Sunday, September 23, 2018

Poster for The Last Movie

In a way, I wished I’d never seen The Last Movie, the film Dennis Hopper made whilst riding high (literally) after Easy Rider. I loved the story and myth behind the film: Hopper was given $850,000 to make the picture, which he would star in, direct and have final cut. The Last Movie is a film within a film, featuring a Billy the Kid western being shot in Peru. After an accidental death on the set of the film, Kansas – a  horse wrangler and stuntman, played by Hopper – quits his job in the movies to stay on in Peru. Turns out the Hollywood shoot has inspired the locals, and they decide to make their own film, but the camera they use is made out of bamboo and the violence isn't staged, it's real, as they have no concept of film-making.

It seems Hopper’s main reason for shooting in Peru was it had then become the cocaine capital of the world. The production of the film was, according to Hopper, ‘one long sex-and-drugs orgy’, with many scenes improvised. After shooting wrapped, Hopper holed up in Taos, New Mexico, to edit the film. Around this time, directors Lawrence Schiller and LM Kit Carson (writer of Paris, Texas) rocked up to make a documentary about Hopper, called American Dreamer (also ‘lost’ for decades, then recently ‘found’ and re-released). Then cult Mexican film maker Alejandro Jodorowsky turned up, criticising Hopper’s ‘conventional’ edit of the film, encouraging him to completely re-edit the film in a non-linear, experimental style. Which Hopper duly did.

The film was finally released in 1971; it won an award at the Venice Film Festival, then played in New York for a few weeks where no one saw it, it got terrible reviews, then vanished. 'A wasteland of cinematic wreckage' Roger Ebert wrote about it at the time, but time – and not being able to see it, and a fair degree of mythologising – have been kind to The Last Movie, with critics now calling it some kind of masterpiece. I remember it being pretty hard to watch; incoherent and self-indulgent – two traits in films I normally don’t mind; so I’m quite looking forward to seeing it again – it's getting an official DVD release in November.

Supposedly being an existentialist, experimental, anti-. neo-, post-western, I was also disappointed in the rather dull original poster for the film. And the VHS cover of the film was even more bland, seeming to have nothing to do with the actual film whatsoever. So I've designed mine to feature my favourite aspect of the film – the camera made of sticks. I suddenly thought the whole stick thing reminded me of The Wicker Man, so I used similar colours to the poster of that.

On the web, alternative film posters, created by fans, have become a sub-genre in itself, with many of them capturing a film in simple, bold graphics or beautiful illustrations, where often the original poster was formulaic. They remind me of Polish film posters, produced during the communist era as an alternative to banned American publicity material, yet always stunningly surpassing the pedestrian American originals.

The Last Movie is released on DVD by Arbelos Films, on 13 November.

Coincidentally, another near-mythical film-within-a-film lost for decades is also being released in November: Orson Welles’ The Other Side of the Wind. Welles started shooting the film in 1970, and didn’t finish until 1976. After being in limbo for forty years, it is finally being released... by Netflix on 2 November.

I don't know. Sometimes lost, forgotten, unedited or unmade films are like that for a reason. Like the impossible dreams of Jodorowsky's Dune, Kubrick's Napoleon or Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno. Films that weren't meant to be seen, but to live in the imagination of fans (or get turned into documentaries). They're always better that way.

No comments :