Friday, October 15, 2010

Dennis the Menace: Rare Dennis Hopper Double Features This Weekend at Belcourt

Posted By on Fri, Oct 15, 2010 at 12:15 PM

If you haven't read John Buck Wilkin's reminiscence in this week's Scene about working with the late Dennis Hopper — at perhaps the craziest point in a crazy life — it's something Hopper fanatics won't want to miss. The occasion is The Belcourt's weekend salute to the late actor, filmmaker and counterculture icon, which starts tonight with the bizarre pairing of 1967's Roger Corman LSD hit The Trip and 1986's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.

But Wilkin's piece concerns the most controversial stretch of Hopper's career: the shooting and aftermath of The Last Movie, his 1971 follow-up to the landmark Easy Rider (also playing this weekend). Reportedly much more fragmented and difficult to follow than Easy Rider, with a cast that includes Kris Kristofferson and cult hero Samuel Fuller, the movie all but finished Hopper in Hollywood and has gone down in film history as a monumental folly. It's been hard to see ever since.

Nevertheless, The Belcourt offers an unprecedented local double feature this Sunday for one night only. It pairs The Last Movie — in which veteran Nashville singer, songwriter and rocker Wilkin appears both on screen and on the soundtrack (as in the clip above) — with the even rarer 1971 documentary The American Dreamer, which catches up with the literally and figuratively naked Hopper during the movie's debauched post-production. Wilkin sets the scene:

I went to visit Dennis at his big house in Taos, N.M., where he was holed up doing the editing on his film. Problem was, it was Crazy-ville. Mucho dopa, booze, a constant flow of freaks and hippies. Dennis shot a quarter of a million feet of film, a record at the time, and he was gonna edit it himself. There were telephone wars with Universal Pictures, dinners with LSD around a big table that resembled the Last Supper.

In recent years, though, critics have stepped forward to say The Last Movie is a lot more interesting than its reputation suggests. Among them is Jonathan Rosenbaum, who wrote, "The least that can be said for Dennis Hopper's The Last Movie, made nine years earlier than his 1980 masterpiece, Out of the Blue, is that no other studio-released film of the period is quite so formally audacious." (For the record, The Belcourt tried but couldn't secure a print of Out of the Blue, a staff favorite overdue for rediscovery.)

Here's a pretty fascinating vintage dispatch by Life magazine from the set. And here's an interview in which El Topo director Alejandro Jodorowsky actually claims to have done an edit of the movie — and testifies, in one of the oddest pieces of movie trivia I've ever run across, to the striking smell of Hopper's armpits.

UPDATE: Found a really good piece on The Last Movie by former Scene contributor Nathan Lee here. Only Nathan would swing for the fences and situate Orson Welles' Mr. Arkadin and Pootie Tang within the same cinematic continuum.

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