DVD Review -- Nickelodeon and Last Picture Show
Tuesday, April 21, 2009; 12:00 AM
"It was the best of Bogdanovich, it was the worst of Bogdanovich..."
My apologies to Charles Dickens for butchering his opener from "A Tale of Two Cities," but that was the first thought that popped to mind when I received the new "Double Feature" DVD ($24.96, releasing today) that pairs filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich's coming-of-age classic, 1971's "The Last Picture Show," with "Nickeolodeon," his trifling 1976 homage to the silent film era.
"Picture Show" launched the director's career, landing him a place in the '70s Cinema Hall of Fame alongside artists like Francis Ford Coppola and William Friedkin. "Nickelodeon," on the other hand, caught the once-ascending star on his downward trajectory, after he had made bombs like "Daisy Miller" and "At Long Last Love." What reason could Sony possibly have for hitching Bogdanovich's finest film to the DVD wagon of one of his least memorable ones, other than to sucker naive consumers into acquiring a copy of "Nickelodeon" by default?
Actually, after reviewing the dual disc set, I see more of the logic behind the pairing. Where "Picture Show" focuses on several teens making the melancholy shift from adolescence to adulthood, "Nickelodeon" captures another bumpy maturation process: the evolution of the movie industry in those final days before the epic, controversial "Birth of a Nation" permanently shifted Hollywood's tectonic plates. In different ways, both films are unconventional nostalgia trips. "Nickelodeon" just involves a lot more slapstick and a lot less artistry than the former.
But that's not to say the director's cut of "Nickelodeon" -- which makes its DVD debut here, along with the original version -- isn't worth a look. During a commentary track newly recorded for this release, Bogdanovich contends that this embellished cut, which adds three minutes to the running time and is presented in black and white as the filmmaker originally intended, works better when viewed in monochromatic tones. And you know what? He's absolutely right. Even the performances, particularly from a spunky, young Tatum O'Neal and an underused John Ritter, gleam a little brighter without the modernizing effects of all that color.
Of course Bogdanovich can't help but harp on all the other ways the studio screwed up his vision for "Nickelodeon," including refusing to allow him to cast his then-lover, "Last Picture Show" star Cybill Shepherd, in a key role. Aside from those fascinating little rants, though, the commentary is a bit of a dud.
Sadly, the same thing is true of the fresh audio track Bogdanovich brings to "Last Picture Show." The man may be infinitely knowledgeable about film history and full of notable anecdotes about the process, but spending two-plus audio hours with him is akin to listening to Droopy drone on and on about master shots and the influence of Orson Welles. You can only listen for just so long.
"Last Picture Show" fans will be disappointed to learn that the aforementioned commentary and a lifeless interview with Bogdanovich are the only new additions to that DVD's mix. The best special feature in the bunch, "'The Last Picture Show': A Look Back," is an hour-long documentary that previously appeared on the 1999 release. But for those who haven't seen it, the doc delivers a comprehensive overview of the dysfunction (see Bogdanovich's perpetual disagreements with his crew) and joy (Ellen Burstyn cites one on-set moment as "the best acting lesson I ever got") that magically combined to make "Last Picture Show" an ageless, still-cherished gem.