A Western is being filmed by a Hollywood studio in a Peruvian village, and the experience of having this disruptive event in their back yard has had a strange effect on the townspeople. So much so that having observed the cast and crew go about their business, performing stunts, staging a shootout, and so on, that the locals decide to emulate what they see, and build cameras and other equipment out of sticks to pretend that they are making a film of their own. But this pretending goes further, and with the resident priest involved, takes on an almost religious significance as a tragic accident takes place on set...
And that's just the first ten minutes of what turned out to be director, writer and star Dennis Hopper's great folly, The Last Movie, the magnum opus that effectively alienated him from the Hollywood mainstream where he had spent so much of his life previous to this working. After his counterculture movie turned megahit Easy Rider did so well, the major studios were willing to take a chance on the up and coming generation of filmmakers, as long as they didn't spend too much of their money, but as the fruits of these labours began to be released, it became clear that most of them were too idiosyncratic to be successes on the Easy Rider scale.
What they did do was pave the way for more personal, more chance-taking work in the seventies, but these films were not always widely seen, speaking to a cult audience as the whole notion of movies that appealed to a niche in the market of admirers who saw in these efforts what the general audiences did not began to take off and fly. Come the end of the decade, the whole passion for cult movies had established itself, and if it rarely troubled the type of moviegoer who attended the blockbusters and little else, then it did inform the way that new generations of fans viewed and discovered their favourite movies. The Last Movie was one of those, except that over the years, it languished in obscurity.
Mainly because it was regarded as such an uncommercial property that few really wanted to see it. Hopper did himself no favours while making it, turning off the money men to the whole idea of spending their cash on what was effectively a "head movie" that happened to have bigger stars in it than usual, especially as those stars tended to show up in blink and you'll miss them cameos, with only Hopper appearing for any great length of time. He played Kansas, a worker on the Western who ends up staying on after the cast and crew have left, and getting embroiled with the village life that he has little concept of how to manage with as his thoughts turn to an elusive gold mine, ending up at the centrepiece of their mock film ceremony.
In between those two parts of the story, Kansas does a lot of wandering about, as all the while Hopper flitted around his themes and focused on a different idea with practically every scene, as if he was making this up each day with whatever had occured to him the previous night, so you got a commentary on the nature of movies, the manner in which America steamrollers other cultures, a portion of messianic musings, and by the end the quality of reality is being questioned as Kansas knows he is in a movie, but he's also in the fake movie, and the actual Last Movie that this is all meant to be portraying. Are you following this? It's like watching a storyteller grow increasingly obsessed with the methods and styles of telling his tale, to the detriment of the narrative itself. In its favour, Laszlo Kovacs made a great job of capturing the beauty of the Andes, and if you are prepared to allow the concepts in the film breathing space then it can be provocative, if never mindblowing, but it's too much of an indulgent ramble to entertain conventionally.
One of the biggest cult stars of all time, he began his career as an actor in the fifties, a proponent of "The Method" which was popular at the time, and a good friend of James Dean, who he appeared with in Giant and Rebel without a Cause. He gradually moved to larger roles - including Gunfight at the OK Corral, Night Tide, Queen of Blood, The Trip and Hang 'Em High - until the late sixties and his directorial debut Easy Rider. The film was a sensation, shaking up Hollywood and becoming an instant classic, but Hopper's increasing dependence on drugs meant he had trouble following up that success as his next work, The Last Movie, was a notorious flop.