Dennis Hopper's The Last Movie: sex, drugs, alcohol... A look back at a mind-blowing filming - Actus Ciné

Dennis Hopper’s The Last Movie: sex, drugs, alcohol… A look back at a mind-blowing filming – Actus Ciné

“The Last Movie”, the second feature film directed by Dennis Hopper after “Easy Rider”, has been released in theaters. The opportunity to come back to the design of this extraordinary project which ended in a critical and commercial fiasco.

The Last Movie by Dennis Hopper

Starring Dennis Hopper, Stella Garcia, Julie Adams…

What is it about ? A film crew has come to shoot a western in a Peruvian village nestled in the Andes. Once the film is finished, all the Americans leave, except for Kansas, one of the stuntmen, who wants to take a step back from Hollywood and settle in the area with Maria, a former prostitute. Things degenerate when the inhabitants decide to shoot their own film: the cameras, poles and projectors are fake, but the violence they stage is very real. Kansas will find itself hero in spite of himself of this “fiction”…


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In 1969 Easy Rider was released in theaters, a hallucinated road movie seeing two bikers cross the United States to discover its hidden charms. With a budget of 340,000 dollars, this film, conceived with total artistic freedom, created a surprise: with its cinematographic characteristics that radically contrast with Hollywood standards, but also by bringing in close to 53 million dollars in the world. Its director, Dennis Hopper (who for the occasion was directing his first feature film), suddenly saw himself brought to the center of all attention. He was making headlines and everyone was looking forward to his next movie.

Thus, he hastened to tackle a new project, The Last Movie, a kind of “Pirandelian reflection on the western, colonialism and death”to use the words of Peter Biskind in his book “The New Hollywood”. In order to find financing, Hopper initially turned to Bob Rafelson (one of the founders of BBS who had produced Easy Rider), who refused to join the adventure for two reasons: the behavior deemed unpredictable of the filmmaker; but also his obsession with playing the main character (after considering Montgomery Clift), which was not a good idea according to the director of Five Easy Pieces.


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Don Gordon and Dennis Hopper

It was finally Universal, which had just created a department intended to produce low-budget independent films, which took on the financing of The Last Movie (for one million dollars). Before beginning the takes, Hopper lost 30 pounds, trimmed his mustache, and cut his hair. The filming took place in Peru, the world capital of cocaine trafficking. Many technicians and dealers in Los Angeles had even insisted with the director to take part in this shooting which promised to be synonymous with debauchery. The natives have also complained on several occasions about the many endless parties and Hopper had several problems with the Peruvian authorities.

At the end of filming, the filmmaker told Universal that the editing was going to take him a year and that he was going to do it in Taos, New Mexico. But things weren’t moving forward, and Hopper spent his time drinking, doing drugs, and indulging in various weird experiments. Ned Tanen, head of Universal’s Films Department at the time, recalls: “Dennis showed the film to all the hippies in Taos. They never thought it was long enough. And every time I went there, the film was 20 minutes longer…” Rafeslon, who had traveled to Taos to help out Hopper, adds: “I barely saw him, and every time he showed up, he was either stoned or super violent and completely nuts.”

Also in his work, “The New Hollywood”, Biskind tells us an anecdote that perfectly reflects the state of mind that reigned around Hopper: during this period of post-production, Tanen wanted to see where the director was in his work. In order to talk to him about the film, he walked into an editing room and came across… An orgy! Biskind had collected Tanen’s testimony: “There were butts and tits everywhere, it was impossible to tell how many there were. (…) I went to see Dennis and said to him: ‘Can I talk to you?’ didn’t even answer, he was completely out.”


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When The Last Movie premiered on the top floor of the Black Tower (Universal’s headquarters), everyone hated the movie, as the ex-Universal boss explained to Biskind: “It wasn’t a disaster, no, it was a disaster. A full-scale earthquake. There was nothing to keep, nothing to save, nothing to do to make it better.” The reactions during the following screenings were similar and even sometimes much worse if we dwell on the one that took place at the University of Iowa, where Hopper and his team were almost lynched by a crowd of students. dissatisfied… The film was withdrawn from the poster only two weeks after its release (despite the grand prize at the Venice festival). Hopper took years to recover.

The critical and public failure of The Last Movie also marks an emblematic date in the progressive decline of New Hollywood, even if several cult films related to the famous cinematographic trend have subsequently emerged via big names (Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Peter Bogdanovich or William Friedkin). Tanen had even concluded, after the fiasco of the film: “An era was coming to an end. The three or four years of glory of a certain cinema ended in cynicism and disillusion.” Paul Lewis, executive producer of Hopper, added: “It was over. It was over with the freedom that we had been able to have. The end of the 1970s started from the beginning of the 1970s.” (Peter Biskind, “The New Hollywood”)

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