The Last Picture Show

They say no one wants to come to picture shows no more. 

Set between WWII and the Korean War, Peter Bogdanovich's film The Last Picture Show is about the end of an era in a small Texas town.

Though it wasn't my era, I could identify with this coming of age story and the film as Film meant a lot to me when it came out in 1971.

The story centers on Sonny Crawford (Timothy Bottoms) and his friend Duane Jackson (Jeff Bridges)and the cast includes Cybill Shepherd in her film debut, Ben Johnson, Eileen Brennan, Ellen Burstyn, Cloris Leachman, Clu Gulager, Randy Quaid and John Hillerman.

It was one of the first films to have used a contemporary popular music soundtrack, and for aesthetic and technical reasons it was shot in black and white, which was unusual for that time. But it feels right.

The film was nominated for ten Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and four nominations for acting: Ben Johnson and Jeff Bridges for Best Supporting Actor, and Ellen Burstyn and Cloris Leachman for Best Supporting Actress. It won two: Johnson and Leachman.

I have never read the book the film is based upon. The Last Picture Show (1966) was written by Larry McMurtry. He is the author of 29 novels.

I suspect he is best known for the Pulitzer Prize-winning Lonesome Dove. That book was a television miniseries. That was a format that foreshadowed the limited series that are now common on places like Netflix. I loved that series and it sent me to the book. Of course, the novel and TV film are totally different experiences. In this case, both were good ones.

So, I should go back after almost 50 years and read the book of The Last Picture Show. I guess like a lot of people, I'm always a bit afraid to read a book after seeing the film version, or see the film when I have loved the book version. I don't want one to ruin the other. Most times that is what happens. It is great when one complements the other.

One of those complementary occurrences is the novel and film of The World According to Garp. I love the book. I love the movie.

Seeing The Last Picture Show film the year I graduated high school and started college made it mean a lot more. I'm not sure what this old man will think about the story now. I suppose I may identify more with Sam and the older characters and it will be a new story.

Watch a clip with critical commentary at Critics' Picks: 'The Last Picture Show' - The New York Times:

Native American Tobacco

A traditional sweat lodge offering of tobacco and red willow bark
made at the altar before participants enter the lodge. (U.S. Air Force photo/Monica Mendoza)

We are all aware now that tobacco kills hundreds of thousands of people each year. But it has a long role in American history - a history that precedes America.

Tobacco has been used ritually by the first occupants of this continent and they introduced it to the New World settlers. Some new research shows that Native Americans of the northwest were smoking tobacco more than 1,000 years before European fur-traders arrived with their own domesticated variety.

Tobacco use among Native people was historically associated with sacred rituals and ceremonies and was limited to only certain tribal members who smoked limited quantities.

Unfortunately, smoking numbers among American Indians today is high (37 percent of Idaho American Indians, for example) and traditional “tobacco kills” campaigns are not as effective with people who have a tradition of its sacred and cultural use. The new research may be part of efforts to more effective smoking cessation programs in Native communities, perhaps by debunking common urban myths about traditional smoking.

Weaponized Critical Thinking

An article about Danah Boyd's SXSW EDU keynote, "What Hath We Wrought?," caught my eye for the use of the phrase "weaponized critical thinking." As someone who has taught critical thinking in many classes and as a course in itself, the idea of "weaponizing" the subject was frightening.

That fear is what Boyd talks about. It comes from a lack of media literacy, fake news, media manipulation and, unfortunately, the democratization of access to media. That access was thought to be a key benefit of "Web 2.0" when we would becomes producers rather than just consumers of web and media content.

I do believe that this led to some rational discourse and more viewpoints getting exposure, but Boyd and others would argue that there was too much democratization. The founding fathers warned of a democracy where mobs could rule. With all the options and possible sources of information, most people gravitate (a word that I think implies this invisible force) to things that align with our own existing positions.

In her talk, Boyd summarized her research into the ways in which social media can often turn the habits of critical thinking against itself. Frightening.