In our weekly seriesAnatomy of a Nude Scene, we're going to be taking a look at (in)famous sexscenes and nude scenes throughout cinema history and examining their construction, their relationship to the film around it, and their legacy. This week, Cybill Shepherd's nude debut in Peter Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show is among the most relatable and uncomfortable nude scenes in film history!
Long beforeshe was one of the queens of the boob tube and even before she was the object of Travis Bickle's obsession in Taxi Driver, Cybill Shepherd was a beauty queen and model, whowas "discovered" when she landedon the cover of Glamour Magazine in 1970. The woman who discovered her was Polly Platt, a production designer and wife of film critic and historian-turned-director Peter Bogdanovich, who was prepping hissecondfilm The Last Picture Show. In hindsight, it all seems rather absurd as Bogdanovich would soon cast Shepherd in the lead role of the film before embarking on a less-than-clandestine affair with his leading lady right under the nose of the wife who brought her to his attention in the first place.
Larry McMurtry's semi-autobiographical 1966 novel The Last Picture Show told a relatable tale of small town life, set in the ghost town of Anarene, Texas in the early 1950s. Shepherd, a 20 year old southern belle from Memphis, was the perfect person to play Jacy Farrow, the prettiest girl in town. Jacy's more than just a pretty face, however. She's also forward-thinking to the point where she doesn't mind having to string along and eventually trample over several men to get to the one she wants. Now, the men she uses are no saints themselves, often getting what they want in the bargain, but Bogdanovich saw in Shepherd that mix of beauty and bite, a woman willing to do what she needs to do in order to get her way.
When the film opens, Jacy is dating Duane (Jeff Bridges) but she really has eyes for rich boy Bobby (Gary Brockette). At the Christmas dance, Jacy gets an invite to a pool party at Bobby's house from local doofus Lester (Randy Quaid), another guy who fancies her. At this point in the narrative, Jacy is still a virgin and therefore rather prudish in both her appearance and behavior. The pool party turns out to be a naked pool party, putting Jacy in a bit of a bind as she must compromise at least one of her core beliefs in order to get the attention of the host Bobby.
39 minutes in, we get one of the most awkward and relatable scenes of all time, as the assembled naked masses all sit around the pool watching Jacy strip on the diving board. Over the course of a rather agonizing 90 seconds, Shepherd slowly strips while Bogdanovich's camera lingers on not only her awkwardness at the moment, but also on the expectant faces of her classmates. Will Jacy become "one of them" or will she chicken out?
Whether or not you saw the film or that scene for the first time as a teenager yourself, it has the ability to instantly transport you back to a cringeworthy momentfrom your own teen years. It's visceral in a way that resonates with the audience, lingering long after the film and the moment are over. Of course, the ultimate sucker punch for Jacy comes several minutes later when Bobby rejects her because she's a virgin, telling her to come back when she's more sexually experienced.This, naturally, leads Jacy on a quest to lose her virginity, though by the time she does, Bobby has clearly moved on and is no longer interested.
One doesn't have to be from a small town to relate to these various scenarios, there are likely parallels ineveryone's lives that make this storyline resonate. It's part of the genius of McMurtry's story and Bogdanovich's direction that they manage to linger in our minds as long as they do. Bogdanovich would divorce Platt just prior to the film's release and take up with Shepherd full-time until their own split in 1978. In fact, after his two follow-up films, What's Up, Doc? and Paper Moon, Bogdanovich would try and fail twice to give his leading lady the star vehicle he felt she deserved. A 1974 adaptation of Henry James' Daisy Miller and the 1975 musical At Long Last Love were both bloated commercial and critical failures that nearly sank Bogdanovich's own career in addition to Shepherd's.
Thankfully for her, another New Hollywood brat named Martin Scorsese was there to give her a boost with a small but pivotal role in Taxi Driver that would help her regain some footing within the industry. Bogdanovich himself never managed to do likewise, working steadily over the next 40 years but never regaining the kind of critical acclaim or commercial success thatLast Picture Showand Paper Moon brought him. However, for one shining moment, these two collaborators managed to bring us one of the most relatable and uncomfortable moments in cinema history.
Catch up withour most recent editions ofAnatomy of a Nude Scene