Peter Bogdanovich, one of America's well-known directors, known for major cinema hits such as "What's up, Doc?", "Paper Moon", "Nickelodeon", "The Last Picture Show", "Mask" and most recently "Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Runnin' Down a Dream". Many directorial hits within the last 50 years. In the 1970's, one film which would garner two Academy Awards and many other cinema awards for its unique story and the other which showcases a time during Hollywood during the silent film era and the end of the Nickelodeon but was not created the way the director intended until now.
"NICKELODEON" is a 1976 film which would star popular actors Burt Reynolds and Ryan O'Neal together including O'Neal's daughter Tatum (who was the youngest actor to win an Academy Award in 1973) and emerging actor at the time, John Ritter.
The film took place during the 1910's when people were enlightened by silent films, especially plays and so forth. But during the time when Patent Offices and Hollywood were quite literally against Independent films. Most films were created by the major studios and those that weren't, had tough times as these Patent Offices literally hired gunmen to shoot down the cameras and destroy them.
So, Leo Harrigan (O'Neal) who is a lawyer and then a writer, gets picked by a film crew to be a director for a film. With the help of cameraman Franklin Frank (John Ritter), the crew tries to get an Independent silent film created. But there are quite a few setbacks as the film has trouble being shot, having the right talent and most of all because Harrigan is a first time director, they depend on a young 10-year-old named Alice Forsyte (Tatum O'Neal) to assist in writing the screenplay.
Things start to change for the film, when Buck Greenway arrives (Burt Reynolds), he tries to shoot down the cameras but the crew, prepared for the Patents Office shoot back and a fight ensues between Harrigan and Greenway. Greenway eventually gets hired to become the lead actor and starts to get close to the starlet of the film Kathleen Cooke (Jane Hitchock) but Harrigan also has feelings for the starlet as well.
The main premise of the film is how things were in Hollywood back in 1910 and the goal for Independent filmmakers who strived hard to bring their films to a Nickelodeon and attract viewers who appreciate the film. Unfortunately, back then in silent films, producers would cut (steal) segments from various films to create another film and this goes the case for Harrigan's film who, along with his crew, are disgusted with what is shown at the Nickelodeon. This was not the final film that they all have worked on.
So, the film is about the trials and tribulations of the Indie filmmaker and their crews of trying to create a quality silent film but instead of cramped rooms, to become a moneymaking machine and in the end, an Independent film manages to succeed and change the face of American cinema.
The film known as "The Clansman" had its titled changed to "The Birth of a Nation" directed by D.W. Griffith would become the most profitable film at that time and would reign the top box office winner for over 20 years. The controversial film would be the synergy that sparked the life of feature full-length films (more than 60 minutes in length) and showing how these films could generate millions.
So, "NICKELODEON" is Director Peter Bogdanovich's ode to filmmaking of that time but also what would be the beginning of feature full length films. The problem with the film is that what Bogdanovich had envisioned, the studio went against that vision. Bogdanovich wanted to cast John Ritter and Jeff Bridges but the studio was against the hiring of unknowns, thus Burt Reynolds and Ryan O'Neal were hired. The most important thing that Bogdanovich wanted was wanting the film in B&W since it was about that era of silent filmmaking. But the studio was against that and thus shot in color. So, the film wasn't as effective and unfortunately, the film did OK, not great in the box office.
Without spoiling the film, "THE LAST PICTURE SHOW" is a believable film about teenage life in a small Texas town. Young teenagers drinking, having sex, people having affairs and characters that are not perfect. These characters are teenagers and adults that have their flaws and during a time where people are trying to discover themselves but doing things that are exploitative in nature that hurts others.
But what works is that the talent portraying these characters seem real and genuine and its their wonderful performance, great direction and capturing that heart of the original novel which helps makes this film so special.
VIDEO & AUDIO:
"NICKELODEON" looks much gorgeous in black and white. The color version of the film really didn't do anything for me. If it's going to be a period piece about the time of silent films, then this new Director's Choice gives us the true version of what Peter Bogdanovich truly wanted.
"THE LAST PICTURE SHOW" is black and white and definitely got the treatment that Bogdanovich wanted (thanks to his communication with Orson Welles).
Both films look great but "NICKELODEON" utilizing the most recent transfer to B&W and "THE LAST PICTURE SHOW" utilizing the same transfer as the last DVD release adding new footage (done in the late 90's).
As for audio, both films are in mono. Dialogue is quite clean and easily understood.
On the first disc for "NICKELODEON", you can watch the film in its original color theatrical presentation or it's B&W Director's cut. In the Director's commentary for the Director's Cut, the commentary by Director Peter Bogdanovich. Bogdanovich is blunt and to the point. Immediately talking about what he wanted for the film but the studio was against it. How he wished Cybill Shepherd took the main actress role because it would have made a better film. But most of all talking about the people who influenced this film for him and his impressions of the talent behind the film. The film does showcase "Birth of a Nation" and Bogdanovich addresses why it was used and also discusses how things were for that era. It was a different time and the director definitely goes into that in the commentary.
THE LAST PICTURE SHOW
This second disc features the "THE LAST PICTURE SHOW" and there are five special features included.
* COMMENTARY - For this film, Director Peter Bogdanovich agrees that he was not easy to work with and how the crew disliked him. His goal was to make sure the talent's performances were real and believable and wanted things to be run his way and not Hollywood's way. Bogdanovich also discussed how Orson Welles was a big support for him in requesting for the film to be shot in black and white. Very good technical commentary on how certain scenes were shot and overall direction. Very informative commentary by Director Peter Bogdanovich.
