Quick Take: The Last Movie, by Scott Nye
Quick Takes are brief capsule reviews, quickly written and quickly read.
“We blew it,” Peter Fonda legendarily declares in Dennis Hopper’s landmark 1969 hippie movie Easy Rider. Somewhere along the way, Wyatt and Billy lost sight of whatever they were chasing, their vision of freedom drowned in hedonism.
Nobody says “We blew it” in Hopper’s superior 1971 follow-up, The Last Movie, which played at the Egyptian in Hollywood this past week as part of its nationwide tour of its new 4K restoration. Nobody has to. It’s evident in every moment. Hopper plays Kansas, a stunt man working on a western in Peru, who loses himself amidst the locals like a less-tyrannical Colonel Kurtz. He falls for a woman he can’t commit to. He talks up the wealthy. He starts sort of directing the villagers when they try to make a movie of their own using sticks and lamps. Like the drug deal in Easy Rider, there’s a big score to be had in The Last Movie’s much-discussed, never-seen, vaguely-sought gold mine.
The movie was written and shot with the intention of a relatively straightforward narrative, only for Hopper to completely jumble it in the editing, leaving in moments where a boom mic or other set equipment is visible. While this makes narrative summary difficult (I’m purposefully avoiding rewording synopses I found online that spell out stories I could not discern), it perfectly expresses just how adrift Kansas and everyone he meets are from morality or even simple goals. They’ve fallen out of step with society, and also themselves. One of the film’s longer cohesive section has Kansas and a friend trying to seduce two fellow Americans, while Kansas’s Peruvian girlfriend looks depressively watches. The film’s one sex scene verges on rape in a public park as school children walk by. The free love movement the hippies so desired has become corrupted, absorbed into another way those with power can abuse those who have none.
By the time of Hal Ashby’s outstanding 1975 time capsule Shampoo, this has already happened. Everything that was part of the counterculture, everything that was meant as a rejection of mainstream society – the drugs, the sex, the music, the fashion – became part of it, any attempt to express oneself as apart from it became just another status symbol. The Last Movie shows this process in its early stages, when it’s just too late to stop it, but nobody quite sees it happening anyway. Like the villagers making a movie that can never exist, everyone’s still going through the motions, imitating something they want to be, living a dream that’s already dead.