Randal Kleiser’s 1978 Grease is the epitome of nostalgia for both adolescence and the 1950s. Interestingly, this film focuses on the same stage of adolescence and same era as The Last Picture Show, but presents these subjects in a very different light. Every scene of Grease displays a candy-coated image of the era and youth. It gives us a 1950s that is pure, bright, and colorful. The Rydell high schoolers have enduring friendships and long-lasting romance. In contrast, The Last Picture Show is shot in black and white and rife with broken friendships, moping teenagers, exploitative sex, and tumbleweeds.
In his article “Ciné Paranoia: Conspiracy Unmasked, 1973-75” J. Hoberman cites the mid 1970s as a time of economic and social turmoil. The economy had slowed down, gas prices had risen, and Hollywood was still feeling the aftermath of the Manson murders. He notes that many movies made during this era are conspiracy-themed. Grease, made in 1978, has moved very far away from this. Not once does Grease acknowledge the American government or social ills. Rather, the audience is distracted from reality and forced to focus on the simplistic themes and development of romance and friendships between the characters. Because Grease was made when the 1970s was drawing to a close, it represents a desire to return to simpler times.
The desire for a simpler, cheerier society is evident in the film’s mise-en-scene. This clip presents us with a very idealized image of what high school is. The pastel colors, old-fashioned costumes and dance moves represent a nostalgic look at adolescence. This last day of high-school is dreamy and upbeat, while the last day of high-school in The Last Picture Show was sad and awkward, especially for the protagonist Sonny. The placement of this scene on a fair ground, replete with dated rides and games, adds to the fantastical quality of the scene. And let’s not forget the blissful ending of the movie, in which the flying “Grease Lightning” lifts a happily reunited, leather-clad Danny and Sandy into the clouds.