Visually and performatively stylized melodrama, slangy and retro and dreamily lit, like a much better Grease, or a nonmusical West Side Story. Rusty James (Matt Dillon in his third S.E. Hinton movie in a row) mopes around with his tough friend Smokey (Nicolas Cage, his second year in the movies) and his nerdy David Cronenberg-looking friend Steve (Vincent Spano of City of Hope) and Nice Guy Eddie, speaking wistfully about Rusty’s long-missing older brother, local-legend gangster The Motorcycle Boy. Rusty James has a hot girlfriend Patty (Diane Lane) who’s into him, but he cheats and disappears and flakes around. Rusty James is trying to keep alive the gang wars he barely remembers from his brother’s day, and just as he’s losing a fight, The Motorcycle Boy dramatically reappears. This is the earliest I’ve seen Mickey Rourke, four years before Angel Heart, doing his gentle/tough handsome-zen thing – everyone in town agrees he’s crazy, but we don’t see him acting crazy, except maybe when he liberates every animal in the pet store.

It’s clear from the tone of the thing that somebody is doomed – probably Rourke (and yup, sure enough). The cops aren’t happy to see him back, but a heroin-addict substitute teacher starts hanging around, and old rivalries start simmering. It’s kind of a hangout movie where not much happens, but it feels tense most of the time. Dillon’s character is kind of an idiot, and his idol brother’s return blows up his worldview that things were better in the tough old days. In the end Rourke has died, Cage has stolen the girl and said he’d take over the gang if there even was a gang, Rusty James rides his brother’s motorcycle to the ocean, and it sounds like Wall of Voodoo over the credits but I guess it was that guy from The Police.

I keep meaning to watch the four hours of extras on the Criterion disc, but haven’t found the time. The Outsiders was also a Coppola-shot S.E. Hinton-written gang movie made the same year, and I should have double-featured these. The cast in this film is impressive – the brothers’ shitty alcoholic dad is Dennis Hopper, Laurence Fishburne is a gang go-between, Tom Waits a bartender. William Smith, who starred in the real David Cronenberg’s Fast Company, is the mustache cop who uses inappropriate force to kill Rourke after the pet store incident.

Rumble brothers with grudge cop:

Felt like a good time to watch this since I’d recently seen Purple Noon, and The American Friend is more or less a sequel. I don’t know how things worked in the book series, but besides some art forgery at the beginning, I’d easily believe that they’re unrelated and Dennis Hopper’s character just happens to be named Tom Ripley.

Movie connection #2: Joe vs. the Volcano. Bruno Ganz, who’s the real star of the film over Ripley/Hopper, is sick and short on money, but it turns out his doctor is exaggerating Bruno’s health problems so he’ll be desperate enough to accept a mission as assassin. This despite the fact that Bruno works in a frame shop and is not normally a killer (naturally, the working title was Framed).

Bruno, making it literal:

Movie connection #3: Barton Fink. Bruno takes an instant dislike to Hopper at a (fraudulent) art auction at the beginning, refuses to shake his hand. At the end, Hopper confesses this is why Hopper put Bruno through it all, the doomed medical prognosis and three murders.

Movie connection #4: Rushmore, via the Kinks song “Nothing In This World Can Stop Me Worryin’ ’bout That Girl”.

Cool movie, with real suspense to the spy/murder proceedings, and a visual theme of magic lanterns and other illusions. Terrific lighting, color and cinematography (by Robby Müller, natch), as far as I could tell on my DVD copy. And of course it features both Nicholas Ray (as Hopper’s painter of fakes) and Samuel Fuller (as head target “The American”, eventually thrown down stone stairs).

Ray:

Fuller:

Hopper:

Can’t say I fully understood Ripley’s involvement in the whole plot, nor why Bruno has to die at the end (Wenders loves when everyone dies at the end). Ebert says it’s not important. Dave Kehr says that’s the whole idea: “The plot, laid out baldly, gives only a thin impression of the film itself. For one thing, Wenders has systematically eliminated most of the purely expository scenes (purposefully, after shooting them). … We already know the story, having seen its variations in a hundred films.”

Film Quarterly says it cost more than Wenders’s previous five films combined. Won best editing and direction in Germany and played at Cannes along with 3 Women, The Duellists and Padre Padrone.

Hopper’s follow-up to Apocalypse Now, which wouldn’t be released for two more years. Bruno was between The Marquise of O and Nosferatu. As his wife: Lisa Kreuzer of Radio On and Alice in the Cities. Gerard Blain (star of Chabrol’s Les Cousins and Le Beau Serge) is the guy who gives Bruno his assignment, and Lou Castel (star of Fists in the Pocket and Beware of a Holy Whore) is his driver/overseer. Semi-remade a couple times, once with Malkovich as Ripley and once with Barry Pepper.

Cast a Deadly Spell (1991, Martin Campbell)

“Los Angeles, 1948. Everybody used magic.”

Nice enough TV-movie with some good performances and a great premise: a noir detective story in a world where magic exists. Our hardboiled hero Lovecraft (Fred Ward, the year after starring in Henry & June) who doesn’t use magic due to an incident that killed his partner is hired by a rich guy (David Warner, an HP Lovecraft fan judging from his IMDB resume) to retrieve his Necronomicon. Ward runs into ex-flame Julianne Moore (this might count as her first starring movie role), tries to avoid thug Raymond O’Connor and his zombie, and finally protects Warner’s unicorn-hunting daughter from Warner’s own convoluted world-dooming scheme.

Clearly influenced by Who Framed Roger Rabbit with a lower budget, magic creatures and spells popping up in every scene (accompanied by overdone cartoon sound effects). Campbell went on to make some James Bond movies


Witch Hunt (1994, Paul Schrader)

“For some of hollywood’s biggest stars and studio moguls, it’s time to name names.”

When I heard Schrader had made a sequel starring Dennis Hopper, I couldn’t get a copy fast enough. Unfortunately it’s such a bad movie, it makes me wonder if I didn’t severely overrate the previous one by calling it “nice enough”. This one has fewer puppets, more early (too early) digital effects. And I love Hopper, but he doesn’t seem right for the role, speaking too slowly, looking out of his depth.

Shakespeare is summoned as script doctor:

Eric Bogosian (writer/star of Talk Radio) is a slimy anti-magic senator, starts a literal witch hunt by arresting and arranging to burn Hopper’s witch neighbor (now played by Sheryl Lee Ralph of To Sleep With Anger) for defying “the unnatural activities act”. I don’t know if this is a prequel or what – Hopper has different reasons to avoiding magic than Fred Ward did, and Raymond O’Connor’s zombie is back from the other movie. Penelope Ann Miller (Edna Purviance in Chaplin) is love interest fatale “Kim Hudson”, there’s a movie-star lookalike whorehouse a la L.A. Confidential run by a transvestite lipsync artist, more characters with obvious names (a cop called Bradbury), and Julian Sands with a heavy fake accent. And morphing – remember morphing?

Mouseover to see Hopper vomit a crow:
image

The first couple minute are nice though, with clips from 1950’s industrial films recognizable from MST3K and a reference clip of Reagan testifying before HUAC.

Here are three that’ve been hanging about for the last couple months because I haven’t felt like watching any more awful movies lately.

Seven Pounds (2008, Gabriele Muccino)
After flashing-back to the time he killed his wife and six other people because he wouldn’t stop looking at his cellphone, Will Smith lowers himself into a bathtub full of ice and jellyfish. I think he died and donated his heart to Rosario Dawson, because she wakes up seeming all sad then goes and hugs Woody Harrelson in the park. Seeing all these people cry makes me wanna cry. The director made The Pursuit of Happyness which would probably also make me wanna cry, and the writer once did an episode of Sabrina The Teenage Witch.

Blindness (2008, Fernando Meirelles)
I wasn’t expecting this jaunty Thomas Newman-sounding music (it’s not by him), nor this confused, fuzzy montage-looking filmmaking – hmmm, it’s from the guy who made City of God, so maybe I should’ve. This movie would seem to call for more straightforward direction, like Seven Pounds, which looked totally reasonable, but maybe Meirelles doesn’t know how to be straightforward. Anyway, Julianne Moore leads everyone to her house, Danny Glover has an eyepatch and tells some girl he loves her, and then Yusuke Iseya (who ruled as the white clan leader in Sukiyaki Western Django) can see again and everyone is glad. Just like the book, but blurrier.

