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Film: The Last Picture Show

By Henry P. Raleigh
ART TIMES April 2012

The last picture show, drawing by Henry P. Raleigh

You know how this old party game goes — you are to imagine yourself marooned indefinitely on an island and permitted but one book to while away, goodness knows, how much time. Whatever you come up with, you see, reveals something about yourself and all your party friends can have a good laugh.  The trick is to be honest about this and avoid the temptation to impress by selecting a heavy-weight work that you really wouldn’t touch if your life depended on it.

The game can be played with film just as well.  In this situation you are marooned in a room that, surprisingly, contains a CD player and a monitor. You must choose but a single film to accompany you through perhaps eternity.  Sure, it’s tempting to act the smartie and pick a film no one has ever heard of and most likely never viewed by you either — “A Shameless Old Lady” by Rene Allio (announce it by its French title, “La Vielle Dame Indigno”, this will astound your friends, all right.)  But taking this seriously, as is my wont, I would give this a good deal of thought considering this would be my only diversion forever and came up with several possibilities.  One is Bob Clark’s 1983 “A Christmas Story” because I can wax (which I do when not wonting) nostalgic over my long ago youth.  Similarly, Woody Allen’s “Radio Days” can warmly transport me into the past — hearing Sinatra’s Pistol Packing Mama can do it all by itself.   OK, none of these are going to overwhelm anyone with my cinematic erudition but it’s my eternity that’s at stake here, not theirs, right?

Now after exhausting examination I have found the film that I would spend all my days with and it is — wait for it — “Napoleon Dynamite”, Jared Hess’ sleeper film.  Why, you ask?  Well, I can tell you because it’s comfortable and because I owe it a debt for having rejected it at first viewing as just another angst filled teenage high school flick.  In subsequent viewings I learned to love it, its soothing, simple charm, its total absence of any message — sociological, psychological, political, or sexual.  Its gemutlich unfolds in the peasant, open fields of Idaho — as close to the Land of Oz as you can.  “Napoleon Dynamite” is a comfortable film and if I must languish idly till the end of time I damn well might as well be comfortable.