The Last Picture Show

The Last Picture Show (Peter Bogdanovich, 1971)

Peter Bogdanovich is the kind of director that eats and breaths Cinema. His encyclopaedic knowledge of films, directors, and the whole business is as impressive as Martin Scorsese’s. Bogdanovich made his name in the early 1960’s with reviews, books, interviews with the greats of the 1950’s and 1940’s. His series of interviews with Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, and John Ford are references in the American Cinema. With just this work he could have been as important as Pauline Kael or Manny Farber. But, he always had the desire to pass behind the camera to write and direct his own films. However, the man never reached full success with the audiences and the critics. Judged severely by his peers and probably misunderstood the man had to direct TV movies, miniseries episodes and pay check jobs to survive in the studio controlled years of the 1980’s, a time where directors weren’t considered as apt as they were in the 1970’s. Although, this decade, the most prolific of Bogdanovich’s directorial career, is marked by the second Golden age of American Cinema. The Last Picture Show is clearly a film of that decade for many reasons while it contains many references of its director’s heritage.

The 1970’s was a time where the kids and teenagers of the 1950’s were becoming the legendary directors of today: Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Hal Ashby, Peter Bogdanovich, Stanley Kubrick, Terrence Malick, Robert Altman, and many more, The Last Picture Show is almost like if Bogdanovich wanted to represent the coming of age of this new generation of directors from boyhood to manhood with the characters his second film. The Last Picture Show is a pivotal film that is set in Texas, shot in a classic black and white that digest the lessons of Orson Welles and John Ford for its mise en scène of subtle camera placing at the height of the eyes and few camera movements. The visual aspect is very classical and reminds of the films of the 1950’s with a nostalgic but not too bold feeling. The Fordian theme of the community, the ensemble cast and the little town, and of course the many Ford films displayed (Wagonmaster and The Sands of Iwo Jima).

Meanwhile, the themes and the preoccupations of its characters are serious and the main theme of the film circles around their sexuality and how their lives evolve in this dying town. We clearly feel the European influence on Bogdanovich: Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, and Ingmar Bergman amongst many. The approach and the way the themes are exploited reminded me of the important films of the 1960’s of these remarkable directors.

Overall, The Last Picture Show is a smart film that brings you into known territories and then surprise you with its mature themes and its wonderful and touching story. The use of Howard Hawks’ Red River is pure genius. It gives a great emotional push for the film’s final moments. Every cinephile should watch this cinephile crafted film. And for the record, Cybill Shepherd: WOW!


  1. Thank you for an excellent article on this overlooked film Michael.
    I often mention The Last Picture Show to people when they're talking about Jeff Bridges and I'm surprised how few people have heard of it. For all the plaudits Jeff has received in the last few years I still think this film is one of his best.
    I link your analysis of Cybill Shepherd too, Wow sums her up perfectly.

  2. Thank You Paul! Writing on The Last Picture SHow is something very pleasant because there are so much great things about it!
    I'm not so much of an actor kind of cinephile, so yes, Bridges gives a very good performance but I couldn't really tell you if it was Great or not...
    Finally, Shepherd is the female lead of my favorite film of all time: Taxi Driver. I always though she was a magnificient woman.
    Thanks for commenting!


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