ON DVD & BLU-RAY
The Last Movie (1971) dir: Dennis Hopper Blu Ray (Indicator)
Real and fake filmmaking in rural Peru
Dennis Hopper plays Kansas, a horse wrangler who is enlisted to work on the set of a western shot in a village in Peru under the direction of Sam Fuller (the real-life director, playing himself). Once filming wraps, he decides to hang around the area with his local girlfriend, a prostitute named Maria (Stella Garcia). One evening, the village priest (played by Tomas Milian) approaches him and complains that he has brought evil to the place. It turns out that the locals have decided to make their own mock movie with fake bamboo camera rigs - one in which he has been selected as its star.
In parallel with this rather bizarre turn of events, Kansas bumps into a fellow American named Neville Robey (Don Gordon) who has struck gold and is seeking the finances to extract it.
Watch a trailer:
A cinematic mess
Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider (1969) was a major phenomenon at the time. It became one of the highest grossing films of its year, something that was hitherto unheard of an independently-made low-budget arthouse flick. In response to its success, Universal Pictures decided to give five maverick young filmmakers (including Hopper himself) absolute creative control to make their own cinematic visions as long as they stuck to a budget not exceeding $1 million.
Hopper’s effort was The Last Movie. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a critical and commercial disaster, effectively exiling him from Hollywood for most of the 1970s. Since then, it has largely remained a shunned chapter in the actor/director’s career.
Having been given this brand new 4K treatment, is it worthy of a re-evaluation? Unfortunately, no. It’s a rambling, baffling and self-indulgent mess which flips back and forth at random between various bizarre vignettes with no clear narrative structure. We get documentary-like anthropological scenes depicting colourful Peruvian religious ceremonies. We get naturalistic shots of waterfalls, burning red skies and the like. We get Dennis Hopper riding around the picturesque landscape on horseback. We get over-the-top Western-style gunfights which are staged as part of either the American film-within-a-film or its Peruvian imitation. We get scenes of Hopper’s character making love to his prostitute girlfriend and then (in a twist handled with distasteful misogyny) treating her appallingly and taking up with a sadomasochistic older American woman (played by Julie Adams). We get pop/folk/country music interludes. We get countless cameos from the likes of Kris Kristofferson, Peter Fonda, Sam Fuller, Dean Stockwell and Tomas Milian. We get trippy, strangely nightmarish party scenes. A “scene missing” card pops up in the middle of an otherwise fluid car shot. While there’s something of a message about American cultural arrogance and adventurism here, it becomes lost amid the vacuum created by the lack of a comprehensible story.
The real tragedy, however, is that there are occasional flashes of undeniable cinematic beauty on display. The wide angle shots of Hopper’s character on horseback do have a genuine lyricism about them, as do a couple of brief scenes showing children playing in silhouette against a warm, hazy dusk sky. Even the film-within-a-film gunfights offer a certain amusement in their level of playfully overdone violence. I ended up wishing that I was seeing all of these moments within a different context i.e. one which I could easily follow and relate to without being bathed in a sludge of haphazard artistic pretension.
Runtime: 108 mins
Dir: Dennis Hopper
Script: Dennis Hopper, Stewart Stern
Starring: Dennis Hopper, Stella Garcia, Don Gordon, Peter Fonda, Sam Fuller, Kris Kristofferson, Michelle Phillips, Dean Stockwell, Russ Tamblyn, Julie Adams, Tomas Milian
Blu Ray Audio-Visual
This 4K restoration is a vivid treat for the eyes and really does look like it all happened just yesterday. However, the sound is rather tinny at times, albeit potentially due to the low budget nature of the original audio recording process.
The Guardian Interview with Dennis Hopper
An audio recording of Derek Malcolm interviewing the actor-director at the National Film Theatre, London in 1990. During this time, he had two films on release - Catchfire and The Hot Spot - and he talks about both of them here. In the case of the former, the studio (Vestron) recut the negative against his wishes, resulting in him attempting to sue them. However, he was unable to do so as they had already gone bankrupt by this point.
He also zips back and forth through various other spots in his career: his time battling with drug and alcohol addiction, his 1980s comeback after this period, and his early work alongside James Dean, Henry Hathaway (apparently a “shouty” director on set but much more pleasant company at dinner) and John Wayne.
Dennis Hopper Video Introduction
Pretty much what you’d expect from the title: a minute or so of Hopper briefly introducing the film and touching upon its non-linear (read: messy) nature.
Scene Missing - The Story of Dennis Hopper’s The Last Movie
This 49-minute retrospective documentary is an absolutely essential supplement to the main film as it gives it a lot of much-needed background context. It was directed by the British cult cinema icon Alex Cox (who made his name with Repo Man). While he was unable to interview Hopper himself (after all, he passed away in 2010) he still managed to catch up with many other people involved in the production.
The film’s story was based on Hopper’s memories of working on The Sons of Katie Elder (1965). He discovered that one of the film’s crew members decided to remain in Mexico (where it was shot) and set up a ranch. The Last Movie itself was going to be set in Mexico but he objected to the fact that the government had planned to assign censors to the shoot. In the end, they decided to relocate to Peru.
We find out that the film’s baffling nature can be attributed to several aspects. Drugs (cannabis, LSD) were consumed constantly on-set; Tomas Milian recalls that, at one point, he was given drugged cake and decided just to say “fuck it” and play the rest of his scene drinking Pisco (a local brandy) on camera. According to Hopper’s co-writer Stewart Stern, the writer-director thought himself to be such a genius that he tore up the script and improvise everything from then on. Again according to Stern, no ending was filmed. When he questioned Hopper about this at the time, the latter’s response was “it’s the audience’s responsibility to decide how it ends”! Most of all, his entourage persuaded him to take what was (according to sound effects editor) a coherent cut of the film and re-edit it into the confusing mess that it became.
Some Kind of Genius
An archive documentary interview with Dennis Hopper, who talks about his early acting career as well as his time directing Easy Rider, The Last Movie and Out of the Blue. He reveals that he started out as a classical Shakespeare actor but got into method acting after watching Montgomery Clift and Marlon Brando perform on the big screen. He also talks about his difficulties in working with Henry Hathaway, who spoon-fed him instructions rather than letting him block his own scenes (a key part of the method acting ethic). After their continual clashes while working on Manhunt (1958), he was blacklisted for 8 years by the major studios before, ironically, returning in another Hathaway film (The Sons of Katie Elder).
Postcard from Peru
Some locals of the town of Chinchero in Peru talk about their memories of The Last Movie in this fascinating featurette. At that time, many of them didn’t know what a film was. When actors pretended to be dead during the film-within-a-film’s shootout, they thought they had been killed for real. When the bank blew up and fake prop bills were scattered everywhere, some of the locals went around collecting them in the belief that they were genuine.
They also talk about the Roman Catholic religious processions which they participated in on camera. Apparently, church authorities objected to how they were portrayed as they showed the participants dancing, laughing and kissing. The film was perceived as being disrespectful of the religion and wasn’t shown in the country.
8mm On-set Footage
This silent footage was captured on location in 1970 by actors John Phillip Law and Victor Maymudes. We get to see the cast and crew filming the shootout sequence and smoking some joints between takes.
The Dick Cavett Show
A snippet taken from an American talk show featuring contemporary interview footage with Dennis Hopper, who walks on stage in a cowboy hat and hippie garb. He mentions that he captured 40 hours of film for The Last Movie and took a year and four months to edit it into its released form.
A series of comparative shots of several scenes from the film, showing them in both unrestored and restored form.
Trailers, an image gallery and a collector’s booklet round out the extras here.
To be brutally honest, The Last Movie is something of a disaster. The extras, on the other hand, are utterly engrossing and turn this into an essential disc.