I’ve never seen Dennis Hopper’s fabled film “The Last Movie” and chances are you haven’t either.
It was the “Heaven’s Gate” of its day — by which I mean not that it killed a studio, but that it was the commercially disastrous follow-up by a director who had just made a hugely successful film.
This was the film Hopper made right after the “Easy Rider.” Hollywood gave Hopper a pile of dough to do exactly what he wanted and mostly left him alone.
The results were famously considered unwatchable — and yet, it won the critics prize at the Venice Film Festival (although at least one critic pointed out there was only one other film in competition).
On the other hand, Manohla Dargis in her video obit of Hopper at the NYTimes suggests it’s not completely bad.
It ran for a couple of weeks in theaters, fared very poorly, and put Hopper’s directing career on ice for a few years.
You can read all about it here:
Is it a total bomb or a film way ahead of it’s time?
Packaging idea: film plus Lawrence Schiller’s “extremely rare and barely released documentary” The American Dreamer.
Is Criterion going to fulfill my lifetime dream of actually watching this turkey?
It’s no turkey.
“The Last Movie, as its very title suggests, is substantially more radical in form as well as . . . and David E. James rightly shows how Hopper’s multifaceted critique and analysis of Hollywood imperialism in a third world context (a western being shot in a remote Peruvian village) logically led to the film’s commercial failure: “In the context of an exploitative cinema of pleasure, its own constitution as analysis amounted to its constitution as negation that could be legitimized only by the absoluteness of its rejection by the degraded public.” Featuring such Hollywood icons as Hopper himself and Samuel Fuller, and benefiting from a substantial budget, the film’s bold oscillation between various uncompleted plots and its numerous self-referential devices — such as the incorporation of unedited rushes, successive takes of the same shots, and even animated, handwritten titles announcing “Scene Missing” — staged a kind of ultimate shotgun marriage between Hollywood and the avant-garde that could only confound and alienate the expectations of both constituencies. Characteristically, the most common form of critical rejection that greeted the film was seeing it as a failed commercial effort rather than as a calculated provocation with a logic and form of its own. (Pauline Kael: “Hopper may have the makings of a movie [perhaps more than one], but he blew it in the editing room. If he was deliberate in not involving the audience, the audience that is not involved doesn’t care whether he was deliberate or not. That there’s method in the madness doesn’t help. The editing supplies so little in the way of pace or rhythm that this movie performs the astounding feat of dying on the screen in the first few minutes, before the credits come on.”) By the same token, the Hollywood budget accorded to Hopper seemed to guarantee a disinclination on the part of critics associated with experimental films and art films to deal with the film seriously on any level at all, and in the final analysis, the film was effectively disenfranchised by the mainstream, the underground, and the art film intelligentsia alike, with equal vehemence.”
Andrew Tracy @ Reverse Shot :
“The Last Movie is relevant precisely because it marks a coming to terms with the origin point of reasoning: the self, and the honest perception of the self. The Last Movie’s political critique is undercut by its formal assault upon itself, its dissecting of the pervasive cultural violence which makes its criticisms superficial and jejune, the maddening difficulty of voicing dissent in an environment which reaves dissent from its derivation in ordinary reason and its expression in works of art. This may seem self-defeating, yet the film never feels pessimistic. In Hopper’s jumbled morass there is a warm light of clarity, an awareness of the cinema’s limits as political weapon and, most importantly, of its strengths. The Last Movie combats myth by relentlessly unveiling its own co-option by myth, its own status as myth-product in the cycle of consumption. And it does so with the unique methods at its disposal: the distinctive properties of cinema, and their emanation from that stubborn aesthetic core latent in every art which resists the encroachments and imprecations of power. The continuation, the persistence of that core becomes the answer to routinization, the crystalline epiphanies of art that retort to the myths of power. The tools of one’s craft as the key to perception, the personal as the conduit to the mass. The last movie, and the next.”Everyone’s taken a deep breath since then, though we don’t inhale as much as we used to. A more recent critic, Jonathan Rosenbaum, has formulated the best diagnosis of the film’s paradoxical appeal, observing how “the curious thing about this freewheeling allegory is that it is simultaneously about many things (the fakery of moviemaking, mutual exploitation, ugly Americans in the third world, Hopper as Jesus) and nothing at all.”
