The Last Movie: Dennis Hopper’s irresistible Easy Rider follow-up

Review: Dennis Hopper’s follow-up to Easy Rider is a fascinating, baffling experiment

The Last Movie: retains a place in film history
The Last Movie
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Director: Dennis Hopper
Cert: Club
Genre: Drama
Starring: Dennis Hopper, Stella Garcia, Don Gordon, Julie Adams, Sylvia Miles, Peter Fonda, Henry Jaglom
Running Time: 1 hr 48 mins

There's an excellent story (possibly myth) about Universal Pictures' efforts to make sense of Dennis Hopper's follow-up to Easy Rider. The Last Movie, a fragmented, fascinating experiment that ate itself alive, made no sense to the executives. Mind you, Easy Rider had baffled them and it had been an enormous hit. A bunch of young strivers – younger than Hopper – were drafted in to help explain it to their elders. They were equally confused but, knowing a lot was riding on The Last Movie, nodded along and pretended they found it groovy. Universal bunged the thing into cinemas expecting another smash – the people who spoke its language had understood it, after all – and watched aghast as it bombed with audiences and critics.

The picture has rarely been revived, but it deserves attention for novelty value alone. Hooper plays a stunt co-ordinator on a western film in some remote part of Peru. After the shoot is over, he hangs around and watches something very strange develop. The Peruvians, taking their example from the vanished Americans, start "filming" their own western using "cameras" fashioned from sticks and vines. Their understanding of the distinction between faked violence and the real thing is shaky. Before long, blood is being spilled

The morals and the sexual politics feel creaky today. Few sensitive film-makers would now so glibly portray native peoples as vulnerable tabulae rasae. The attitude to women is often appalling. The governing argument about the corrupting influence of modern technology is facile.

For all that, The Last Movie is irresistible. Brassed up with very of-their-time solar flares, swelling with ambitions and possibilities, it reflects an openness to the wildest experiment in American cinema that slunk back underground shortly afterwards. There really was a moment when it seemed the avant garde could share space with the biggest, brashest blockbusters. The Last Movie was one of the projects that put an end to that dream. For that reason alone, it retains a place in film history.


Opens December 21st

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist