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The American Dreamer

The American Dreamer(1971)

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This documentary explores the life of motion picture actor and director Dennis Hopper in early 1971, as he edits The Last Movie , his second directorial effort. Following Hopper from Hollywood to his beloved ranch in Taos, NM, the filmmakers ask him questions about art, movies, sex, drugs and his philosophy of life. Hopper, who owns many firearms, is frequently shown shooting guns in the desert. One day, while walking on the ranch grounds, he explains how lonely he was as a child and how as a teenager, he had painful crushes on Leslie Caron and Elizabeth Taylor. Hopper, who began acting as a teenager and has been a still photographer for many years, then postulates that despite the pain, an artist must be alone because loneliness inspires more profound work. Hopper discusses the wildly successful 1969 release Easy Rider , his first film as a director, and tries to explain how he considers American society full of criminals forged by societal restrictions. Because he believes that society has glorified both the criminal and the "outlaw," represented by the bikers in Easy Rider , he is not sure what the difference is between the bikers and those who kill them at the end of the film. Inside his house, Hopper jokes with a friend on the phone that thirty Playboy bunnies will be coming to the ranch, as the name of the documentary being made about him is The American Dreamer , and how can he be an American dreamer without "broads"? Hopper admits that he often thinks about sex and in one interlude, shares an erotic bath with two women. The director also spends many hours editing The Last Movie , from which several scenes are shown, as well as the actual process of editing it. An interviewer asks Hopper what will happen if The Last Movie is not received as well as Easy Rider was, and Hopper, comparing himself to Orson Welles, complains bitterly about the lack of studio support for The Last Movie , which was made for only $500,000. Stating that Welles's second movie, The Magnificent Ambersons , was brilliant despite its financial failure, Hopper adds that he would be happy if his film is as good as that one. He concludes, however, that if studio publicity cannot generate an audience for The Last Movie even among university students, then it will be a very long time before he can again dream about the type of audience he thought existed. Several other residents of the ranch are interviewed, including the cook, who describes Hopper and his brother as teachers. Hopper and his friends participate in a Native American parade in town, and later, again discussing The Last Movie , Hopper complains about the pressure being put on him to have the movie ready for exhibition in April rather than at the Cannes Film Festival in May, as he had planned. Introducing his current girl friend, Hopper notes that he, like many men, is caught between wanting a virgin or a whore for a wife, but that after his recent disastrous marriage to singer Michelle Phillips, he doubts that he will be able to get close to anyone for a long time. In the editing room, Hopper describes how boring editing is compared to actual production, but also how difficult it is, for he must delete many sequences he likes. During a meeting with an executive in Hollywood, the man pressures Hopper to provide stills and a synopsis to studio press agents so that they can publicize the movie. Hopper expresses reluctance, as he does not want to lose his autonomy, but the man assures him that he will be able to maintain control. At the ranch, Hopper shows the filmmakers many of his photographs and relates that he took up still photography because making motion pictures was too expensive, yet he felt the need to express himself visually. During the eighteen years he has been a photographer, Hopper has shot many subjects, including his famous friends and fellow artists. He explains how important it is for a director to understand different aspects of the motion picture industry, including writing, acting and photography, and how his prior experiences have prepared him for being a director. Later, Hopper discusses his many art pieces, ranging from Warhol paintings to primitive masks, and states that it is important to collect art because it represents the times in which people live. Hopper also mentions visiting imprisoned killer Charles Manson several weeks earlier, and relays Manson's assertion that if he is society's garbage, it was society that made him so. Upon being asked by the interviewer if he, himself, would ever take a life, Hopper responds that if one is going to "get involved in evolution," which requires a lot of thinking that he does not have time to do, "then you'll have to take some lives." Hopper professes himself to be a mystical, spiritual person, however, and incapable of "preconceiving"such an act. Later, the Playboy bunnies arrive at the ranch, and Hopper, who had expressed fantasies about group sex, welcomes the women. Hopper then challenges the documentary's filmmakers, accusing them of being insensitive and intrusive, and attempting to control what he says. Later, Hopper goes to the nearby town of Los Alamos that he calls "scientific suburbia" and strips as he walks down the street. Although he admits that it is not something he would ordinarily do, Hopper states that it was an appropriate symbol for the documentary. Going through his photographs, Hopper asserts that they and his movies are all that he will leave behind, and he once again points out the artifice of the documentary, for which he must remember what he was saying while the cameraman and soundman reload their equipment. Hopper is then shown with a number of the visiting women, whom he urges to become empowered as a group rather than be weak individually. Hopper encourages them to trust one another, and soon they are nude and engaging in what he describes as a "sensitivity encounter." Back in the desert, Hopper muses on the power of film, adding that "the revolution" will be fought with cameras, with the minds of people becoming one in theaters rather than on battlefields. After another comment on his ruined relationship with Phillips, Hopper asserts that it was Peter Fonda, his co-star in Easy Rider , who finally believed in him enough to give him "a chance to do something."