Thursday, August 5, 2010
Dennis Hopper Returns: The Last Movie, Etc.
When Dennis died, I was so aloof from media I didn't even get the news 'till about a week later. JSH had done tributed up the man around these parts, and I just sort of let it slide by, myself about half as adrift as was Hopper in his booze/drug days.
Now, that Mr. Hopper is gone, here lately, I've been looking back and not so much pondering what made him so prominent in my mind's eye while he was stomping around on the grounds of this mortal coil, but, focusing on, as Frank Sinatra put it, some nice things I missed.
The Last Movie was Hopper's directorial follow up to the big hit of Easy Rider. While I never saw it, I had absorbed the "party line" on the film...that it was a self-indulgent, drug-addled catastrophe. But, as JSH intimated, the self-indulgence and drug-addledness of Hopper is a factor, not a deterrent, for the admiration of Hopper in this neck of the woods.
Nevertheless, in the 90s when a video store I frequented had a copy of TLM on VHS, I passed (although I recall at several points considering seriously picking it up), thinking it ultimately most likely a hippie drug flick, with that buzzing in my backbrain of the critical consensus; that is, me then thinking it perhaps a movie even worse than Easy Rider, which I appreciated as cultural artifact, but only sortakinda enjoyed.
So now it's 2010 and Dennis is dead and I, and maybe you, don't feel so good yourself/our-selves. You, or I or me or we, peel back the onion on the thing, and I, this time, realized that TLM won the Venice Film Festival award, prior to its short-lived American release and resultant panning by critics, from a jury of peers that included Bergman and Fellini (two folks as critics to whom I might pay attention). Then I start to smell an execution on behalf of the studio, which pulled it almost immediately from the theaters.
I'm not the first to mention the similarities between the fate of TLM and that of Heaven's Gate (a movie I saw for the first time in the past few years and not only thought wasn't bad but was a bit of a masterpiece). It's not anything above a movie studio to decide to cut its losses on a film, betting against a perceived flop, especially if its got another apparent hit or hits on the table, especially in the days before the home video market.
As a matter of fact, Universal plopped down one million each for five films as part of a "youth" deal. Peter Fonda's directorial debut, The Hired Hand was part of this same deal, and, while not copping the same infamous reputation as TLM, it also disappeared in a fog of studio indifference (yet today it has been reissued and there's been a steadily growing reevaluation). The other flicks in this deal were Silent Runnning, Taking Off, and American Graffiti. Hell, Universal coulda buried them all and still made a profit altogether with American Graffiti. Looking at these facts, it makes one ponder.
Well, it's the 21st century (you might have noticed that earlier when I mentioned it's 2010). Copies of The Last Movie on VHS are selling for crazy sums (well, 250 bucks, which is crazy enough for a tape to me), as its seriously out of print. I caught wind of rumors that Hopper was supposedly working on a DVD release but didn't get to it before his death; I can only hope for eventual fruition.
I've now seen some scenes of the film in the context of an old BBC documentary (check out parts 3 & 4) on Hopper, along with scenes of a little-seen documentary, The American Dreamer, shot while Hopper was editing (I like the bits where he's shooting assault rifles in the dessert like a Hunter S. Thompson/William S. Burroughs).
Maybe the movie in total is a mess like the naysayers say; I'd have to see it. Based even just on what I have peeped, I'd give the movie my approval...dig where the Hopper character moves through a surreal party, the camera following, with different music and social settings in each of the rooms, ending up with the Hopper/Kansas character having a break-down, and that's a perfectly executed and self-contained rockin' cinematic moment.
Even if I saw it and thought it a total stinker, and in context I renounced even the scene I loved out of context, the fact that it features a cargo cult film crew would still earn it respect. I'd just like to see it, and it's something of a shock in this age of almost every film being at one's fingertips for TLM to be an exception.
I've heard differing points of view on Kid Blue (which also features Warren Oates).
Hell, I need to see Out of the Blue (his follow up in the director's chair to TLM).
Brian Manley tells me Mad Dog Morgan is good.
The behind the scenes footage of Mad Dog eye spied in the documentary Not Quite Hollywood rivaled the backstage spaced out speedfreak/drunken rant gems of Hopper on the set of Apocalypse Now in Hearts of Darkness.
They tell me Dennis Hopper is dead, but...there's so many Dennis Hoppers that even a well-versed fan like me hasn't met yet. And like with any actor or artist leaving a trail of artifacts, death don't make for an end point for those of us left behind to peruse that trail of crumbs, us, or maybe just me, still adrift, speaking of adrift (see: first paragraph) in this dimension (arguably).