The Last Movie Dennis Hopper (USA 1971) Sam Fuller, Stella Garcia, Dennis Hopper
viewed Tyneside Cinema 17 Dec 2018: ticket: £9.75
The last scene of Hopper’s film is a superb condensing of the core strand of the thinking that energises ‘The Last Movie’. Seated in a darkness penetrated only by a paraffin lamp, Kansas (played by Hopper) and his gold prospector partner talk about the business at hand, finding gold. They talk and Kansas keeps asking his partner how he would recognise gold, how he can even imagine he can find gold if he can’t recognise it? The partner’s response justifies itself purely in terms of the formal logic of cinema precedent: the Treasure of Sierra Madre. In this film Walter Huston (note the transposing/confusing of the real actor Huston, for the character Howard) found gold. Huston just went into the hills, looked in a river and found it. Easy! Nothing to it, no problem. You just do it like they do in the film and it will be OK. Despite Kansas’ insisting that it may not be so easy to recognise gold, it isn’t just shiny stuff glinting out at you saying ‘I’m gold’, the partner can’t be shifted. He doesn’t really listen and just repeats with conviction that the Treasure of Sierra Madre shows how prospecting works: the gold’s there; you just go out and find it. Simple. End of movie. Roll credits.
Hopper’s movie penetrates deep into the actuality of what the movies are, how they are actually understood by their audiences. Like the LSD scene in Easy Rider The Last Mover feels as if it were conceived written filmed and edited with the clear visceral seeing that acid sometimes lends to the trip. What Hopper sees and what is expressed in The Last Movie is that movies are folded into the way in which live in the world. Movies are now part of the way in which experience life. To put it in a fancy they they are as much part of our minds, as our language. Movies function as a conditioning factor shaping the way in which we are able to think.
At one point, Sam Fuller thanks the caste and crew at the end of the film within a film shoot, booming out: “God bless you all, and I’ll see you back in Hollywood!”
To the fabricators of dreams the end of the movie is another job done, another piece of carefully crafted fakery in which lines are remembered, takes crossed off the slate and no one gets hurt, physically or emotionally. But there is a movie within the movie, the movie that is released into the world. The movie in which a world is called up as a series of images that are in themselves complete representations of action and affect. The very reality of the situations depicted easily overrides any inclination of mind to differentiate between actual and fake. There is one image after another streaming into mind absorbed into consciousness. Overwhelming us, the movie stream becomes the default reference and model for, ‘a life’.
The form of The Last Movie, the Western shot by Sam Fuller as the movie within the movie, the people’s movie, the edit with its flashbacks and foreword flashes, its insertion of random inconsequential intertitles, the cuts to idyllic landscapes all reinforce the Hopper’s thematic vision of the movies as a state of mind that creates its own magico-religious imperatives.
And The Last Movie is structured around two spectacles: the spectacle of the Western shoot which has to do with the fabrication of reality and the magico-religious shoot which has to do with realisaton, film making as a ritual to bring about a changed state.
Both spectacles share organisational features. They both have high priests whose proclamations must be obeyed, and both are hierarchic in the their power structure. Otherwise they are in an inverse relationship to each other.
When Sam Fuller’s Western has wrapped and the caste and crew go back to Hollywood, the local people, fascinated by the process of film making and its relationship to changing the real, want to make their own films. At this point Hopper’s scenario expands out into a grandiose parody. The populace construct fake filmmaking equipment out of bamboo: bamboo cameras, dollies, booms, mics, brutes, spots, key lights. With this equipment with its voodoo power, they proceed not to fake the action and situations, but to ‘film’ real actions with real consequences. The Hollywood movie used real equipment to simulate reality, the people simulate the equipment to create their own reality. Hopper’s perfect analogous bamboo inversion of life to craft.
Interspersed between the spectacles are Kansas’s relationship with Maria and the gold prospector. Both relationships are satires on the American illusions of gaining wealth and notions suburban bliss, swimming pools jacuzzis etc. But located within the tread of the movie is a strata of deep misogyny, that I think emanates from Hopper’s nature. This misogyny may pose as satire but this doesn’t feel convincing. There are two times in The Last Movie when Kansas quite viciously and with little provocation strikes Maria. These arre moments of shock. In a film which plays on the idea of the movie within the movie, on the intermix of fabrication and actual, Hopper suddenly produces a moment that feels real.
These two scenes of Hopper’s male violence feel like Hopper making a statement about himself. He is saying; for better or worse I am real; this is me. I am what I am and I am not a good guy or a nice guy. I am an ugly man, don’t fuck with me. I hit women.
“The Last Movie’, why did Hopper chose this title? I don’t know if he ever commented on this. Perhaps it points to his moment of insight about the nature of the movie business: this was The Last Movie he could make in a state of innocence.