appears to be a long line of embarrassing drubbings.

Though 50 years have passed since Peter Bogdanovich’s elegiac masterpiece was released, the town of Anarene in 1951 will look familiar to anyone who’s driven through small-town America and witnessed main streets pock-marked by boarded-up businesses, never to return again.

Based on Larry McMurtry’s novel, which he adapted for the screen with Bogdanovich, The Last Picture Show is a coming-of-age movie set in a dead town, which might technically qualify it as a zombie movie.

The Royal is owned by Sam the Lion, along with seemingly all the other open businesses in town, like a diner where the waitress occasionally doubles as short-order cook, and the pool hall that also functions as a general store.

When Sam bans Sonny and his buddies from his establishments for trying to pay a local woman to deflower poor Billy, they’re dumbstruck.

American self-mythology is built on the idea of thriving little bergs like Anarene, which are flush with ma-and-pa diners and movie houses, and the multiple generations of residents who turned their home town into a happy community.

What does survive this existential decline are the small kindnesses that still pass between the citizens of this town: when the diner waitress, at a low moment for Sonny, whips him up a burger after hours, even though he’s been banned from the place; when Jacy’s mother, realizing she’s lost her virginity to the wrong man, eases through the cruelty that follows; and, most poignantly of all, a look from Sonny that gives Ruth the acknowledgment she needs at precisely the right moment

These characters may live in a ghost town, but they’re human

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