Swing Vote (2008, Josh Stern)
Montage: two cute girls (Costner’s girlfriend[?] Paula Patton of Mirrors, and daughter Madeline Carroll of Resident Evil: Extinction) are reading mail to scruffy Kevin Costner in front of a whiteboard while media types are gathered outside his trailer. Arianna Huffington has some awkward dialogue, then there’s a Texas debate between Kelsey Grammer and Dennis Hopper staged just for Costner, but then why is Costner doing all the talking? Why, it’s a big patriotic speech to America, in which he declares himself an enemy of America for being a crappy citizen all his life. Hopper didn’t get to say a single word, and we don’t see who Costner votes for – booo! Director Stern previously wrote an Amityville sequel and directed an absolutely star-studded fantasy movie I’ve never heard of called Neverwas.

“You underprivileged bastard!”

Iconic Hopper, slightly blurry:

A strange movie in many ways. For instance, no opening credits then after 12 minutes it says “a film by Dennis Hopper”… then after 12 more minutes we get the title. Hopper plays a different sort of hippie drifter loner. He’d like to get married and have a steady job, but on his terms. He worked as a stunt man on a film about Billy the Kid (under director Sam Fuller, in a cameo) in Peru, but seems alienated at the wrap party, only comfortable in smaller groups.

When the production leaves, he stays behind with local girl Maria, idyllic until a priest tries to get Hopper’s help when locals pretend to be making their own movie, with real violence, not understanding the Hollywood fakery. Maria also starts getting him down – turns out she’s not satisfied with the natural paradise that Hollywood Dennis had envisioned. She wants all the American conveniences, which an out-of-work stuntman can’t afford. He turns to the elusive fast-buck by helping his shady friend Don Gordon (Bullitt) try to strike gold, but that ends in failure and embarrassment.

Don Gordon and Donna Baccala, whose only other film was Brainscan:

From what I’d heard I was expecting a rambling incoherent mess of a film, a drugged-up slog making no real sense. But it’s a right proper movie, and a good one. There’s much more to it though; more plot and characters than I’ve mentioned, events sliding out of order, flash-backs-and-forwards. Reference to someone who died during the film shoot. At the end there are “scene missing” cards and a slate onscreen, we see a retake of a scene we just watched, and people start breaking character as the movie winds itself down.

Nice garfunkly folk music throughout. Maybe they’re pushing it when they play a Jesus song while Dennis is dazed and wounded. After the gold mine idea goes bad he rampages through the old movie set and is imprisoned by the local “filmmakers” with their wicker camera. “They want me to die in the movie like Dean did” – so he named his dead friend Dean. “That’s what’s wrong is we brought the movies – that’s where we made our mistake.”

The priest: “They didn’t want to come to my church anymore. They got carried away by that game. So I just wanted to show them that the same moralities that exist in the real church can exist here in the movie church. I hope that after this game is over, morality can be born again.”

Priest Tomas Milian of Traffic, also starred in an Antonioni film and a Django movie:

Mubi explains it all:

The success of Hopper’s Easy Rider gave many young filmmakers the opportunity to work in Hollywood under the studio system. In 1970, Universal hired five “young genius” directors to make pictures for them. Hopper was one of these and developed a script with Steward Stern, the writer for Rebel Without a Cause, about the process of moviemaking and its effect on the natives of a remote and primitive village in Peru where it is being shot.

The Last Movie was the result – an amazing milieu of cinema and the decade it was created in. Hopper is a stunt man and wrangler on a big budget western, with which Hopper infused the presence of Sam Fuller, Sylvia Miles, Toni Basil, Henry Fonda, Kris Kristofferson, Michelle Phillips, Dean Stockwell and the cinematography of Laszlo Kovacs. After the production leaves town, Hopper’s life starts to get a little insane, torn between a new movie producer in town, a buddy (the great Don Gordon) and his quest for gold, and the incredible, ritualistic movie being “shot” by the locals using a wicker camera and boom mike. Under the surface bubbles the genius of the film, dealing with friendship, loyalty, the superstitious nature of filmmaking and the notion of film genre.

Although it received the only award given at the 1971 Venice Film Festival, Universal refused to distribute the film unless Hopper re-edited it. Hopper was intransigent, and Universal gave The Last Movie only token distribution and the picture was shelved.

Sam Fuller:

Only two user reviews on Mubi. One says “it’s wildly textured, emotionally intense, covers a lot of thematic ground, but its all of a piece-it works.” and the other, “a truly loathsome work of self-pity and self-aggrandizement, whose charms include smug, playful racism, and casually brutal misogyny.”

