Scene Missing: Dennis Hopper, American Dreamer

Dennis Hopper's THE LAST MOVIE is, as has been recorded by practically everyone who saw it since its release, a flawed film (aren't they all?), and a deeply self-indulgent exercise. It also carries the potent smoke of its era in every frame, and if Hopper's final cut of the film makes little linear sense, maybe it is also true that Hollywood and the world in 1971 made little linear sense.

At a time when the Hollywood studio machine had lost its commercial compass, Hopper's low budget motorcycle quest film EASY RIDER broke the box office, tapping into what had been a very elusive youth market. Universal offered Hopper a chance to make his dream project, an existential western about a movie bit player who, rather than pick up and leave when his movie wraps, stays on location and becomes something like a modern desperado. Hopper received a no-strings-attached million dollars and the assurance of final cut. He shot the film, with a cast and crew consisting mostly of his friends, in Peru, home of a certain potent variety of cocaine.


With the exposed film in the can, Hopper came down off the mountain and retired to Taos, New Mexico to edit his masterpiece. Here he was vulnerably situated in the center of a freak vortex and he solicited and received all kinds of editing advice from all quarters. One of the most persuasive voices was that of director Alejandro Jodorowsky, who urged him to subvert the more-or-less conventional narrative structure in favor of a fragmented style that expressed the schizophrenia of modern life. He heeded this advice and the released version of THE LAST MOVIE was jagged, discontinuous and frequently beautiful. It was savaged by critics and withdrawn by Universal but it has appreciated in critical esteem, even though Hopper did not work as a director again for several years.

The documentary THE AMERICAN DREAMER was also put together in a loose way. In 1971 L.M. Kit Carson and Lawrence Schiller documented a number of wild weeks in Taos as Hopper edited, partied, philosophized and shot firearms. The film does not document the events of the period so much as it provides seemingly random slices of life - Hopper working the moviola and sharing his ideas about the art of film, Hopper taking a bath with two appreciative young women, Hopper drinking endless beers and smoking endless joints. It's kind of like a nature documentary about a wild man who was an enigma to his industry, a challenging, exhausting friend to those close to him and a true artist who followed his star to the extent that he could still make it out in the haze of booze and drugs that surrounded him.

THE AMERICAN DREAMER has recently been restored and is being theatrically rereleased. AFS will play it twice, on November 20th and 23rd.