Over the years, The Last Movie has become Dennis Hopper’s almost-lost film, with only occasional retrospective screenings and numerous bootlegs, often ripped from the rare VHS tape. As the film’s creative mind, Hopper had long-planned to re-release The Last Movie on DVD, and ended up buying the rights back. Eventually there was a retrospective screening at the Playboy mansion, but Hopper succumbed to a nasty case of prostate cancer while going through an equally nasty divorce (his fifth) in 2010, and never lived to see the full re-release.
Now, eight years since Dennis Hopper’s passing, his second directorial effort is finally available (his third if you count his second unit work on Roger Corman’s The Trip), his first film after the ground-breaking runaway success of Easy Rider. Is 2018 ready for The Last Movie? The answer is: yes and no. It’s interesting that it has been re-released out around the same time as Terry Gilliam’s latest masterpiece, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, which, like The Last Movie, is about the consequences that filmmaking can have on a community even after the show has left town. It’s also worth noting the similarities with Orson Welles’ The Other Side of The Wind, which also came out this year and in which Hopper appears as himself.
Hopper plays a stunt man filming a nothing western in a small town in Peru. There is a fatal incident during filming, and he decides to stay on. He has a Peruvian girlfriend, but very soon this sole gringo is asked to assist in a film the natives are making: the difference is, they don’t have any equipment so they make their own out of sticks. The film is told in an increasingly chaotic non-linear fashion, which partly stemmed out of Hopper’s friend, the Chilean surrealist filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky, chastising his more traditional original cut of the film. Hopper was also at the start of his decade-plus drug and alcohol binge, which would result in an infamous Russian suicide chair routine in a football field in the early ’80s—the next day after that bender, he was off to Rehab.
The finished film is a glorious mess, and that’s not remotely dismissive, it’s a compliment. The Last Movie‘s greatest failure is the lack of any ending: with Easy Rider, Hopper had a cop out (or blow out, if you will), but here he makes it into this “film with no ending, it’s an on-going film”. That’s somewhat unsatisfying after the glorious Luis Buñuel-meets-Sam Peckinpah surrealism that has transpired for the last 100 minutes. The performance by Hopper is one of his best of his career, and there is whole host of small bit roles from various friends of Hopper’s, such as Peter Fonda, Kris Kristofferson, Dean Stockwell and Russ Tamblyn. The stand-out cameo is Sam Fuller as the American director of the Hollywood western being shot in the Peruvian town.
The Last Movie may not be Hopper’s crowning achievement as a film director—that would probably be his next feature, 1980’s Out of the Blue, a deranged punk rock movie starring Linda Manz. But when The Last Movie came out, it was dumped by Colombia, which perceived it as an anti-Hollywood movie and basically just didn’t get it, so it never had much of a chance. Hopper’s escalating problems with drugs and alcohol didn’t help. As a result, the next six years of the 1970s were a difficult time for Hopper, right up until Wim Wenders’ The American Friend, and of course Apocalypse Now at the tail-end of the decade. In the early 80s, he was one of the few “name” actors who would do indie movies with young filmmakers for next to nothing, and it wasn’t really until later in the 80s that Hopper had his big comeback.
Although The Last Movie, like all of the films Hopper directed, is messy, it’s a very important film in the “New Hollywood” of the 1970s. Hopper was one the first filmmakers to be a victim of Hollywood’s fear of auteurs with a vision, presaging the furor over Heaven’s Gate. Nevertheless, because Hopper survived it, he was there for a whole series of cultural movements (and was probably a better photographer than a filmmaker). Sadly, he only directed a handful of movies in his 50-year career, and his impact remains somewhat under-rated. The Last Movie is a testament to his importance, which sees the director trying to do something different within the Hollywood system, for which he paid the price.
The disc includes lots of extras: an NFT interview with Hopper as a substitute commentary track; a short intro by the director, completed a few years before his death; an documentary from Alex Cox about the film, which is a bit too ramshackle for my liking but that’s his style; a documentary about Hopper from around the time of Hoosiers and Blue Velvet, which focuses on his directorial work; half an hour of interviews with the Peruvian cast and crew; ten minutes of on-set footage; a Hopper appearance about the film from The Dick Cavett Show; and the original trailer, the reissue trailer, image gallery, and a booklet with writing on the film by Alex Cox.
Note: Fans should seek out the equally brilliant documentary The American Dreamer which is about about the making of The Last Movie and Hopper’s persona and where his head was at the time. It’s available from Vinegar Syndrome and it’s an all region release.