TEXASVILLE is the sequel to THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, which captured with poignant accuracy the hopelessness of living in a dying Texas town, circa 1954. In THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, the town was destined to atrophy as the slow wave of modernism destroyed what once was and will never be again.
Thirty years have passed, and, as the movie opens, Texasville has been caught in the boom-and-bust cycle of the oil industry. The town has not died. In fact, it is celebrating its centennial with a big event. Remarkably, almost everyone from the earlier film who has not died is still living there. However, although their lives are intricately interwoven, each is alone.
Duane Jackson, the protagonist, having once succeeded as an oilman, is 12 million dollars in debt. Duane’s indebtedness, however, scarcely seems to concern him as he carries on affairs with Susie and Mary Lou, despite his 20-year marriage to Karla. When his high school girlfriend, Jacy (Cybill Shepard), returns for a visit home to mourn the death of her young son, Duane contemplates seducing her, too, but she warns him against it.
“Like father, like son” seems to fit this movie as Dickie, Duane’s teenage son, also seduces Susie and Mary Lou with no reprimands whatsoever from his father. Duane’s main lament, in fact, is that Dickie has gotten one of the women pregnant. Catchy t-shirt slogans like “If you can’t be first, be next” abound in the film.
TEXASVILLE comes across like an ungodly and overblown soap opera, with nearly every adult in town having an affair outside marriage. Even the local beauty salon is aptly named “Marie’s Hair Affair.” Pathos, futility and hopelessness constitute interwoven themes, as the promising days of high school from THE LAST PICTURE SHOW have ended in broken dreams and broken lives. The “I’ll love ya forever” that Jacy wrote in Duane’s ’52 yearbook proves to be hollow and meaningless — a mere expression.
What makes the characters so pathetic is their total lack of maturity. They have never grown up, understood the consequences of behavior, or accepted responsibility. Their only preoccupation is with sex, doing it and talking about it. No one has any interests in intellectual or adventurous pursuits. These Texas millionaires have not expanded their world knowledge beyond Fort Worth. No one is even concerned with the mundane aspects of daily life. It seems like they don`t to have anything to do.
There is a sense of “family” in the film. Duane and Karla have several children of their own, and assorted other people (both young and middle aged) hang around their house. Yet, there is no sense of parenting in the sense of caring enough to either guide or discipline their children. Duane’s twins, who have to be retrieved from a Christian summer camp for bad behavior, are foul mouthed and totally self indulgent. Duane just shrugs it off without a reprimand.
Christianity is mocked when the wishes of the local preacher (characterized as a buffoon) are overridden. Later, he is pelted with eggs as he cries out to God to rain down justice. There’s also a sensuous, contrived temptation scene enacted during the centennial with Duane and Jacy who play Adam and Eve. Once high school sweethearts, Jacy tells Duane that she wishes that they, like Adam and Eve, could begin again.
Other than an apparent reconciliation of the marriage of Duane and Karla, no character comes to any new realization or grows. The distinct feeling with which we are left is that things will continue as they always have.
Unfortunately, since God and the Bible are distorted and rejected in TEXASVILLE, the help and hope people need will not be forthcoming. It appears they have bought into the prevailing existentialist, carpe diem philosophy (if it feels good, do it).
Directorially, the film has flaws. If the director intended a serious drama with a touch of humor, there is too much exaggeration of situations and caricatures to ring true. If, he intended a comedy, it is much too hopeless. The equation that small town equals small lives equals small people is much too trite and cliche.
THE LAST PICTURE SHOW made Peter Bogdanovich an overnight success when the film was nominated for an Academy Award for the Best Picture of 1971 and two of its stars won Oscars. However, after his initial success, he directed a string of financial failures. Some credit this to the loss of his partner, his former wife, Polly Patt, a talented production designer, whom he left to pursue an affair with Cybill Shephard, his dream girl whom he discovered on the cover of Glamour Magazine. No doubt, TEXASVILLE is Peter’s attempt to recapture the spotlight, but, unfortunately, his lack of vision has drained the story of any insight or entertainment value. However, the distributor is banking on the curiosity of the public to see the characters get together again after twenty years.
While the picture is without violence or nudity, the total lack of parental guidance in Duane’s family, along with marital infidelity and absent moral values, set bad examples. Perhaps the book of Ecclesiastes sums up this movie best: “Vanity of vanities… all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2).
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Several obscenities and profanities, implied adultery and fornication, numerous sexual innuendos, and ridicule of Christianity.