How a painful chapter from his own youth revived James Gray’s passion for filmmaking
A few years ago, my friend and I were talking about his career. He said that after college, he was working hard for a couple of months, a few weeks in the summer. Then he quit the job, saying he wasn’t enjoying the work. He looked around at friends and realized that most of them also had a couple of months of work during the summer. He was like, “I’ll go out for the summer job,” and, like so many people, he ended up being a summer help.
And he went on to do what he wanted to do before a few of his friends, including those that he made, became their jobs. (I, for one, remember the day he found his true calling: He went to college and realized that most people wanted to listen to his music for a living. I remember the day he realized that he wanted to be a filmmaker. And I remember the day he decided to pursue his dream.)
On this day in 1977, James Gray made his last movie. It is not surprising that he would do so while making The Last Picture Show, which became a hit with critics and won the Oscar for Best Picture. He was 24 years old and was in the midst of a love affair with cinema he had known little about. Yet, this was an important chapter in his life, filled with a passion that ended with a life-changing experience.
The Last Picture Show was James Gray’s first movie, produced while he was still in high school. The movie debuted at the Chicago International Film Festival in 1978 and was a tremendous success winning the Oscar for Best Picture and Gray’s first Oscar nomination.
While the movie was popular, Gray was not. In fact, he had only done one other film at the time. He was cast as the lead in the short film The Last Summer, where he had to film in the summer and in the snow and endure some very serious stunts. The critics loved it: