The Last To Know (1981)

Directed by Bonnie Friedman, The Last To Know is a documentary about alcoholism and prescription drug abuse as experienced by women in America. Focusing on four women of disparate backgrounds and lifestyles, the film combines scholarly, social and historical analysis with personal interviews, bringing to public attention a hidden aspect of American life and showing how the medical community, the media and society at large frequently aid in perpetuating these abuses. Each woman tells in her own words how alcoholism affects aspects of her life — her work, social interactions, sexual activity and self-image. Each tells of her life before heavy drinking began to affect it and how becoming increasingly dependent on alcohol and prescription drugs led to addiction: of blacking out for days, being hospitalized and institutionalized, and the often hostile reactions of family and friends.

The film places these personal accounts in a social and historical framework, juxtaposed against images of advertisements that target women. Liquor and pharmaceutical industries are shown to profit enormously by promoting the idea that women’s problems can be solved through chemical means. One of the women tells of how she was “cured” of alcoholism by being prescribed heavy doses of pharmaceutical drugs, to which she became addicted.

The Last To Know was among the first documentaries to shed light on this problem and it is one of the most acclaimed. Its title echoes the alcoholic’s unwillingness to recognize her problem, and also the societal stigma that particularly impacts women. The film was selected for inclusion in the 1981 New York Film Festival. In her review in The New York Times, Janet Maslin praised the “sympathetic, personalized viewpoint” that director Friedman brings to the topic. Ms.Magazine critic Molly Haskell wrote that “The Last To Know …deserves to be widely seen. With a judicious selection of facts and images, Friedman illustrates a central paradox about the women who form an estimated 10 million alcoholics; contemporary media images often identify drinking with glamour, yet society’s view of women drinkers – as expressed in a random sampling of interviews with men – ranges from approval to disgust.”