Director: Laurence Schiller, L.M. Kit Carson
Cast: Dennis Hopper, L.M Kit Carson, Lois Ursone
Watch American Dreamer online in the UK: Not currently available on VOD
Dennis Hopper was one of the last of a dying breed. In our age of ever-connectedness, it feels like his like – the hard-drinking, drug-taking wild man, who had his wilderness years but managed to somewhat come back before his death – will not come again. After the zeitgeist-defining success of Easy Rider, he was given free rein to make The Last Movie, a film which turned out to be a disaster, but this period also birthed quasi-documentary The American Dreamer, which has just had a revitalisation, thanks, in part, to MUBI.
American Dreamer immediately starts to interest with the on-screen credits showing Hopper as a co-writer. For a film that is ostensibly a documentary following the star, as he tries to put together The Last Movie, this does seem odd, but Hopper throughout is frequently playing with the audience; he complains early on of being desperately lonely, but throughout he is surrounded by colleagues, hangers-on and women seemingly drafted in just to listen to him babble and engage in sexual acts. At one point, he criticises co-writer/director Laurence Schiller for asking him to repeat real world things for the camera, but also happily lets Schiller set-up scenes of him having group sex in a bathtub – something Hopper himself comments is something he doesn’t get to do that often. He is both indulging in and criticising the artifice, but thanks to the strength Hopper’s personality, you leave the film feeling OK with this.
Despite that, it must be said that the indulgence is, at times, tiresome. The last 20 minutes or so involve Hopper going down the avenues of an increasingly drink- and drug-addled mind, as he blathers on about nonsense, while women around him nod and agree. It’s not exactly entertaining to watch and it doesn’t give any real insight, unlike much of the material shown before. Perhaps Hopper is just taking us all for a ride; the ending presents him in such a self-aggrandising light that it is genuinely hard to see if it’s meant to be taken seriously or if he just has a fantastic poker face.
The actual making of The Last Movie is given short shrift. Hopper engages in some interesting monologuing about the shame of the studios not supporting Orson Welles and the passion he holds for the director’s vision – his hope for a good reception from audiences shows a man who isn’t an artist just doing it for himself, but does mean for others to enjoy what he’s doing (although with so much of the film being “me, me, me”, it’s easy to see where his real priorities lie).
The American Dreamer is by turns fascinating, banal, illuminating and frustrating and seems to be a fair summation of Dennis Hopper himself. At around 80 minutes, it manages not to try your patience, but you may have to be in the right frame of mind to get the most from it.