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Dennis Hopper's "The Last Movie" (1971)
April 22, 2014
by Dennis Stock
Late actor/director Dennis Hopper’s 1971 film “The Last Movie” will be shown as a special tribute at Paris Photo Los Angeles. The film is about the breakdown of a movie production in Peru, when an actor was killed while performing a stunt and the horse-wrangler, Kansas (played by Hopper), quits and retreats to the comfort of a local prostitute. Kansas’ rest is disturbed when it becomes evident that the local villagers have been killing each other when attempting to recreate the scenes they’d seen staged during the then-cancelled filming.

Photographer Dennis Stock had formed a relationship with Hopper during the production of the film and maintained occasional contact until shortly before the former passed away. Though Stock thought that Hopper was a talented filmmaker and enjoyed working with him, Hopper’s drug and alcohol use created distance between the two.

Below are Dennis Stock’s original caption notes, which paint a vivid picture of Dennis Hopper and the production as a whole:

"1. Sunday is about the only day of the week Hopper can relax. He works six days a week and usually up to twelve hours. This is his hotel room at the Tourist Hotel in Cuzco. The colonial paintings are locally purchased, the girl is not. Many attractive young ladies seem to come out of the woods and turn up in Cuzco, and from week to week, Hopper has a new fiancée.
His constant companion is marijuana. He publicly proclaimed through the press that he has been a smoker for the course of 17 years.

2. Hopper is quite the director. He paces himself in a very leisurely fashion and he is quite unhollywood like. He rarely turns up at the appointed hour. His crew waits and he slowly approaches the scene, not quite determined to the very last minute, what he will do. His essential approach is that of an improviser: everyone has to be on the set and then he slowly discovers what it is he is concerned with.
One of his major concerns as a director is what he calls visuals. Formerly a still photographer, he has a great deal of concern for a graphic image, and looks for details in the landscape, elements in the surrounding land or people that would contribute to the mood of the scene.

4. On the plains of the Arabomba Valley, in an Alpine setting, Hopper had his camera set up to do an illusionary image of the old Western Cowboy: the glamorous John Wayne of the past. Much of his film is a film within a film, so there is a great deal of poetic license taken in terms of collage montage: the past and the present images of the film industry.

6. The major setting for the film is the town of Chincero. It is situated about 1 hour and ¼ drive from Cuzco. Chinchero is at about 12,000 feet high in the Andes, remote. It is essentially inhabited by Indians. They are approximately 8,000 in the area, all devoted to an agricultural existence. A great portion of the film was shot in the square of Chinchero. The square was converted on one side into an old Western town. On the Eastern side is an old Catholic church. The entire foundation of this hillside village is an Inca foundation, so one really has layers of three cultural facades: the Inca, the Spanish and the Hollywood.

The extras were close to 500 Chinchero Indians. They patiently sat in the square each day and followed directions. They, in many ways, were much more than extras, since the subplot which involves the Indians being influences by Hollywood and deciding to make their own fantasy film, calls upon the locals too, to perform in a very precise manner, the cultural facts very much used by Hopper, such as mass and festival costumes. Hopper wanted very much to capitalize the surrealistic state of a Hollywood set versus an old Indian village in Peru and it seems to have been quite a successful idea.

7. Again capitalizing on the surrealistic effect, Hopper had a backtruck made that duplicated the real landscape and used it in a peculiar manner: having a dead body tied to a car drive by and have a motorcyclist coming from nowhere and pass this surrealistic setting. The Indians of the area found the whole thing extremely amusing and came in mass to watch the crazy Americans and their Western, because as far as the Indians were concerned, it looked as if Hopper was making a Western.

10. Hopper as a director is very flexible, and since a beautiful setting of mustard flowers existed, he had to create a scene for it. He created little love dances in the flower fields. The young lady is Stella Garcia originally from Columbia, South America, and this is her first major role.

12. The motion picture equipment used by the Indians in their fantasy film is made of bamboo.

13. Another surrealistic touch is the arrival of a motorcyclist, perhaps a reminiscence of “Easy Rider”. The Indians, of course, have seen very few of these leather freaks and react accordingly.

17. An extremely controversial scene: Hopper created a brothel and specifically a lesbian exhibition in the brothel. Hopper claimed that, as a young boy, he worked in one of these places, and therefore knew about the realities. He personally decorated the set and, in many ways, persevered through the scene because the cast, male and female, was quite emotionally disturbed by the situation, and it was a very difficult encounter for Hopper and his actors.

18. Stella Garcia plays his mistress from the prostitute who he has set up house with, and in turn she takes on all the middle-class values of desiring mink stoles, refrigerators in a non-electricity-equipped house, and toilets and bidets that don’t function because there is no running water.

19. This takes place in the nightclub attached to the whorehouse, and Hopper turns up after being in a fight and wounded. He is quite drunk and interrupts a strip-tease act, and the stripper tries to incorporate him into the scene.

20. Some American tourists turn up and Hopper who is very much down and broke tries to ingratiate himself by taking them to the whore-house to first see the show and then the exhibition. The very well proportioned young lady is a Latin actress who now works in Hollywood."