Monday, August 07, 2006

The Last Movie (1971)

Ed Park of The Dizzies threw the gauntlet down:

I can't wait for Termite Artist Matt Singer to post about Dennis Hopper's The Last Movie (1971), which we caught at a screening today. (It'll be at Anthology soon.) Monstrous, hilarious, crazed—somehow, just my cup of tea. It practically beggars description: 8 1/2 meets The Wicker Man in Mexico, with Sam Fuller directing the movie-within-a-movie, and Kris Kristofferson, and Toni Basil in a small part, and Dean Stockwell, and, and, and.

My full review will come over on IFC News when the Anthology's run begins (I'm there twice a week, by the way; this week I covered Talladega Nights). So I've got to save some flavor for then but, "Central" Park is right about one thing: The Last Movie demands attention and lots of it. According to Jim Hoberman, Anthology's print is the last in existence: the last print of The Last Movie. Finality is a BIG with this movie.

Finality and infinity: one viewing can't even scratch the surface of the mad genius (or ingenious madness) Hopper infused in every shot. What is it about? What ISN'T it about! Hopper lampoons Western chivalry, moviemaking drudgery, racism, greed and does every sort of imaginable activity: he becomes a day player and stunt man (Sam Fuller's direction to his actors: "I want you to die with some BALLS!"), tends bar at a glitzy Hollywood party (he steps outside and begins weeping for some reason), frolicks amongst fields of yellow flowers in the Andes, and finds himself the sacrificial lamb on the most effed up movie set in cinema history. Hopper even gets lactated on by a Peruvian woman! In the last movie you want to get a lot of stuff done.

There's a ton to like about the movie (and plenty to hate too, which, oddly, makes it even more likable) but the thing I dug most about it was its total unpredictability. It's easy to pinpoint the moment when you realize Hopper's operating under a completely different set of rules: he's riding his horse through the mountains when Kris Kristofferson comes on the soundtrack singing "Me and Bobby McGee." The moment is in keeping with everything that's come before: The Last Movie is laced with folky drug rock of the period, and Hopper spends a good portion of the film riding his horse. But then Hopper cuts to Kristofferson, sitting on a hill in Peru, singing the song live as Hopper trots past. "They're waiting for you on set, Kansas" he growls.

That's the point you check your own water to see if it's laced with something: the whole crazy movie is one big psychotropic substance. It's a good trip for a while, then a bad one: the whole sequence where Hopper goes to a maddening dinner party, then to a whorehouse is enough to make me want to check into Betty Ford. But you always know that even if the movie doesn't make sense to you, it made perfect sense to Hopper, who basically cashed in every cent of good will he made in Hollywood with Easy Rider to make The Last Movie. I'm not entirely convinced Last Movie isn't just one big middle finger to the moviemaking establishment: Hopper probably didn't want the success that came with Easy Rider, and so he made a follow-up that essentially argues that movies ruin peoples lives and then kill them. But that's a discussion for a later review.


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