118 Min. | Drama | December 1971
IMDB Rating: 8.1
Director: Peter Bogdanovich
Staring: Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepherd
The Last Picture Show Review: This is a character study wherein the main character is a small West Texas town, circa 1951. In the U.S., the early 1950s symbolized a transition from nineteenth century agrarian values to twentieth century urbanism. In The Last Picture Show, various people who live in the town must confront the reality that time moves on. Things change. Assumptions of previous generations give way to the untested assumptions of the future. The Last Picture Show’s theme is thus American cultural change, and the personal disillusionment that such change can bring. It is a powerful theme, and the film imparts that theme with logical clarity and emotional frankness.
In the hands of lesser talents, the subject matter of unimportant people doing unimportant things might have yielded a tiresome soap opera. But The Last Picture Show’s script is poetic, the direction is skillful, the B&W cinematography is artistic, the casting is perfect, and the performances are superlative. The story draws heavily from early American individualism. Life here is mostly physical, not mental. Human relationships are direct, immediate, one-on-one. Except for schools, which are given some prominence, cultural institutions exist in The Last Picture Show only vaguely or not at all. For entertainment, people listen to radio, which features the mournful country-western music of Hank Williams. Or, they go to the town’s decrepit picture show, where an elderly Miss Mosey kindly returns money to the kids who got there too late to see the cartoons.
If The Last Picture Show has a weakness it is in the presentation of a realism that is incomplete. We see mostly stifling bleakness, though that is ameliorated somewhat by humor. What we don’t see are the uplifting influences and the optimism that sustained agrarian generations through hardships and rough times. Nevertheless, within the film’s story parameters, the film does convey an accurate account of what life was like for ordinary folks in West Texas in the early 1950s. Doubt that The Last Picture Show could be made today. Contemporary audiences have been conditioned to expect non-stop action, loudness, glitz, and overblown special effects, all of which are absent, mercifully, from this film. Low-key, perceptive, bleak, and melancholy, “The Last Picture Show” easily makes my list of Top Ten favorite films of all time.