The Last Movie (1971) was (fortunately) not Dennis Hopper's last movie; it was only the second out of his five canonical directorial “efforts.” It would have been a strange note to end on, considering what a reckless chaos of far-flung ideas it is. It feels more like a brainstorm than a finished artwork, more like a fever-delirium than a cogent argument.
Ostensibly about a film crew (headed by a cigar-chewing Samuel Fuller in the flesh) shooting a Western in Peru and leaving behind the stuntman/wrangler Kansas (Hopper) to seek his fortune, The Last Movie can't really be said to be 'about' anything; it is just as sui generis as an infant's first utterances or a 200-year old oak tree. That’s not to say it’s a documentary (since those can be about something, too), but it has vérité elements—a Peruvian town’s religious procession is shot hand-held (but do we know how staged this “tradition” is?); a film crew’s internal squabbles are divulged as if a curious cameraman let his camera roll long past “cut”; the town’s strip clubs were clearly not built for the shoot and then dismantled, but have a real history of their own—but these semi-documentary qualities are ambiguous, and we don’t get the feeling of having learned much about either Andean villages or Hollywood location shoots.
Country superstar Kris Kristofferson (who plays a guitar-strumming set-lurker) provides a minstrel-style narration; fragments of “Me and Bobby McGee” punctuate the film with lines like “Feelin’ nearly as faded as my jeans,” “Nothin’ ain’t worth nothin’, but it’s free,” and “I’d trade all my tomorrows for one single yesterday.” The song imposes a thematic unity on what is otherwise a fragmentary mess; the cycle of naive dreams, overweening ambition, and dismal failure emerges as the core of the American experience, which Hopper, by all accounts, made into the object of his obsession.
When left to their own devices (literally, since they build their own cameras and mics out of twigs), the villagers construct an alternative film industry with its own feral conventions, such as on-screen violence having to be real (otherwise “It’s all phony” like in Hollywood, as Kansas admits). The self-appointed director/demagogue runs around yelling commands like “I want more movement!” and “Joy! Joy!” The fake movie’s plot is Godardian: the gringo is here to steal their movie set, and it’s up to the indigenous population to resist this imperialist expropriation with force of arms. This is a savage cinema reminiscent of neovitalist currents more famously exemplified by Herzog’s films of the time, or, far more obscurely, by Jean-Daniel Pollet's Le sang (1971).
Dean Stockwell and Easy Rider’s Peter Fonda appear as actors in the Peckinpah-style shootout of the fictional Billy the Kid movie, and filone icon Tomas Milian plays a parish priest desperately trying to cool the sinful impulses of the now cinema-crazed locals.