Cast & Crew
L. M. Kit Carson
Princess Lida Amun
Zack Van Arsdale
This documentary explores the life of motion picture actor and director Dennis Hopper in early 1971, as he edits The Last Movie , his second directorial effort. Following Hopper from Hollywood to his beloved ranch in Taos, NM, the filmmakers ask him questions about art, movies, sex, drugs and his philosophy of life. Hopper, who owns many firearms, is frequently shown shooting guns in the desert. One day, while walking on the ranch grounds, he explains how lonely he was as a child and how as a teenager, he had painful crushes on Leslie Caron and Elizabeth Taylor. Hopper, who began acting as a teenager and has been a still photographer for many years, then postulates that despite the pain, an artist must be alone because loneliness inspires more profound work. Hopper discusses the wildly successful 1969 release Easy Rider , his first film as a director, and tries to explain how he considers American society full of criminals forged by societal restrictions. Because he believes that society has glorified both the criminal and the "outlaw," represented by the bikers in Easy Rider , he is not sure what the difference is between the bikers and those who kill them at the end of the film. Inside his house, Hopper jokes with a friend on the phone that thirty Playboy bunnies will be coming to the ranch, as the name of the documentary being made about him is The American Dreamer , and how can he be an American dreamer without "broads"? Hopper admits that he often thinks about sex and in one interlude, shares an erotic bath with two women. The director also spends many hours editing The Last Movie , from which several scenes are shown, as well as the actual process of editing it. An interviewer asks Hopper what will happen if The Last Movie is not received as well as Easy Rider was, and Hopper, comparing himself to Orson Welles, complains bitterly about the lack of studio support for The Last Movie , which was made for only $500,000. Stating that Welles's second movie, The Magnificent Ambersons , was brilliant despite its financial failure, Hopper adds that he would be happy if his film is as good as that one. He concludes, however, that if studio publicity cannot generate an audience for The Last Movie even among university students, then it will be a very long time before he can again dream about the type of audience he thought existed. Several other residents of the ranch are interviewed, including the cook, who describes Hopper and his brother as teachers. Hopper and his friends participate in a Native American parade in town, and later, again discussing The Last Movie , Hopper complains about the pressure being put on him to have the movie ready for exhibition in April rather than at the Cannes Film Festival in May, as he had planned. Introducing his current girl friend, Hopper notes that he, like many men, is caught between wanting a virgin or a whore for a wife, but that after his recent disastrous marriage to singer Michelle Phillips, he doubts that he will be able to get close to anyone for a long time. In the editing room, Hopper describes how boring editing is compared to actual production, but also how difficult it is, for he must delete many sequences he likes. During a meeting with an executive in Hollywood, the man pressures Hopper to provide stills and a synopsis to studio press agents so that they can publicize the movie. Hopper expresses reluctance, as he does not want to lose his autonomy, but the man assures him that he will be able to maintain control. At the ranch, Hopper shows the filmmakers many of his photographs and relates that he took up still photography because making motion pictures was too expensive, yet he felt the need to express himself visually. During the eighteen years he has been a photographer, Hopper has shot many subjects, including his famous friends and fellow artists. He explains how important it is for a director to understand different aspects of the motion picture industry, including writing, acting and photography, and how his prior experiences have prepared him for being a director. Later, Hopper discusses his many art pieces, ranging from Warhol paintings to primitive masks, and states that it is important to collect art because it represents the times in which people live. Hopper also mentions visiting imprisoned killer Charles Manson several weeks earlier, and relays Manson's assertion that if he is society's garbage, it was society that made him so. Upon being asked by the interviewer if he, himself, would ever take a life, Hopper responds that if one is going to "get involved in evolution," which requires a lot of thinking that he does not have time to do, "then you'll have to take some lives." Hopper professes himself to be a mystical, spiritual person, however, and incapable of "preconceiving"such an act. Later, the Playboy bunnies arrive at the ranch, and Hopper, who had expressed fantasies about group sex, welcomes the women. Hopper then challenges the documentary's filmmakers, accusing them of being insensitive and intrusive, and attempting to control what he says. Later, Hopper goes to the nearby town of Los Alamos that he calls "scientific suburbia" and strips as he walks down the street. Although he admits that it is not something he would ordinarily do, Hopper states that it was an appropriate symbol for the documentary. Going through his photographs, Hopper asserts that they and his movies are all that he will leave behind, and he once again points out the artifice of the documentary, for which he must remember what he was saying while the cameraman and soundman reload their equipment. Hopper is then shown with a number of the visiting women, whom he urges to become empowered as a group rather than be weak individually. Hopper encourages them to trust one another, and soon they are nude and engaging in what he describes as a "sensitivity encounter." Back in the desert, Hopper muses on the power of film, adding that "the revolution" will be fought with cameras, with the minds of people becoming one in theaters rather than on battlefields. After another comment on his ruined relationship with Phillips, Hopper asserts that it was Peter Fonda, his co-star in Easy Rider , who finally believed in him enough to give him "a chance to do something."
Princess Lida Amun
Jason G. Brent
L. M. Kit Carson
Gregory James Geddes
Zack Van Arsdale
The film's title cards read "Dennis Hopper as The American Dreamer." Although the onscreen credits feature a 1971 copyright statement for Corda Productions, the film was not registered for copyright protection. Jack Bernstein's onscreen credit reads "first assistant director-unit manager." The viewed print was eighty minutes long.
Because the two title cards listing the songs were only partially legible on the print viewed, song titles and composers were supplemented from the Monthly Film Bulletin review, which noted that many of the composers sing their own songs for the film. Composers Princess Lida Amun and Zack Van Arsdale also appear in the picture, singing at Hopper's home in Taos, NM. An onscreen credit notes that the original soundtrack album was available from Mediarts Records. According to a March 25, 1971 Variety news item, the songs were written especially for the film with the exception of "Pass Me By," which had appeared on an earlier album by The Hello People but was revised for the picture.
