The American Dreamer
THE AMERICAN DREAMER, documentary, not rated, Jean Cocteau Cinema, 2 chiles
At one point in this rambling, embarrassing, boring, and sometimes rivetingly revealing behind-the-scenes documentary shot mostly around Taos during the post-production of his epic bomb The Last Movie, Dennis Hopper says something along the lines of “Be careful what you wish for.” The time was 1971, and Hopper had recently scored a huge hit with
Easy Rider. Old Hollywood didn’t know what to make of it, but they understood box office, and he was given the go-ahead and his budget for The Last Movie, his dream Western that crashed his career just as Heaven’s Gate would do for Michael Cimino’s a decade later (both films have achieved cult status).
Hopper saw himself as a latter-day Orson Welles. “The Last Movie is going to be much better than Easy Rider,” Hopper predicts. “And if it’s no better than The Magnificent Ambersons,” he says, referring to Welles’ commercially disappointing follow-up to Citizen Kane, “I’ll be satisfied.”
The American Dreamer catches Hopper at his most vulnerable, which is to say flushed with success and riding a rocket of fame, and a man may say and do a lot of foolishness on such a high. As captured by filmmakers Kit Carson and Lawrence Schiller, Hopper displays a wistful yearning to be profound, delivering philosophies on art, love, sex, violence, criminality, more sex, loneliness, revolution, literature (“I don’t believe in reading”), filmmaking, celebrity, and did I mention sex?
“I’m just another chick,” he says. “I’m a lesbian chick.” And he surrounds himself with pretty women, and gets naked with them, and splashes with them in bathtubs, and smokes a little dope, and shoots off his guns, and generally fantasizes and lives the male American dream.
The American Dreamer succeeds best as a time capsule of a certain slice of the life a certain slice of American youth went looking for at that hazy moment of the early ’70s that we remember and enshrine as the ’60s. Hopper is no smarter and no dumber than a lot of other people were at that time; he’s just more public and more exposed. He spouts deep thoughts with no concern for how they may sound the morning after, epochally speaking, when the film is played for posterity (This is its first commercial release.). His ego does not permit him any self-restraint, which leads to an almost touching unguarded honesty and shallowness. — Jonathan Richards
Sleazy rider: Dennis Hopper