* A DISCUSSION WITH FILMMAKER PETER BOGDANOVICH - (12:52) Interviews with Director Peter Bogdanovich and how became a director, his thoughts about "THE LAST PICTURE SHOW" now. Also, other comments on his feelings about positive and negative reviews towards his films and how the film doesn't seem dated but how it became an iconic film for him (not his favorite though).
* THE LAST PICTURE SHOW: A LOOK BACK - (1:04:37) A newer featurette of "THE LAST PICTURE SHOW" featuring interviews with Director Peter Bogdanovich, writer Frank Marshall, Cybill Shepherd, Jeff Bridges, Ellyn Burstyn, Eileen Brennan and Cloris Leachman. An awesome featurette as Bogdanovich and talent talked about their experiences on being part of the film. Behind-the-scenes information from the talent about Bogdanovich casting them to his attitude during filming and more. A lot of informative commentary how nerveracking the sex scene between Timothy Bottoms and Leachman, Cybill Shepherd having to strip down her clothes, how Timothy Bottoms younger brother Sam was cast for the film, how Ben Johnson took some major prodding to be part of the film and more. Also, learning a little about the relationship at the time between Bogdanovich and Shepherd. Also, learning how the town that the film is based on really despised the film (because hidden skeletons were now made public) but it was a true depiction of the small town.
* THEATRICAL RE-RELEASE FEATURETTE - (6:04) The original featurette by Director Peter Bogdanovich talking about "THE LAST PICTURE SHOW". Shot in the early 70's. Bogdanovich talks about the many talent working on the film and how they were cast.
* ORIGINAL THEATRICAL TRAILER - (3:06) the Original B/W trailer.
Director Peter Bogdanovich is just an fascinating director and each time I could hear his commentaries and about his filmmaking, it's something that I've always found enjoyable but also educational.
With the release of "NICKELODEON" and "THE LAST PICTURE SHOW" in a Director's Choice two DVD set, I feel that it's just great that Sony Pictures Home Entertainment is giving him the opportunity to fix a film that Bogdanovich felt was not the way he wanted but with today's technology, giving both films the final treatment.
With "NICKELODEON", the film was given a new life in it's Director's Cut incarnation because the director wanted to capture the feeling of the silent film era and by making the film B&W, because the way the film was shot and capturing that era, the B&W version works!
Unfortunately, the storyline is just all over the place and if anything, it relies a lot on the individual talent's performances. John Ritter and Tatum O'Neal were just wonderful. Burt Reynolds was just the emerging star of the 1970's and Ryan O'Neal already won hearts with his performances in "Love Story", "What's Up, Doc?" and "Paper Moon".
The film was at best average and humorous but nothing that help capture my attention. I did like Bogdanovich focusing on that era of silent filmmaking because not many people would know about the challenges that independent filmmakers had to face. The film also showcases a film that help jumpstart the feature film era but showcases a controversial film that captured the attention of viewers at that time period but now would just seem so politically incorrect to watch.
Director Bogdanovich does his best to let people know in the commentary that he was capturing America then. And thus, I feel that with the director's cut, it made the film much more enjoyable. After watching it in black and white, watching its original color theatrical cut is just too difficult. It loses any realism of capturing that era and I'm glad that "NICKELODEON" has both version included on the DVD.
As for "THE LAST PICTURE SHOW", there is so much that can be said about this film.
I absolute adored this film when I first watched it's first DVD release and watching it today and hearing all the information that went in creating this film, especially from the talent is really special.
What I was amazed about the film was how well the talent portrayed their characters and the emotion that went into creating this real, normal atmosphere of living in a small town.
Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) is a teenager who has a tough time at home (his mother is hardly seen) but is a kind, nice guy who cares about his friends which include Billie (Sam Bottoms), a mute kid that the other teens take advantage of. He is at the age where he wants sex but his girlfriend doesn't want to give it up until marriage that he ends up going for the coaches wife, who seems to have her own problems.
Jacy (Cybill Shepherd) is the popular teenager raised by her mother Lois (Ellen Burstyn) who likes to have fun but doesn't cross the line. Jacy who has a good relationship with Duane (Jeff Bridges) gets tempted by peer pressure and becomes promiscuous and when she doesn't have sex with her boyfriend, she goes elsewhere and ends up having sex with Abilene (Clu Gulager) who has dated her mother.
Cloris Leachman was just incredible as a woman going through an emotional time, knowing her husband is interested in other things than her and that in order to get love, she has to be with a teenager (who is having fun with girls his age) and thus enhancing her personal issues onscreen. Cloris Leachman's character Ruth Popper goes through emotional highs and lows that I'm so happy it earned her an Oscar.
This film just had so many things going for it. Shot in B&W, no musical score, the film came down to the performances and each of the talent nailed it.
Bogdanovich really went to the extremes in capturing that authentic performance and really wanting the people to be that character they were portraying and he accomplished that, unfortunately to the dismay of his own crew by ignoring them but he stuck with his gut and in the end, the film earned two Academy Awards forBen Johnson and Cloris Leachman and many more awards for the film.
Just to note that "THE LAST PICTURE SHOW" is the newer version (edited in the late 90's) which includes additional scenes not from the original theatrical cut.
All in all, both "NICKELODEON" and "THE LAST PICTURE SHOW" get very good treatment with this "DIRECTOR'S CHOICE" release. For both films, the Director's Cut definitely made things much better. Especially for "NICKELODEON" which made a not so good film much more enjoyable and "THE LAST PICTURE SHOW" much better with the commentary and the addition of the special features capturing the behind-the-scenes and experiences from those involved in the filming process.
If anything, this release is a celebration for Bogdanovich's work and I can only hope they do the same with "What's Up, Doc?" and "Paper Moon". If you are a big fan of either of these films or the work of Director Peter Bogdanovich, this release is definitely, highly recommended!