• The Last Movie (Arbelos Films) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Arbelos Films
    Released on: November 13th, 2018.
    Director: Dennis Hopper
    Cast: Dennis Hopper, Stella Garcia, Peter Fonda, Russ Tamblyn, Don Gordon, Tomas Milian, Daniel Ades, Julie Adams, Samuel Fuller
    Year: 1976
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    The Last Movie – Movie Review:

    When, in 1969, Easy Rider proved an unlikely box office phenomenon, Dennis Hopper was given free reign over his next directorial project, 1971’s The Last Movie. co-written by Hopper Rebel Without A Cause’s screenwriter, Stewart Stern, the film stars Hopper as a stuntman named Kansas. He’s part of a large American film crew that has gone on location to shoot a western film in a small village in Peru. Kansas is a bit of an anti-social type and he decides, once the movie finishes, that he won’t be returning to the United States but instead sticking around Peru for a while.

    As he wanders Peru he winds up coming into contact with other Americans that have also made Peru their home. They have, in turn, decided to ‘make’ their own movie with the help of the Peruvian locals, fascinated by the set abandoned by the American crew. A camera is made out of sticks and the acting moves forward with various players doing their own imitations of what they’ve seen play out in front of them. Of course, Kansas gets wrapped up in all of this and things go from weird to weirder as he winds up falling for a former prostitute named Maria (Stella Garcia) and looking for lost gold treasure.

    A notoriously troubled production, The Last Movie was the result of a studio, in this case Universal, not really knowing what they were getting into when they cut Hopper a big check for a million dollars and then basically left him alone, hoping for another counter-culture hit like Easy Rider. They didn’t get that. Hopper, clearly influenced by Jodorowsky’s El Topo, didn’t deliver anything close to mainstream with this picture despite the presence of recognizable actors like Russ Tamblyn, Tomas Milian (as a priest!), Julie Adams, Dean Stockwell, director Sam Fuller and even his Easy Rider co-star Peter Fonda. Clearly very much largely improvised, the film also channels Godard at times. It works in elements of surrealism into its freeform narrative flow and as such, it’s all just as disjointed and bizarre as it sounds.

    The editing of the film, which took a year, is covered really well in the documentary American Dreamer by L.M. Kit Carson and Lawrence Schiller. Here a stoned, aloof Hopper is shown on his ranch trying to put the film together while smoking a lot of dope and enjoying the company of many women. Reportedly at one-point Hopper asked Jodorowsky to edit the film for him, but rejected his cut while still openly acknowledging his influence on the film. This earned him a spot-on Universal’s shit-list and while the film did win the CIDALC Award at its 1971 Venice Film Festival debut, the studio basically buried it. Hopper’s career would go into a tailspin for the better part of a decade afterwards, none of the bigger studio’s wanted anything to do with him after this, but time has been kind to the film in its own strange way. Viewed now more as a cultural artifact and a fascinating ego project, The Last Movie is at times striking and beautiful. It’s clear that the political turmoil of late sixties/early seventies America was on his mind as he was making this but the film is more than just a middle finger to the establishment. The Peruvian settings are gorgeous to look at and the cinematography from László Kovács (another carry over from Easy Rider) is fantastic. The movie also benefits from a decidedly odd soundtrack made up of contributions from Severn Darden, Chabuca Granda, John Buck Wilkin and Kris Kristofferson (who also appears in the film, his big screen debut).

    It’s also clear that the film was a very personal project to Hopper. The film was inspired by his experiences making The Sons Of Katie Elder, where he actually witness the Mexican locals imitating the American cast and crew and he clearly put a lot of himself into the movie. Even when it doesn’t work, which is often, the film is a fascinating artifact and revealing look into Hopper’s personality and mindset at the time it was made.

    The Last Movie – Blu-ray Review:

    Arbelos Films brings The Last Movie to Blu-ray on a 50GB disc in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer taken from a ‘new 4K restoration from the original camera negative.’ Framed in its original aspect ratio of 1.85.1 widescreen, this is an excellent looking image. There’s very strong fine detail throughout and the film’s naturally grainy appearance is left completely intact. Color reproduction is very strong, quite striking in spots, and black levels are strong and deep. There are no issues with any crush or noticeable compression artifacts nor is there any obvious edge enhancement here. Skin tones look lifelike and natural and there’s good depth and texture in pretty much every frame. This is a very film-like presentation and the kind of restoration that really makes you appreciate the movie just that much more.

    The DTS-HD 2.0 track, in the film’s native English, also sounds quite good. Dialogue is clean and clear and the track is properly balanced. There are no problems with any hiss or distortion and the score, which is a pretty interesting piece of work, also sounds very good here. Optional subtitles are provided in English only.

    There are some great extras here, starting with a forty-seven-minute 2018 documentary on the history of the film entitled Scene Missing. Directed by none other than Alex Cox, this is an excellent breakdown of the history of the movie basically made up of interviews with a lot of those who were there to witness it and experience it first hand - producer Paul Lewis, screenwriter Stewart Stern, actors Tomas Milian and Henry Jaglom, set builder Philip Thomas and a few others all chime in with some pretty great stories about what they went through working on this project. They talk up Hopper’s abilities both in front of and behind the camera as well as his drug use, they share some insight into the vibe that existed on set, what it was like shooting in Peru and their thoughts on the film overall. Great stuff and as is typical of Cox’s documentary work it’s very nicely put together.

    Up next is an archival piece from 1987 entitled Some Kind Of Genius (1987), which is a a thirty-minute documentary portrait of Dennis Hopper that was directed by Paul Joyce. This is basically a lengthy interview with Hopper himself wherein he talks about how he got into acting, who his influences where, some of the big names that he worked with over the years, his personal politics and quite a bit more. It’s interesting stuff, particularly if you have an affinity for the man.

    Arbelos also includes a new thirty-one-minute featurette called Postcard From Peru which is a selection of recently shot video interviews with members of the Peruvian crew. Filmed by Daniel García and Aurelio Medina, this is seriously interesting stuff as it gives us a unique cultural perspective on the production. We hear about the issues that some of them had with Milian’s character, what went into building some of the sets, how things changed with a small army of American filmmakers and art-types showed up and quite a bit more.

    Also included on the disc is a great seven-minute interview that Hooper did in 1971 on The Dick Cavett Show where he talks about his experiences shooting the film on location in Peru, talks up the movie a bit and notes just how much footage he brought back with him that needed to be edited down into the form we see on the disc.

    Rounding out the extras on the disc is a quick one-minute video introduction by Dennis Hopper shot in 2007, a 2018 U.S. theatrical re-release trailer, the original 1971 theatrical trailer, a quirky minute-long 1971 product reel, and a three-minute restoration demo that shows off what went into getting the film looking as good as it does on this disc. Menus and chapter selection are also included.

    Inside the clear Blu-ray keepcase is a full color insert booklet that contains new essays on the film be by Julie Adams, Jessica Hundley and Mike Plante as well as a 1971 Evergreen Review report from the set of the film by L.M. Kit Carson. It’s a nice touch that rounds out an already superb supplemental package.

    The Last Movie – The Final Word:

    The Last Movie is a bizarre and challenging film but if you’re willing to invest yourself in Hopper’s work, it’s also quite rewarding. It’s a strange picture, no doubt, and it has some obvious flaws, but there’s so much passion on display and such brazen creativity shown throughout that you can’t help but get wrapped up in it all. Arbelos’ Blu-ray debut for the feature is excellent. The presentation is gorgeous and the disc is stacked with extras.

    Click on the images below for full sized The Last Movie Blu-ray screen caps!