When Francis Ford Coppola first saw a screening of Peter Bogdanovich’s second movie, The Last Picture Show, he couldn’t believe the reception. The movie ended, credits rolled, and the audience stood and applauded. That kind of appreciation is the stuff of any filmmaker’s dreams. It doesn’t happen often, but it was merited and The Last Picture Show was dubbed—by peers, critics, and audiences—an instant classic. Based on Larry McMurtry’s novel, it is as beautiful and lonesome today as it was when it was released in 1971.
Writing in The New Yorker, Pauline Kael, said, “Bogdanovich is so plain and uncondescending in his re-creation of what it means to be a high school athlete, of what a country dance hall is like, of the necking in cars and movie house, and of the desolation that follows high school graduation that the movie becomes a lovingly exact history of American small-town life. It’s a town that could never be mistaken for a wholesome place to grow up in.”
David Thomson wrote that while Picture Show was “a tribute to 1950s America, to the plains of North Texas, to late 1940s black-and-white photography, to Ben Johnson, to [Howard] Hawks again, and to the nostalgia of [The Magnificent] Ambersons. But the real flavor of The Last Picture Show is French. Few American films take so many clearly defined characters and manage to like them all. It is something we know from Renoir, and in Bogdanovich it seems to be the first profound sign of character.”