This two-disc set is basically the agony and the ecstasy from the collected works of film critic/scholar turned boy wonder writer-director-actor Peter Bogdanovich. Placed in reverse chronological and quality order, Disc One is 1975’s agonizing “Nickelodeon,” one of a series of box office and/or critical failures that ended the young director’s early career hot streak. A forced slapstick comedy drawn very loosely from the silent era reminiscences of Hollywood greats Leo McCarey, Raoul Walsh and Allan Dwan, it’s a good-natured but entirely unfocused bore despite the strong efforts of an all-star cast led by Burt Reynolds and Ryan O’Neal, and featuring Tatum O’Neal (“Paper Moon”) and John Ritter (“Three’s Company”), among many others. The disc includes both a brand new black and white director’s cut alongside the original color theatrical version, but it will take more than the majesty of monochrome to save this one. Bogdanovich’s DVD commentary provides better movie history and better entertainment.
“The Last Picture Show” is, of course, something completely different. On his second feature, Bogdanovich blew the 1971’s cinema world’s collective mind and drew comparisons to his friend and mentor, Orson Welles, with this crisply wrought black and white adaptation of an early Larry McMurtry novel. Nominated for eight Academy Awards, it details the late teen years of two high school football players (Timothy Bottoms and Jeff Bridges) and a manipulative beauty (Cybill Shepherd) following in the footsteps of her unfaithful mother (Ellen Burstyn) in a rapidly dying Texas town. A minor cause celebre at the time because of its nudity and blunt sexuality, its glory is its acute visual storytelling and Robert Surtees’ masterful photography, a biting and heartbreaking script, and a large number of genuinely tremendous supporting performances. In particular, Cloris Leachman as a deeply lonely housewife who falls for a high school boy and Western mainstay Ben Johnson (“The Wild Bunch,” “Wagon Master”) as the charismatic walking embodiment of the town, Sam the Lion, won entirely deserved supporting acting awards. A sardonic yet humanistic exploration of fractured relationships and poor choices, it remains a riveting and moving work of cutting edge movie-making from a true cinematic reactionary.