L.M. Kit Carson & Lawrence Schiller
Review by Rumsey Taylor
Posted on 17 December 2009
Source Bootleg DVD-R
Reviews The Last Movie
Dennis Hopper’s The Last Movie opened in the fall of 1971, at a cost of one million to a major Hollywood studio. Its budget is cited often in biographies of the film, much more reliably than examples of exactly where or for how long it screened following its debut at the Venice Film Festival. But the film remains known, in regard to its expense, as a quantitative failure, especially in comparison to Hopper’s previous, inordinately successful film Easy Rider, made at a third of the cost. It grossed millions upon millions, ably cementing its status as both a cultural and cinematic milestone. The Last Movie, simply put, didn’t and isn’t.
It’s this comparison that fosters perception of The Last Movie’s failure, and it’s a film that’s very difficult to evaluate independent of its context: its blind endorsement by Universal Pictures, in particular, as well as the counterculture’s affection for Hopper. If the film is legitimately a failure, then it is only as a result of these foundations, which say little of the thought that motivated The Last Movie’s making. Aren’t all failures borne of at least modestly auspicious beginnings?
In the case of The Last Movie, these beginnings – or, at least, the taint of some of the uncompromised thought that went into the making of the film – are documented in The American Dreamer, a sort of companion Making-of that finds Hopper at his home in New Mexico as he’s editing The Last Movie. The period that The American Dreamer encapsulates precedes the disinterest that would soon greet Hopper’s film. No one, least of all Hopper, seems particularly concerned with the public response to the film, because making it has been so free of criticism.
But this freedom is something of a presumption on my part; The American Dreamer is an hour and a half of consistent vagueness and drug-addled pontification. It all seems free, but at no point is anyone actually, firmly working on anything. You’ll see Hopper discussing his photography, scattering 8x10s on the floor and proclaiming, with wide-eyed sincerity, that he doesn’t believe in reading. Next, underneath some other equally undersupported proclamation, he’s in a bathtub locked between two agreeable women. Or better yet, walking nude down a road in the residential subdivision he lives in. The film opens with Hopper, having just drawn a bath, answering the door in only a towel, before he invites the crew to continue the interview in his bathroom.
The American Dreamer explicates little of the making of The Last Movie, which, I imagine, it sincerely endeavors to do, but it ventures so freely into self-parody that the commentary it does lend the film is indirectly chastising. It’s unintentional criticism, and yet so remarkably tonally consistent with its companion that it should be considered a peer and not a supplement. If The Last Movie is only an artifact of untempered hubris, then the symptoms of such are clear in this film. It’s this hubris, if nothing else, that makes the film fascinating. Surrounded by a bevy of women, at some presumably early hour, Hopper again has his commune’s – and documenters’ – total attention. “I am the greatest movie director in the world,” he says, just prior to removing his pants.