Senior HTF Member
- May 31, 2004
- Agua Verde
- Real Name
- Pike Bishop
What is it?
The American Dreamer is a documentary about Dennis Hopper shot while he was in the editing process of his follow-up to Easy Rider, The Last Movie, at his home in Taos, New Mexico. It was for a very long time an extremely hard to see film that was rarely shown and pretty obscure. It is now available on blu-ray which seems like a minor miracle.
What's it like?
Really what this is like is seeing one of those documentary films where some filmmakers follow a rock band around giving you a fly on the wall view of the rock 'n' roll lifestyle. The documentary filmmakers in this case just point their cameras at Mr. Hopper and shoot what he does with pretty much no comment and no real goal other than to show you "an artist at work and play."
Dennis was a "rock star" filmmaker when this was shot having stunned audiences and Hollywood with the success of Easy Rider. As such there are no deep questions being asked here and mainly Dennis asks himself most of the questions in the film and answers them in his unique manner...very much like you are following around his character from Apocalypse Now. What you will witness is a man's ego swallowing him whole. You will get an excellent view of why Hopper flamed out after Easy Rider, which was by some accounts also a fairly sloppy and haphazard production that occasionally infuriated co-star Peter Fonda among others.
Here Hopper's ego having become larger than North America and obviously visible from outer space will make him fairly intolerable to some viewers. However, I think it is pretty interesting that Hopper allowed this side of himself (and actually staged some of these events specifically for the cameras) to be seen totally unadulterated. There is no question while the filmmakers have the cameras and are pointing them at Dennis he remains the one directing the show. Dennis shoots guns, smokes dope, drinks and has all kinds of women delivered to his doorstep to participate in a variety of sex acts and orgies, baths and nap time...and a lot of rambling, meaningless, and comical conversation.
We are lucky enough to witness (according to Dennis) his first sexual experience with multiple women at one time...while he sort of muses about if he deserves such pleasure. He also amusingly confesses he is a lesbian at one point while discussing orally pleasuring a couple of his female visitors. Along with these things we also see him work a bit on editing The Last Movie which he admits to the cameras is boring the shit out of him and he seems really to want to get back to the booze, drugs, and next bus full of women...and I guess who can blame him. If anything this film shows what a great time Dennis was having while taking full advantage of his success and popularity. Somebody once said (maybe it was Bill Murray) that when a person becomes famous you need to allow them at least a year to be a total asshole just to get it out of their system. For some it takes longer and some don't survive it.
So, we do get to see not only Dennis living the life of a famous and highly egotistical filmmaker but also how unfocused he was while trying to complete The Last Movie...which he honestly seems like he has no idea what to do with. I think that in part his burying himself in booze, sex, drugs, and various hangers-on may be because he was so unsure how to complete the follow-up to Easy Rider. This film does reveal that Hopper appeared totally lost while attempting to create The Last Movie and it really did not seem like his priority. He obviously desperately wants to be seen as a great artist but he seems totally unsure how to accomplish this task and really the key thing he needed to do was to focus on his work...but here we see him doing anything but.
Who will like this and why should I watch it?
Well, obviously anybody with an interest in the history of film and specifically how we entered a rather amazing decade of director driven American filmmaking in the 1970s will find this a fascinating must watch. Easy Rider was one of the key films that set-off the explosion of wonderful American films in the seventies and to have the opportunity to see the guy who made it attempt to follow it up is pretty incredible. It may also be a little annoying and/or bittersweet in that sort of like watching the Beatles film Let it Be we see what a car wreck our hero has become and we see him struggling to overcome his own worst instincts. It always seemed pretty appropriate that on the cover of the Let it Be album the 4 band members appear in separate snap shots because really they were no longer a band at that point but 4 different guys turning up for work and trying to slog through a day with their co-workers...whom they really were not that crazy about. Dennis only has himself but he has a giant personality which seems broken into different parts all at odds with each other. So, like Let it Be as we watch we know these are the moments leading up to the crash. The Last Movie was an epic failure that the studio did not want anything to do with when Hopper delivered it to them. Honestly though the film should be available and is obviously the perfect double feature to watch with this.
This film gives us an excellent example of ego run amok and the struggle to follow a work that caused the filmmaker to be showered with praise. It is also pretty amazing that this is now out on blu-ray because it is not a particularly well known film nor do I believe many people have ever seen it. I mean it would seem like we would have a blu-ray of Hopper's film before we would have this sort of obscure documentary on blu-ray but perhaps this will trigger somebody to actually release The Last Movie. I am a big fan of Hearts of Darkness - A Filmmaker's Apocalypse and really this documents another off the rails production that did not end up as well as Coppola's film. We certainly get a good look at a large part of why Hopper's film was such a mess.
How does it look?
This is a low budget documentary from the early seventies shot on 16mm and the source for this blu-ray I believe came from somebody's private collection and is a theatrical print blown up to 35mm. So, while a lot of work seems to have been done to bring this to blu-ray it does exhibit the limitations of the source...however, that said this looks pretty awesome and it looks like film. Really, the fact that this is not scrubbed clean and it has dirt, scratches, hair, bumps and bruises intact sort of enhances the experience of watching this archaeological artifact. Given that I think we are lucky to even be able to own/see this on blu-ray I honestly don't think we will ever see it looking better. The people who did this work and got this out on blu-ray really deserve a standing ovation for providing us with the opportunity to see this interesting piece of American film history. This is why I wanted to write about it here because I really think we should support this kind of release.
I highly recommend having a look at this film and if you are a fan of 1970s filmmaking and/or Dennis Hopper this is a must own. I really enjoyed watching it despite the fact that Dennis seems more consumed with himself and getting laid than working on The Last Movie. It does give us a pretty clear look at why that film turned out how it did...a bit rambling and disjointed just like the guy that made it. The truth is Dennis Hopper I think caught a tiger by the tail with Easy Rider and in the moment he had that tiger's tail in his grip everybody said "Wow, look at him!"...but the tiger quickly threw him off into the dirt and then ate him.
As an actor Hopper was capable of doing great work over and over again. As a director, well, if you look at his body of work he was a decent director whose larger than life personality seemed to give his films a unique flair and while he may have helped kick off a fantastic period in the history of film there were many far better filmmakers out there that picked up the ball and ran with it. Guys like Kubrick, Scorsese, Friedkin, Coppola, Spielberg, Lumet, Ashby and even Cimino seemed far more focused on creating their films and committed to the work than Hopper ever was as a director. He did turn in many great performances and honestly this film is one of them as Hopper playing Hopper, warts, giant ego and all, is still pretty riveting to watch. I give it my highest recommendation and think this is a wonderful release that was a big surprise. To have this sort of rarity on blu-ray is pretty cool.