As discussed in the above summary, The American Dreamer was shot while director-actor Dennis Hopper was editing The Last Movie (1971), a follow-up to his directorial debut, the 1969 hit Easy Rider (see below). For more information on Hopper's well-publicized battle to edit The Last Movie in a timely manner without studio interference, and the film's subsequent failure with critics and moviegoers, see the entry below for The Last Movie.
The unusually photographed and edited The American Dreamer features numerous freeze frames; cross-cuts between sequences in which Hopper and other interviewees are questioned and then listen to the answers they have just given; cuts between Hopper commenting on something that has already occurred and scenes of the action itself; female and male nudity; profanity; drug use; and explicit footage of Hopper having sex with two women in a bathtub. The Coast F.W. Fine Arts review commented that "some of [the action] has been hastily recreated for the camera moments after actually happening and much of it has been roughly structured beforehand." The picture ends with a still photograph of Hopper holding a rifle in the desert as the song "American Dreamer" is heard.
On December 14, 1970, Hollywood Reporter, in an article on producer-director-writer Lawrence Schiller, reported that after seeing Schiller's first film, The Lexington Experience, Hopper agreed to give Schiller and Carson "complete `artistic, creative, releasing and exploitative rights'" to The American Dreamer. The article further noted that Hopper was scheduled to receive one-third of the profits from the picture, and that the majority of the financing had been provided by Kaback Enterprises, a New York-based construction company. According to a January 13, 1971 Hollywood Reporter news item, the rest of the financing was supplied by Seay & Cox, a company formed by Texas financier Robert Seay specifically for "film finance ventures." Although an December 18, 1970 Hollywood Reporter news item stated that the documentary would "not involve any shooting time for Hopper as only film clips of his work and location shots of Hopper making a movie will be used," other contemporary sources recounted that Hopper spent at least eighteen days actively working with the filmmakers.
As reported by contemporary sources, the film was shot on location primarily in Taos, NM, with Los Alamos, NM, Hollywood, CA, Forth Worth, TX and New York serving as additional location sites. In an After Dark article on co-director and co-writer L. M. Kit Carson, Carson alleged that Hopper and the crew were all arrested in Los Alamos after filming the scene in which Hopper walks down a street and strips naked. The article stated that the film ended with this sequence, but in the viewed print, it appears approximately two-thirds of the way through. The viewed print did not contain any footage of the arrests. As noted in the Monthly Film Bulletin review, the picture was originally shot on 16mm and blown up to 35mm for exhibition. According to a lengthy article in the August 1970 issue of Evergreen magazine, Carson was present during the filming of The Last Movie in Peru.
At least one preview for mostly "underground and college press" was held at AFI in Los Angeles in late March 1971, according to the Daily Variety review and a March 30, 1971 LAHExam column by James Bacon, who quipped that the picture "will go down as the first x-rated interview in history." [The film eventually was released without an MPAA rating.] In March 1971, Schiller predicted in a Hollywood Reporter news item that the film would gross approximately $600,000 during a playing time of 22 April to May 22, 1971, on thirty major college campuses, with a "second wave of openings in some 300 on-campus theatres starting" in September 1971. In a April 6, 1971 Daily Variety column, Army Archerd reported that Schiller had been notified by "Hopper's mentors" that they did not want the film to be "exploited or billed" in a manner leading the public to think that it had been created by Hopper rather than Schiller and Carson, even though Hopper is credited onscreen as a co-writer. Archerd noted that the film was scheduled to be shown at UC Berkeley on April 22, 1971, but as with the other college screenings announced by the media, it has not been confirmed that the screening took place.
According to June 25, 1971 and July 13, 1971 Daily Variety and Hollywood Reporter news items, Hopper and Alta-Light, Inc., Hopper's company, filed an injunction to prevent the showing of the film in the Brentwood Theatre in West Los Angeles. The news items noted that the film had already been exhibited at the Aquarius Theatre, a commercial theater, on 18 and 19 Jun, in direct contradiction to the agreement signed by Hopper, before production began, stipulating that The American Dreamer be shown "only in college-oriented media." The outcome of the injunction has not been determined, although August and September 1971 reviews of the film commented that it was still scheduled to be distributed only to universities.
The June 1971 Los Angeles Times review announced that The American Dreamer would be shown at Pomona College on June 19, 1971, with two showings on June 21, 1971 to be held at the Factory discotheque in West Hollywood. According to the May 1971 Coast F.W. Fine Arts review, the picture had "already been banned by authorities at UCLA, where it was scheduled to play," largely because of the explicit sexual sequences with Hopper and the two women in the bathtub. An August 1971 Where It's At article on the film, discussing its unusual distribution plan, noted that Robert Redford was an investor in EYR Programs, the company that was distributing the picture to college campuses.
Although Schiller, a journalist and still photographer, had previously completed the 1971 documentary The Lexington Experience (see below), his first feature-length film, that picture received a very limited number of public screenings due to disagreements over music rights; The American Dreamer was the first of Schiller's films to receive a wider theatrical release. Schiller went on to work mostly in television as a producer and director. The American Dreamer marked the only directorial experience for Carson, who went on to write and produce a number of feature films.
Released in United States 1971
Released in United States 1996
Laszlo Kovacs makes an appearance in the film.
Released in United States 1971
Released in United States 1996 (Shown in New York City (Film Forum) as part of program "Out of the Seventies: Hollywood's New Wave 1969-1975" May 31 - July 25, 1996.)