Nathan Lee in the NY Sun :
""The Last Movie" used to be the obnoxious follow-up to “Easy Rider.” Now it plays like the definitive annihilation of 1960s idealism as foretold by “Weekend” and “Gimmie Shelter.” Three decades of postmodernism have gone far to normalize its style without taming its wild, druggy, vertiginous charge."
Note: these pieces were all written years prior to Hopper’s passing, so these are not simply kind words about the recently deceased.
. . . and, yes, let’s get started on this one, Criterion.
i would definitely buy this, my local cinema showed it a coupla years ago and i liked dennis a lot more for it. last i heard he had bought back the rights, so i wonder what will happen with it now….
It’s definitely past time this film was put on video and given its due. Julia Adams is amazing in it.
I recall seeing it at the AFI in the 80es, but not much of it sticks in my memory; I would, however, like to see it again. I remember lumping it in with “Zabriskie Point” as just another ‘period film’, but another viewing is in order.
Jim Hoberman’s review
I am dying to see it, Tomas Milian is in it
I have the American Dreamer and I enjoyed that documentary.
I wonder if Criterion can get the rights to this now? They should be interested in it now due to the BBS set release (Easy Rider) and the new hype from it.
^CG, I was thinking the exact same thing. I was lucky enough to catch a double feature of The Last Movie with American Dreamer and I would love to have both on DVD or bluray. If Criterion put together a double-set of it, I would be ecstatic.
Also, The Last Movie was DEFINITELY ahead of it’s time. Watching it recently, it felt very fresh. It’s just not a really commercial movie, that’s why it probably didn’t do so well. Things were definitely not spelled out for you, you have to really read between the lines for some of the stuff.
^^Ryan, you do realise that Hopper was on every single drug in the universe when he made it right? It was never going to be a particularly coherent ‘statement’, either way you look at it.
This movie is the movie I want Criterion to release the most. Having American Dreamer as an extra or 2-disc release with it would be awesome.
Doesn’t mean it’s not watchable. Drug Hopper is very watchable. Hopper is one of the best directors IMO of his era. This and Out Of The Blue are great films.
All I know is there is much worse than this that Criterion has put out.
Apparently Hopper had reacquired the rights to the film prior to his death, but was not able to get it released on DVD.
Yeah I read about that. Wonder if the rights go to his son and if they would be willing to either release it or give someone like Criterion the rights? This would be the release of the year (whatever year IF ANYONE releases it) for me. I’m kind of starting a “Release The Last Movie” run right now so sorry for bringing this thread back today. I have been e-mailing Criterion hopefully they can slip something (a No or maybe).
I’m hoping that there will be a general renewal of interest in Hopper’s work as a director, and The Last Movie seems ripe for reassessment.
Yes. Out of the Blue would be great to come back around with as well (a new re-release or upgrade to blu-ray maybe).
CG: agree, but it’s a mess, that’s all i’m saying. doesn’t mean it isn’t entertaining ;-)
that’s fair. Some of my fav movies are messes. But the ideas is what counts. Plus if your a Hopper fan, having this and The American Dreamer on one release would be awesome.
Joks, that’s part of the reason I liked it so much. The madness was evident, kind of like The Holy Mountain. I felt like anything could happen at any time in the movie. But I do think he got a few great ideas across, especially with the villagers mocking everything they see in movies and taking it too far.
I really want to see this film now that I have read about it. Sounds really fascinating.
The only video release is a vhs you can still get on Ebay for about $50. So hopefully someone like Criterion can release this and American Dreamer on dvd/blu for $30. :)
@ Bon Jovi
If you want to have a DVD of this, feel free to get in touch with me. I have one.
^what site did you buy that from?
Told you it was way way ahead of it’s time
Genius piece of film making. Gritty and boundary pushing as Fuller, Nick Ray, and Welles- all of whom were involved in the making of the piece (Welles liked it so much that he used Hopper in “Other Side of The Wind” in a party scene that was similar to Hopper’s in this film).