Between this and Easy Rider, the trailblazing, LSD-fuelled attitude Dennis Hopper brought to the screen is well worth engaging with. It is not quite as rewarding as it once was, but it is a thorough adaptation of a period that burnt as brightly and as quickly as it shone. Where Easy Rider was a look into the dying days of freewheelin’ hippie love and the drug-soaked attitudes of biker gangs and social bandits, The Last Movie is a confused passion project that elicits no real, rewarding moment. No experience or desirable message that audience or cast can revel in and appreciate. Is that the point? No, I should think not. Hopper has a message here but is not sure how to tend to it.
His premise is strong and echoes a decade of living Hopper would soon find himself in. Dissatisfaction is at the core of The Last Movie, a stunt gone wrong convinces a unit wrangler to give up the rat race of Hollywood for a quiet life in the placid town they filmed, but soon finds himself appeasing locals by reshooting the film as if it were reality. It is ripe for meaning and reasoning but never gets there because Hopper is far more enamoured by his friends’ appearances than he is of his own topics. Samuel Fuller and Russ Tamblyn feature, but how effective they are is surely up for debate.
Hopper’s need to tell his audience, constantly, that this is merely a film, goes against what the art form is attempting. A bold move, and one I find merit in, but The Last Movie offers no useful or insightful prospect. No reason for why, only how. Even then, the how in this instance is threadbare. He peels back the curtain of Hollywood productions, shows the moviemaking magic of a western and the disenchantment facing many creatives, yet follows it up with nothing else. He has not made a statement, just presented a flimsy argument and left it at that. Often, the beauty of film can be the lack of finality and the openness of interpretation. Where The Last Movie fails then is its openness and desire to spark a flame of conversation, but it is hard to do so when Hopper has all the answers embedded in the ruminating, throat-singing nonsense that transpires throughout. Hopper is operating on the false pretence that his work is worth talking about, and sets out to make something worth discussing, rather than a film so engaging and well-crafted that it survives on the merits of craftsmanship than of legend.
The Last Movie has a similar mythos to that of The Holy Mountain. It is experimentation that both directors desire, but it is Alejandro Jodorowsky only two years later that at least appreciates the meaning of his craft. That is experimentalism done right, if a bit weirdly. The Last Movie will allow you a glimpse into what happens when a director is given free rein, buoyed by the success of a previous project, throwing everything he can at the wall and watching as nothing sticks. It slumps into a greasy pile, congealed at the foot of an audience. This is the risk producers take when giving complete control to a director, and it is an instance where complete faith in a rising star does not pay off. With nobody but Hopper to blame for this, The Last Movie will undoubtedly continue to divide audiences so long as it remains relevant in the field of experimental cinema.