Director Peter Bogdanovich saw the story as “a Texas version of Orson Welles's The Magnificent Ambersons, which was about the end of a way of life caused by the coming of the automobile. This [film] was about the end of a way of life caused by the coming of television.” And it is a film that is touched by both its past and present. On the one hand, the picture is elegiac, with references to John Ford and Howard Hawks; on the other hand, it embraces New Hollywood through its expressive, high-contrast cinematography by Robert Surtees (The Graduate) and the director/co-screenwriter’s personal interpretation of the source material.
Bogdanovich created an authentic small-town milieu by paying minute attention to the sense of place, and to the idiosyncrasies, dress, and hairstyles of his characters. He was equally adept at establishing complex relationships between the various troubled souls. In so doing, the director thoughtfully dramatized the lives of two generations of aimless people who cling to their dying town, looking for solace and escape in drinking, dreaming, sex, and the local movie theater. The Last Picture Show poignantly depicts loss, to be sure, but its exceptionalism lies in the film’s fleeting moments of happiness captured in small intimacies.