Dennis Hopper was the wild-eyed poster boy for countercultural Hollywood when he wrote and directed ‘The Last Movie’ in 1971. It ended up flushing away all the goodwill he’d built up with his directing debut, the unlikely 1969 hippy smash ‘Easy Rider’. Hopper himself plays Kansas, a stuntman on a Sam Fuller-directed western being shot in the wilds of Peru. When the movie wraps, Kansas sticks around, romancing a local prostitute, hanging out with an American factory owner and becoming implicated in the film’s big idea: that the local Peruvian film crew end up restaging the plot of the movie they’ve just made but using equipment built from sticks. It gets even weirder. The same locals also expect the movie’s story to unfold for real in front of their cameras – even when it comes to punches and much, much worse.
It’s a chaotic, fragmented movie – the result, by all accounts, of a hedonistic, heavily improvised shoot and a tortured editing period. But there’s brilliance buried in here as we flit between various story strands and levels of reality. It’s a 1970s hippy film through and through, concerned as it is with American imperialism and consumerism, and questions that were in vogue at the time in ’60s films like ‘Medium Cool’ and ‘Blow-Up’ about where the truth really lies in storytelling. Hopper adds to this debate by giving us, first, a film within a film then – keep up! – a film about a film within a film. Phew. Sure, other filmmakers have tackled these things in ways more polished, focused and complete, but ‘The Last Movie’ is the first and last of its sort: a wild, studio-backed experiment with a Hollywood auteur let loose in the wilds of Peru and his own mind.