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A film shoot in Peru goes badly wrong when an actor is killed in a stunt, and the unit wrangler, Kansas, decides to give up film-making and stay on in the village, shacking up with local prostitute Maria. But his dreams of an unspoiled existence are interrupted when the local priest asks him to help stop the villagers killing each other by re-enacting scenes from the film for real because they don't understand movie fakery... Written by
Michael Brooke <email@example.com>
the rabid, passionate and pretentious insides of Dennis Hopper '71
A little credit is due (I guess): Dennis Hopper made it huge with Easy Rider, took his momentary carte blanche and made, for all intents and purposes, a movie he wanted to make. No holds barred is putting it lightly. It's like Hopper stumbled over the bars while on acid and just let the natives come around and stomp on it till the term 'hold' was soaked in alcohol and set on fire. It's cinematic anarchy that reigns with a sword of originality and hubris, and it's always coming right from Hopper's soul. The Last Movie, this said, is not a very 'good' movie. I'm not even sure it's "anything" of value. But it's surely one of those must-see "personal" movies all the same. For any film buff it's simply stunning - and I don't mean that fully as a compliment.
In a way I feel sorry for this production. Hopper did have a script, somewhere, and even had a writer with him as well, Stewart Stern, and the opening 25 minutes of the film is fractured but feels contained in its "meta-movie"-ness. It seems actually clear enough to follow: a film crew is in Peru filming a movie, a western, directed by none other than Samuel Fuller, and there's lots of intensity on the set and, at other times, weird vibrations in the off-hours. Hopper is a stuntman who works on the production, but once it ends he sticks around, and sees the Peruvians re-enacting the film that has just been made, only with "equipment" made of sticks and stones and other things. So far, so good, more or less, and, again, Samuel Fuller directing a movie in a movie! It can't get much cooler than this can it?
As it turns out, there is even more story and scenes that make sense, such as the romance (or lack thereof) between Hopper's Kansas cowboy and a Peruvian woman, Maria. These scenes, along with the rough seduction of Kansas to another woman who happens to wear a mink coat, rang true past the weird intentions of the film-making and into the personal for sure. Hopper in real life shouldn't matter in the course of the movie itself, but it is so self-reflexive on the end of making the meta-movie that it spills over into his real life with women (when you see it you'll understand). That, plus an allegorical storyline involving a foolish and failed attempt to go gold mining, seem to at least add emotional grounding for chunks of the picture.
And then, other times... it's just drivel, repetitive movements and rhythms and sudden things like "Scene Missing" cards. The problem that Hopper didn't see while editing, not while hopped up (no pun intended) on enough drugs to run a mega-pharmacy on the moon, is that the meta-movie qualities and his flourishes and mad jump cuts and time reversals and non-linear-ness don't always serve in favor of the actual story. There are certain moments and scenes that stand out wonderfully, and are even filmed and edited with scary precision and capturing the beauty of Peru (oh, and the opening gunfight as part of the movie-in-movie is amazing). Other times, it's just tricks and things, devices and obstacles that just add dead weight to the running time. It's non denying it's art, but is it always interesting? No. Sometimes, it just sticks out way too much as being "important" art, forced when at other times it could be natural and fitting for the already strange premise.
It's basically this: a very talented filmmaker (and for all of his ups and downs in his career, more downs than ups, not least of which the stigma that followed Hopper after he made this movie and didn't direct another for nine years) and an unlikely and electrifying actor, got loaded with all of the praise that someone like him didn't need, already cooking with loads of free-loader friends sticking too many hands in the creative pot, and, in the end, got in the way of himself. A lot of The Last Movie burns with raw energy and crude dramatic thrills. And the rest of the time, it just looks like it needed an editor, ONE editor that was sober to go along with the one other sober cadet on the production, the late-great Laszlo Kovacs as DoP. Alejandro Jodorowsky might be a kind of genius, but an editor for someone else's project he definitely isn't.
So should you see it? If it's available (it's hard to find) and you're willing (maybe do a coin toss) and you aren't expecting a John Ford movie (please don't), give it a shot. It's not an easy movie to defend, and I probably can't on a reasonable level. But as a personal statement of an artist on the edge, you could do worse (i.e. Southland Tales, the only thing that comes closest in ambition and faulty technique).
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