Dennis Hopper's 'The Last Movie' Shown in Rare Public Screening at Paris Photo Los Angeles
As Neil Young's "Cinnamon Girl" churned in the background and champagne flowed, the lobby of the Paramount Theater on the studio's historic Hollywood lot filled with Dennis Hopper's friends, relations and probably a few enemies to watch a rare screening of the late actor-director's nearlegendary film, The Last Movie.
Sponsored by The Hollywood Reporter and the Hopper Art Trust, Friday night's event was part of Paris Photo Los Angeles, which gathered the work of more than 70 galleries on the Paramount lot last weekend. The screening was a rare showing of the film's remastered version that Hopper completed in 2007 and the first public screening of the film in L.A.
Released by Universal in 1971 to savage reviews -- "a wasteland of cinematic wreckage," Roger Ebert wrote -- The Last Movie was a pet project of Hopper and screenwriter Stewart Stern, who wrote Rebel Without a Cause, in which Hopper had a small role. The film was greenlit by Universal after Hopper directed Easy Rider, a gigantic financial and cultural hit when it was released in 1969.
Shot on location in Peru, The Last Movie centers on a movie extra played by Hopper who stays behind on the set of a Western after the production leaves.
Following the chaotic shoot, Hopper retreated to Taos, N.M., and spent the next year editing the film. The director's nonlinear narrative and fourth-wall-breaking techniques were meant to be avant-garde, but many found the film incomprehensible. In the 43 years since its release, The Last Movie has achieved cult status and today is viewed as an artifact of a time when Hollywood studios would grant tremendous artistic freedom to young filmmakers.
"After Easy Rider, Dennis was the hottest commodity; he could have done anything," Michael Gruskoff, Hopper's agent in 1969 and executive producer of The Last Movie (and later hits Young Frankenstein and Quest for Fire) told THR at the reception. "I got him final cut, a guaranteed release in two cities, with a budget for marketing."
Gruskoff was in the unenviable position of serving as liaison between Universal's Lew Wasserman and Ned Tanen -- who wanted Hopper to cut the film -- and Hopper's Taos redoubt, where Hopper refused to make changes. "It was a real trip," Gruskoff said, with considerable understatement, adding that today the film is "exotica -- it's like The Great Beauty, a Fellini-esque type of movie."
Added Stella Garcia, who played Hopper's girlfriend in the movie, "Dennis was a great, great director -- very patient, very talented. He gave everything."
Attendees included Hopper's children Marin, Ruthanna and Henry, appearing together in public for the first time since their father's death, as well as a contingent from the L.A. art scene. An outstanding still photographer, Hopper was an astute collector of contemporary art and amassed one of the most comprehensive private collections on the West Coast -- the walls of his Frank Gehry-designed compound in Venice were hung with Lichtensteins, Warhols and an enormous Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Introducing the film, the artist and sculptor Larry Bell said that while he was not part of Hopper's "inner circle of rowdies," his path and Hopper's had crossed since the late 1950s. "I moved to New Mexico, and Dennis was there raising all kinds of hell -- he had a big entourage, and it was rather dangerous to go out there -- there were a lot of people shooting at Dennis and his house, and them shooting back."
In a poignant moment, an introduction Hopper had taped before his death was shown prior to the film's screening in the Paramount Theater. Speaking to the camera, Hopper acknowledged The Last Movie's reception but added, "I did see it recently in Amsterdam with a young audience, and they really enjoyed it. So I'm hoping you'll like it. Anyway, much love to you. I'm sorry I can't be there, and I hope I didn't burn too many bridges."
And with that, the audience put down their champagne and gave Hopper an ovation that surely would have warmed one of Hollywood's most famously difficult but ultimately uncompromising filmmakers.