Peruvian “director” frames up a shot:

Wicker-cam:

MZ Seitz on Hopper’s filmmaking:

Although he directed just seven features, his style is quite distinctive. It’s ragged and intuitive, more sensual than logical, intoxicated by drugs, sex and music. And to greater or lesser degrees, all of his films address the individual’s struggle to survive within a machine without becoming a cog — the central narrative of Hopper’s long and strange career, with its youthful promise, adult madness and autumnal wisdom.

Z. Campbell:

The Last Movie is the only film I’ve seen that makes me think that it well and truly is an ‘anti-Western.’ (Though: this much-maligned genre that I love so much didn’t actually need ‘post’ or ‘neo’ updates–it had a strong critical component to it from the classical era onwards.) The Last Movie is quite possibly the only true and intentional avant-garde feature film I’ve seen from Hollywood. It shatters its own sense of fiction, of narrative illusion, it’s just celluloid material projected, and in so doing foregrounds the personal & cultural situations which constitute these fictions. Apocalypse Now? Child’s play–everything Coppola tried to do in his film on violence and imperialism and cinema, Hopper has already done–better–by 1971.

Maria and the city: Stella Garcia was also in a Clint Eastwood western called Joe Kidd.

Mrs. Anderson: Julie Adams was great in this. Hopper cast her in Catchfire twenty years later, and twenty years earlier she’d starred in Creature from the Black Lagoon.


The American Dreamer (1971)

“A camera is always a questioning instrument”

Also watched a washed-out old VHS of a truly ridiculous documentary on Hopper made during the editing of The Last Movie. Not about The Last Movie at all, just a portrait of a hippie for people fascinated by the Easy Rider freakshow. It’s everything that Lions Love was accused of being. Hopper gives his views on spirituality but mostly talks incessantly about sex. The movie takes up plenty of time showing him shooting guns and getting naked, and even writes him a theme song.

“There’s no honest men in the movie business except me.”

An hour in, the movie gets more interesting when Hopper starts to question and criticize the filmmakers methods, and to their great credit they left this in there. The doc is made by L.M. Kit Carson – David Holzman himself, who’d later write the terrible Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 starring Hopper – and Larry Schiller, who later made not one but two JonBenet Ramsey movies. I’d heard that The Last Movie was a disaster and that this intrepid documentary shows why, but I found the opposite to be the case.

“I don’t need to have people make movies about me.”

“This movie, it’s a nice idea, whether it’s damaging or whether it isn’t,
it doesn’t really matter to me.”

Katy not too impressed with Natalie Wood for some reason. I’m always happy to watch Sal Mineo splash about and Dean defy his tough-guy reputation with this oddball super-sensitive role. Was telling Katy I think history has gotten Dean’s rebel confused with Brando’s wild one. But watching this so soon after the death of Dennis Hopper, I couldn’t look away from him when he was on screen. Not that he’s completely electrifying in the part of “goon,” it’s just the fascination of seeing a teenage Hopper taking it all in.

I still don’t get Nick Ray, but this has always been a helluva interesting movie. Senses of Cinema on the director:

Among [Ray’s guiding concerns] are the relations between individuals and cruel, unforgiving environments or authority – in particular, the marginal status of adolescents; the nature of masculinity; and violence as a defining attribute of social relations. To express and reinforce this thematic coherence, and corresponding to the emotional turbulence of characters and actions on the screen, his films also display a visual flair and recognisable style marked by restless camera movement and quick editing generally uncharacteristic of the widescreen formats favoured by the director.

The Times review says the kids hide out in the same mansion used as Norma Desmond’s home in Sunset Blvd. – must look for that next time. Dean, forever a 24-year-old teenager, died a month before the movie’s release, having already shot his role in Giant.

JD Slocum:

In the 50 years since it first appeared, the film has continued to serve as a touchstone for imagining anxieties over coming-of-age rituals, traditional values of family and community, the provocations of mass or consumer society, and even threats from abroad. The specific sources of individual and social insecurity have changed, the specific motivations for rebellion have shifted, and the role of cinema and its heroes in the United States and other societies have been forever altered. What has persisted is Rebel Without a Cause’s power to represent individual rebellion and the possibilities of social reconciliation, an affirmation of the cinema’s capacity to illuminate such realities and, through bold performance and bravura filmmaking, to serve as a bellwether of cultural change.