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Stripper of the Day: Jacy Farrow 

Michael C here. I think it's safe to say a lot more people can relate to Cybil Sheperd's striptease in Bogdonavich's The Last Picture Show than they can to Magic Mike.

Strippers in movies usually hit the stage with the confidence of Greek Gods and the choreography of Madonna's back-up dancers. Rarely do movies strippers capture the truth that even for people as stunning as a young Cybil Shepherd, the idea of undressing in front of a room full of strangers is the stuff of nightmares.  The Last Picture Show Bogdanovitch captures that feeling in excruciating detail.

In one of those scenes impossible to forget once seen, Sheperd's small town heartbreaker Jacy Farrow has given her sweetheart the slip and run off with doofy Randy Quaid to an out-of-town party where it's rumored there will be skinny-dipping. Cut to a record player and a dozen naked Texas teens arrayed around an indoor pool, filmed by Bogdonavich with a matter-of-factness that must have left jaws on the floor in 1971. 

come on in, the water's fine

One of the ringleaders delights in informing Jacy that newcomers have to undress out on the diving board in full view of everybody. Jacy feebly agrees, and it's here that the tension spikes...

The camera stays on Sheperd as she makes her way to the diving board with the enthusiasm of a condemned prisoner marching to the gallows. She sheds her shoes on the way, that's an easy call. Once out on the board she takes a deep breath and, struggling to act nonchalant, loses her dress. After that she tosses aside stockings and garters until she's down to just bra and panties.

In a moment of exquisite awkwardness we watch her hand behind her back as it flutters between the two, unable to decide which should go next. Mercifully, a stumble on the diving board cuts the tension and allows her to finish with a minimum of agony.

The whole sequence really does feel like one of those dreams where you've accidentally shown up to school naked and everyone is staring. That's what etches it so powerfully in the memory. It certainly isn't eroticism. It's a coldly clinical scene which lingers on Jacy's hesitation more than her body. And if the tension wasn't enough to put the kibosh on any sexiness, then the creepy, naked little brother ogling Sheperd from the water certainly gets the job done.

The Last Picture Show is filled with sexual scenes that aren't sexy, from Timothy Bottoms bored grope sessions in the front scene of his car to the scene where Jeff Bridges fails to deflower Shepherd because he's too hungover. It isn't until you rewatch the film as an adult that you realize that a thirty-eight year old Ellen Burstyn playing Jacy's mom is the most genuinely sexy thing in the movie.

Previous Strippers
Helen Tasker
Nancy Callahan
Magic Mike 

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Reader Comments (7)

I have been planning to write about this movie for a million years and it never happens so thank you. Also Cybill Shepherd so pretty!

love the comparison to naked dreams

July 13, 2012 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Still my favourite American movie from the 70s. I don't understand why it doesn't get discussed anywhere near as much as the two Godfathers or Cabaret or Five Easy Pieces or Taxi Driver etc. (Not that either of those should be discussed any less..)

July 14, 2012 | Unregistered Commentergoran

I agree that this is a devastating scene and also that "It isn't until you rewatch the film as an adult that you realize that a thirty-eight year old Ellen Burstyn playing Jacy's mom is the most genuinely sexy thing in the movie." I don't think I ever appreciated Bogdanovich as a director until I got older. I always thought of him as as a somewhat sketchy old man who was overly in love with old Hollywood. For my money, his most brillant movie is Targets.

July 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChristine

Cybill Shepherd is just so beautiful.

July 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTyler

One of my favorite films of the 1970s, too. It's so moving; so evocative. As Bogdanovich always does, he pays tribute to old Hollywood. It's a pity that Bogdanovich's career was not what it could have been. But I remain a steadfast fan. I just love What's Up, Doc, Paper Moon and the hideously under-appreciated and much viled Daisy Miller, Nickelodeon and, brace yourselves, the wonderful, tongue-in-cheek At Long Last Love.

July 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMarcos

Yes, this is such an underappreciated movie! I'm so glad it was written up here. Ellen Burstyn WAS incredible in this film.

BTW, I read that Noah Bombach and Wes Anderson are producing Bogdanovich's next movie, to be released next year.

July 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

This may be my favorite movie of the early 70s. I think the reason it is not discussed much is because Bogdanovich never matched the heights of his first film. Sure some have come close and some are fantastic fun (What's Up Doc?), but when you only have one masterpiece in you then everyone assumes it was due to luck or the work of others.

But in my opinion Orson Welles only had one certified masterpiece so why can't Last Picture Show be enough?

July 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDave in Alamitos Beach
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