If you thought Dennis Hopper’s near legendary follow up to Easy Rider, the rarely seen 1971 film The Last Movie was a delusional, self indulgent, endlessly fascinating failure, or at best a missed opportunity, then it stands to reason that it has a lot to do with its creator. There’s no doubting that Hopper was on an ego trip, thanks to Easy Rider’s unexpected ability to tap into the cultural zeitgeist of the time. With the studios clamouring to finance his next project, Hopper pretty much able to sign his own checks and left alone in South America to shoot what he ambitiously proclaimed ‘the death of cinema.’
All of which sets the scene for an even more rarely seen portrait of Hopper during this time shooting guns, taking drugs, having sex with groupies, and editing the film in a house in New Mexico. It’s part documentary, part philosophical study, as Hopper espouses various thoughts in direct to camera confessionals, such as how he thinks he’s a lesbian, or perhaps a man whore, and a few slogans like if you’re into evolution you’ve gotta have revolution. A lot of his theories are delivered directly to pretty young women and reads like Hopper saying whatever he thinks will result in more action. He discusses filmmaking, his boredom with editing, and his dreams for the Last Movie, as well as his hopes and belief that there is a market for his new form of filmmaking.
It’s a project of photojournalist Lawrence Schiller and actor-screenwriter L.M. Kit Carson, and it’s the kind of stylistic verite that we’ve seen more recently in Joaquin Phoenix and Case Afleck’s I’m Still Here. And there are definite links between the two, as there is no doubt that Hopper is very much aware of the camera, and playing up to it. It’s Hopper playing the Hopper that Hopper thinks you think Hopper is. Is that Meta enough for you? He’s even credited as a screenwriter on the film.
Though perhaps it’s a defence mechanism, with Hopper chiding the filmmakers for asking him to redo or repeat things, and the filmmakers leaving these moments in the final film. He’s pointing out the artifice of the moment and if he looks ridiculous, or like the typical narcissist actor elsewhere, then it doesn’t matter because he was simply playing a role. So to some extent this is an intimate portrait of an artist on the verge of either the respect and success he’s always dreamed of, or a disaster that would take over a decade to recover from. (PS It’s the latter). Or it’s an artificial portrayal of counter cultural celebrity; kind’ve like a hippy Entourage. I frankly can’t tell, and that’s what makes it all so fascinating.
The American Dreamer is showing at ACMI on the 21st of May 2016. More info here.