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Tuesday, 22 February 2011

The Last Movie - 1971

The year was 1971, the Hollywood New Wave was in full swing, young directors were able to get decent sized budgets for their films as well as considerably more creative control than before. Never mind the so called Hollywood Golden Age, this is when Hollywood really became interesting with directors like F.F Coppola, Martin Scoresese, Steven Spielberg, Woody Allen and Sam Peckinpah making some of the most acclaimed films in history, but sadly it didn't last, Blockbusters became the new "big thing" in the late 70's and a new age arrived, an age of successful Franchises like Indiana Jones and Star Wars.

1971 was a particularly great year for film, possibly one of the best for English language Cinema,  with such classics as  The French Connection, Dirty Harry, A Clockwork Orange, Bananas, A Fistful Of Dynamite, Get Carter, Straw Dogs, Waterloo and Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory.
It was also the year 3 influential and important US directors made their debut's Eastwood with "Play Misty For Me", Spielberg with "Duel" and Lucas with "THX 1138".

But it was also marked by the release of Dennis Hopper's follow up to the wildly successful Easy Rider (1969), The Last Movie, which resulted in Hopper being persistently ignored for many years until achieving a memorable come-back in the 80's with his performance in David Lynch's "Blue Velvet" and his film "Colors".
Hopper wasn't exactly black listed, but he did get thrown out of MGM and received much bad press and criticism from critics and audience alike over The Last Movie, which is surprising as it won The Grand Prize at the Venice Film Festival, but then again Europe has always been more welcoming of avant-garde type films than the US.
"One just has to look at three of the best US films, all three failed to win Best Picture at the Oscars, which they deserved, but went on to win the Palme D'Or at Cannes...Taxi Driver (1976), Apocalypse Now (1979) and Pulp Fiction (1994)."

Even now The Last Movie is considered a terrible film by many, and a messy film by many more. It holds a pretty low score on IMDb which is quite rare, and has even been included in many "Worst Films" lists.
It has been criticised for it's vague and wandering narrative, it's somewhat explicit imagery, some have called it "laughable", others "a waste of time" and "misogynistic".

In a way this is an experimental film, one that pushes the viewers perception of what a film is supposed to be, it offers whole new idea's and techniques and makes several interesting points while still being aloof and almost unintelligible. This avant-garde experimental style that pervades the film wasn't originally present, of course the film was hardly mainstream as it is made by the great rebel Dennis Hopper but it was certainly more accessible before he showed it to his friend and fellow director Alejandro Jorodowsky, who urged him to re-edit the film and make it less comprehensible and more experimental, which is exactly what Hopper did.

Before reading the rest of my review you may want to watch the film, I believe in is on YouTube in it's entirety (not very good quality though), just to give you an idea of what it's like here is Part 1:

You should be able to find the rest of the film on YouTube.

You may have noticed the lack of any credits at the start of the film, indeed all it says is "It is now the time to commence" and at the end of the film "The End". The only recognisable credits appear very unexpectedly, 12 minutes into the film, we are informed that it is "a film by Dennis Hopper" and 25 minutes in we are finally shown the title "The Last Movie".

This unusual "beginning" marks the start of a highly unusual and highly uneven film. 

I won't attempt any plot summaries as this is such a convoluted and ambiguous film, if you want to know what it's about just watch it!

Now I did mention that the film is highly uneven, and that is the least one can say. The beginning was fantastic, but then towards the middle it failed to hold my interest and the end while more interesting than the middle was very confusing.
The scenes involving the natives making their own "film" were amongst the most interesting, I liked the film's refreshingly non-romantic look at film making.
In The Last Movie, film making is presented as something negative, Hopper's character wonders if the natives would have been better off without knowledge of the existence of such a thing as a film.
The local priest urges Hopper's character to speak with the locals and convince them to give up their "film making" which he considers amoral and return to the church, he says the film-set has become their "new church". But eventually even the priest is taken up in the wild fervour in which the locals make their film. 

I think this is a film with a lot to say about Cinema, and unlike the film I previously reviewed, it does make a lot of interesting observations on the subject. If the film would have contented itself with that it would have been an excellent work. But unfortunately it often diverts into other less engaging subjects.
The sequences that take place down from mountains, in the city, where we see Kansas in the company of some American's visiting Peru, were uninteresting and bland, and although they did make the interesting observation that US tourists (or any other Westerners for that matter) often indulge in acts that they would never consider doing in their home town when they are abroad, such as visiting a brothel as they do in this film. 
But these brothel scenes and all the others that involve the Americans just bored me and I found myself wishing for a return to the quality of the beginning of the film.
The film manages to regain my interest towards the end when Hopper put to use a large array of different camera tricks and techniques apparently designed to confuse the viewer.
And even if that wasn't the intended effect (for it felt at moments like the end was supposed to be revelatory in some way) that's what happened in my case.

I do think that this film would have worked better as a more straightforward look at the effects of film being brought to a remote and wild area of the world, and how the inhabitants deal with it. But the film diverts with it's brothel scenes, it's gold-searching sub-plot and the relationship between Hopper's character and his girlfriend.
It felt like a missed opportunity and yet despite it's flaws I watched it all the way through and was left wanting more, Hopper's talent alone (as a Director and as an actor) makes this film most interesting to watch.

Overall The Last Movie is an interesting film with an intriguing and original message. But sadly it seems to loose sight of it's purpose at times and ends up being unnecessarily "avant-garde". I still enjoyed it though and I'm usually not a fan of "avant-garde" films.

Dennis Hopper:
I think Dennis Hopper was an inspiring artist in many ways, nowadays he is mainly remembered for his performances in many average action films as the villain and it's true that he did get type-caste in such roles for many years, but these performances (Speed, Waterworld.....) were nothing compared to his directional talents and the unforgettable performances that he was sometimes capable of.

He was a multi-talented man, an excellent director and actor, a very good script writer, a good photographer and the owner of an immense art collection.
And I admire him for being so creative, even if this creativity did come hand in hand with a depressive, often anti-social and always rebellious nature. But that is often the price one has to pay for creativity.
With his death last year, Cinema lost one of it's most inventive and ground-breaking contributors. I just hope he won't be forgotten to soon
But I can hope all I want, I know he will be forgotten, the youth of today are almost completely oblivious to his existence, so he will be forgotten by many, but he will live on through his films and the small amount of people who watch and appreciate them.

And that concludes my review of The Last Movie, not the easiest film to review due to it's sheer oddness, but definitely of interest for all film buffs.

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