Adrian Graham

Bad Day at Black Rock film poster

Bad Day at Black Rock vs The Last Picture Show

In Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) a mysterious man arrives at a small town ‘in the middle of nowhere’ – stepping off a train and inquiring about a Mr Komoko – his presence makes everyone in the town uncomfortable.

The Last Picture Show (1971) tells the story of a group of teenagers, coming of age in a ‘dead end town’ that’s been sidestepped by mid-20th Century America. These stories explore the flip-side of the American dream, the antithesis of the jingoistic ticker tape parade – not exactly a diabolical or dystopian world, so much as one where things have gone off the rails, where working class underachievers blunder into lives of low expectation, desperately seeking meaning in whatever way they can. In Bad Day At Black Rock the mysterious stranger breaks through the poisoned status quo by sheer persistence, and in the process he comes into violent conflict with the town bully.

The Last Picture Show shows bored teenagers distracted by sex to alleviate the claustrophobia and emptiness of small town life. But these are small towns with small town thinking, and the stifling social conventions of conservative 1950s America. In these small towns ‘everyone knows everyone’, and everyone else is an outsider. It’s an inward-looking world. Teenagers, without the opportunity of a place at university, are doomed to a mundane and inconsequential life. These are the backwaters, culturally dead, ossified by the status quo. The youth, with their dreams and aspirations, will surely have their hopes dashed and endure a frustrating future. Even relative success stories in The Last Picture Show are tarnished by unhappy marriages, futile resentments, and destructive rivalries – and in one case is literally unable to perform. This is far from the American dream, more like an American failure. At best, characters are bundles of desire, subjects of their uncontrolled hormones, and at worst – in Bad Day At Black Rock – people are poisoned by envy and prejudice.


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