Film Review by Vince Gaetano – – “The Last Picture Show”


Directed by Peter Bogdanovich

Released: 1971

A review by Vince Gaetano

Boredom is a powerful motivator. People do stupid things when they’re bored. Emergency rooms across America are filled with the horrific, sometimes humorous (other times both) results of children with nothing better to do. Eventually, everyone gets bored; and eventually, boredom passes.

But what if it didn’t? What if you were stuck in a rut of perpetual tedium, and knew full well that it was never going to end?

That’s the nightmare faced by nearly every character in “The Last Picture Show.”

The story is simple enough: so simple, in fact, one can argue that there isn’t a story. “The Last Picture Show” plays more like a series of vignettes, all connected by the town of Archer City, Texas and its residents.  Throughout the film, friendships will be made, broken, and rekindled, affairs will be had by the young and the old, deaths will occur, and all of it will be gossiped by the various busybodies that seem to crawl from the woodwork for every juicy detail. Though they all act immoral, it is not an accepted level of immorality that drives their actions. It’s boredom, plain and simple. None of them have anything better to do with their lives, and they know they never will. It’s a very freeing realization. It keeps them from ever having to worry about the inevitable consequences of their actions. These people are not immoral by sheer virtue of the fact that they have no idea what morality is. There is no “right” or “wrong”. There is only “boredom” and “anything else”; and in Archer City, Texas, “anything else” is always the better choice.

Take, for instance, Jacy Farrow (Cybil Shepherd), whose only real skill in life is manipulation. It’s not so surprising. She has the looks, the charm, and the flashy eyes to get anything she wants. But her father is, without question, the wealthiest man in town — she already has everything she wants. It’s quite a dilemma. So she decides to manipulate without purpose, getting people to bend to her will because it’s the only thing she knows how to do. It’s pathetic, even to her.

Her boyfriend, Duane (Jeff Bridges), is similarly afflicted. Unfortunately for him, the only thing he knows is Jacy. You can see how this might be a problem. He, on the other hand, does not.

The only person in the community with any resemblance of a conscience is Sonny (Timothy Bottoms). Unfortunately, he’s just as bored as everyone else, and so he tries his hand at an affair with an older, married woman. It’s a temporary fix, and a bad one at that. He’s much too nice a person to not let the infidelity get to him, and it does. It hits him hard, in a way he never saw coming.

The film opens with a title card: “The Last Picture Show.” Unlike most movies, this is not a reminder to the audience, lest anyone forgets what they’re watching two minutes after sitting down. Instead, the title serves as a declaration: “This is what you’re about to see.” I felt like a second title card should have been inserted directly after, one that read: “Deal with it.”

Because the movie never veers away from itself, never gets lost in a message or moral. This is a movie without a moral. This is a slice of life, whether it be the writer’s, the director’s, the actors’, or, more likely, a combination thereof. It’s very true to itself.

By the movie’s end, I was very uncomfortable. What I saw was too real and much too ambiguous. I felt like a peeping tom. Few movies can do that to a person. “The Last Picture Show” does it well. Maybe too well.

Does that make it a good movie? I can’t say. Much like life, it all depends on what you’ve taken away from it.

I can say this though: Watching it is an experience. One I think that’s worth having.

Vincent Gaetano is an aspiring screenwriter and director who graduated with honors from SUNY Oneonta with a major in video production. He currently resides in Rochester, NY.


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