The Last Movie (1971)

When I was really young, I loved to visit the high school library that my uncle ran. Today, it would probably seem small, but in my ten-year-old mind, it was huge. That said — now that I’m a grown-up, I realize just how many cool books my uncle would hide in his library for kids to find. There were collections of EC Comics and stuff like The Fifty Worst Films of All Time (And How They Got That Way) by Harry Medved, Randy Dreyfuss and Michael Medved.

When I first read that book, back when I was twelve, I thought it was the greatest thing I’d ever laid my eyes upon. I got all of their Golden Turkey Awards books and loved the quasi-documentary It Came from Hollywood But as I grew older, I began to realize that many of the movies that were decried by these books — such as the work of Ed Wood, for example — held artistic merit that superseded anyone making light of them.

Reviewing some of The Fifty Worst Films today, I realize how many of them I actually enjoy, like Airport ’75, the Matt Helm movie The AmbushersBring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, Godzilla vs. Hedorah and Valley of the Dolls. One of the films on this list really fascinated me, though: Dennis Hopper’s The Last Movie.

After Easy Rider became a surprise success, Dennis Hopper could do anything he wanted. And sure, maybe what he wanted to do was take near inhuman levels of drugs. But let’s be serious — he had the soul of an artist and $1 million dollars from Universal bankrolling him, as well as the understanding that he had free rein with little to no intervention from the studio. After all, that had paid off with Easy Rider, right? And Hopper had been trying to get this movie made since he was in Rebel Without a Cause.

For most of 1970, Hopper and his crew shot hours upon hours of footage. And then Hopper went to New Mexico and started editing. And drinking. And doing drugs. And editing. And doing more drugs. I’m not exaggerating — just watch Lawrence Schiller and L.M. Kit Carson’s (yes, the same person who wrote The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2The American Dreamer.

Hopper had a cut that was pretty conventional. In the Alex Cox documentary Scene Missing, Alejandro Jodorowsky watched this cut and mocked Hopper, telling him that he had the opportunity to create true art. The visionary director would give Hopper a cut of the film, which he didn’t use, but inspired him to craft the disjointed film that exists today. Another interesting fact: when this was first screened, the projectionist loudly said, “This movie has the right title, because it’s going to be the last movie Universal ever makes.” An enraged Hopper attacked the man, ending the screening. Hopper’s career would take a long time to recover — which we covered way back when we discussed Chainsaw 2.

After being a lost film for decades — it had a short two week New York run and ran in some drive-ins as Chinchero — Arbelos, a new boutique distributor focusing on the release of both new and restored classic art house titles, has re-released a 4K restoration of The Last Movie as their first official product.

The main premise of The Last Movie is that films are dangerous. You can interpret that metamorphically or physically, as the indigenous natives of Peru keep making a movie as a ritual long after the camera have stopped rolling. Hopper based this story on things he saw as he filmed the movie that would be the first of his many comebacks, The Sons of Katie Elder, where he saw locals do the very same thing.

Kansas (Hopper) has stayed behind in Peru after a movie ends shooting after an actor is killed in a stunt. A stuntman by trade, Kansas decides to quit making movies and stay behind with a Maria, local prostitute, in what feels like paradise.

There’s a subplot with a couple who wants to buy a mine that doesn’t have much to do with what happens next, but the woman in the couple is Julie Adams from Creature from the Black Lagoon. It really feels like it gets in the way of what the movie should be about. It also feels like Hopper shot so much footage that he could have edited twenty different movies out of the results.

Yet the real narrative of the film is that the natives have turned sticks into cameras and are filming a movie that will never exist filled with real violence. That’s when The Last Movie begins to touch on the issues of reality versus fiction and how we perceive storytelling, as well as using behind the camera terminology as a storytelling tool.

Despite its downbeat theme, there’s a true beauty to this film, made even more gorgeous by the painstaking restoration process the film has gone through. The final scenes of the wooden false cameras attempting in vain to film Kansas’s sacrifice are breathtaking.

“It ends in fire. All my movies end in fire.” Hopper may have said that about Easy Rider, but it’s true about nearly everything he touched. This comes from Some Kind of Genius, a 30-minute one on one talk with Hopper that’s also on the blu ray release. It’s exactly the kind of extra I was hoping for — a rambling discussion of career and art by Hopper. I wish I’d have the opportunity to speak to the man, someone I feel was a true icon of American art, but never will get the chance to. This doc gets me close.

You need to see this for yourself. You can grab it on the Arbelos store now.

DISCLAIMER: I was lucky to get a copy of this from Arbelos, but that didn’t impact my review. I was already enthusiastic about buying a copy of this and was happy they sent it my way. 

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