This is a film I’ve always had some sort of a connection with in spirit. Even though I’m not one to speak from the generation to which it presents, there’s a specific pleasantness to which Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show creates that has always enamoured me from the first moment I saw it. The Last Picture Show is a film that is drenched in nostalgia, but of a time and a paradise where we saw everything was easier for our own selves. The Last Picture Show‘s title alone hints at a sort of resentment to what the world around it has become and how its people have found such a comfort. Life without films, life without glory, The Last Picture Show paints such a beautiful picture.
Based on Larry McMurtry’s novel of the same name, our primary focus is a Texan youth, Sonny – as he is played by Timothy Bottoms. The year is 1951, he is entering his own coming of age together with his good friend Duane. Sonny and Duane are high school seniors within a town that already is falling apart slowly by the minute, as hinted from the title, “the last picture show.” Everyone in this town is losing their own spirits as they are within the last “picture show” of their own lives – where they spend their days within a fantasy before they turn into more responsible beings. Sonny has broken up with his girlfriend, and Duane is dating the most popular and richest girl in the area – everyone is living within their ideas of a life that they find themselves most relaxed within.
As I watched The Last Picture Show, two thoughts came into my head. One was of how much time I had wasted living my life the introvert that I am, because every youth in The Last Picture Show is at the critical point of their life to which they are about to go ahead and enter a new stage. I’m fairly young myself, but there’s a spirit within The Last Picture Show that hints at optimism in the best sense for what we are witnessing within such a fantasy, caring less about what comes ahead. I feel I’ve wasted so much time living the lifestyle which I am most attuned to but at the same time, I am as carefree about where I am as they are, so who am I to say that I’m wasting my time when such a nature is being embraced within such a work? We are all living inside of a moment where we all think it’s going to last because we keep it in our minds that it will.
The second thought that came into my mind referred back to the film’s title: “the last picture show.” The last picture show, hinting already at the film’s setting inside of a fading environment. There’s a running nostalgia that flows through The Last Picture Show which in turn adds more to what the film is presenting deep down. If the black-and-white cinematography hadn’t made everything clear enough, it doesn’t aid the film only in an aesthetic manner but it gives a hint at the message the film is presenting. The world, as it fades, becomes more and more black-and-white by the minute. Everyone is living inside of one side because they think it does them good, but then we look into the other and suddenly we realize how alienated we have become from true peace. The last picture show, isn’t only literal in showing us how no one wants to take comfort at the movies anymore, but figurative, in how it is the very last moment to which we ever found a true sense of peace within ourselves – something which no one even seemed to want anymore.
But maybe that’s the beauty of The Last Picture Show – it still runs through the ages today. Peter Bogdanovich had an understanding of American youth that levels itself with the isolation between generations as felt by Mike Nichols through The Graduate, which was only a few years prior. There is no certainty for an image of peace and yet that is what everyone deep down wants as the world around them only begins to fade away more and more in favour of one whose modernizing only tries to create restrictions and keep its people within bounds. And yet even as we think it occurs within youth, the fact of the matter is, our climate only grows worse because our world just chooses to isolate one from the other and it doesn’t become about finding peace within oneself anymore – making something more tragic deep down.
Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show is a preservation of an era. It creates an image that understands where people were trying to find the best of things within a world that only deteriorates by the minute, only as they don’t know that true peace is only fading as they get caught up within themselves. It was abundant from the black-and-white cinematography, which gives the film the look of a film from said era, but as we look upon the characters we see something else deeper down, for Bogdanovich presents his viewers a time capsule of a more simple period. A part of me just resents the way our world is going in such a climate, then I look back at The Last Picture Show and I think to myself about where such peace is needed most. One of the greatest films of the 1970’s, together with one of the greatest American films all around. As Hank Williams’s song goes, “Why don’t you love me like you used to do? How come you treat me like a worn out shoe? My hair’s still curly and my eyes are still blue, why don’t you love me like you used to do?”
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via BBS Productions.
Directed by Peter Bogdanovich
Screenplay by Peter Bogdanovich, Larry McMurtry, from the novel by McMurtry
Produced by Stephen J. Friedman
Starring Jeff Bridges, Timothy Bottoms, Cybill Shepherd, Randy Quaid, Ellen Burstyn, Ben Johnson, Cloris Leachman
Release Year: 1971
Running Time: 118 minutes