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The American Dreamer

The American Dreamer(1971)

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The film's title cards read "Dennis Hopper as The American Dreamer." Although the onscreen credits feature a 1971 copyright statement for Corda Productions, the film was not registered for copyright protection. Jack Bernstein's onscreen credit reads "first assistant director-unit manager." The viewed print was eighty minutes long.
       Because the two title cards listing the songs were only partially legible on the print viewed, song titles and composers were supplemented from the Monthly Film Bulletin review, which noted that many of the composers sing their own songs for the film. Composers Princess Lida Amun and Zack Van Arsdale also appear in the picture, singing at Hopper's home in Taos, NM. An onscreen credit notes that the original soundtrack album was available from Mediarts Records. According to a March 25, 1971 Variety news item, the songs were written especially for the film with the exception of "Pass Me By," which had appeared on an earlier album by The Hello People but was revised for the picture.
       As discussed in the above summary, The American Dreamer was shot while director-actor Dennis Hopper was editing The Last Movie (1971), a follow-up to his directorial debut, the 1969 hit Easy Rider (see below). For more information on Hopper's well-publicized battle to edit The Last Movie in a timely manner without studio interference, and the film's subsequent failure with critics and moviegoers, see the entry below for The Last Movie.
       The unusually photographed and edited The American Dreamer features numerous freeze frames; cross-cuts between sequences in which Hopper and other interviewees are questioned and then listen to the answers they have just given; cuts between Hopper commenting on something that has already occurred and scenes of the action itself; female and male nudity; profanity; drug use; and explicit footage of Hopper having sex with two women in a bathtub. The Coast F.W. Fine Arts review commented that "some of [the action] has been hastily recreated for the camera moments after actually happening and much of it has been roughly structured beforehand." The picture ends with a still photograph of Hopper holding a rifle in the desert as the song "American Dreamer" is heard.
       On December 14, 1970, Hollywood Reporter, in an article on producer-director-writer Lawrence Schiller, reported that after seeing Schiller's first film, The Lexington Experience, Hopper agreed to give Schiller and Carson "complete `artistic, creative, releasing and exploitative rights'" to The American Dreamer. The article further noted that Hopper was scheduled to receive one-third of the profits from the picture, and that the majority of the financing had been provided by Kaback Enterprises, a New York-based construction company. According to a January 13, 1971 Hollywood Reporter news item, the rest of the financing was supplied by Seay & Cox, a company formed by Texas financier Robert Seay specifically for "film finance ventures." Although an December 18, 1970 Hollywood Reporter news item stated that the documentary would "not involve any shooting time for Hopper as only film clips of his work and location shots of Hopper making a movie will be used," other contemporary sources recounted that Hopper spent at least eighteen days actively working with the filmmakers.
       As reported by contemporary sources, the film was shot on location primarily in Taos, NM, with Los Alamos, NM, Hollywood, CA, Forth Worth, TX and New York serving as additional location sites. In an After Dark article on co-director and co-writer L. M. Kit Carson, Carson alleged that Hopper and the crew were all arrested in Los Alamos after filming the scene in which Hopper walks down a street and strips naked. The article stated that the film ended with this sequence, but in the viewed print, it appears approximately two-thirds of the way through. The viewed print did not contain any footage of the arrests. As noted in the Monthly Film Bulletin review, the picture was originally shot on 16mm and blown up to 35mm for exhibition. According to a lengthy article in the August 1970 issue of Evergreen magazine, Carson was present during the filming of The Last Movie in Peru.
       At least one preview for mostly "underground and college press" was held at AFI in Los Angeles in late March 1971, according to the Daily Variety review and a March 30, 1971 LAHExam column by James Bacon, who quipped that the picture "will go down as the first x-rated interview in history." [The film eventually was released without an MPAA rating.] In March 1971, Schiller predicted in a Hollywood Reporter news item that the film would gross approximately $600,000 during a playing time of 22 April to May 22, 1971, on thirty major college campuses, with a "second wave of openings in some 300 on-campus theatres starting" in September 1971. In a April 6, 1971 Daily Variety column, Army Archerd reported that Schiller had been notified by "Hopper's mentors" that they did not want the film to be "exploited or billed" in a manner leading the public to think that it had been created by Hopper rather than Schiller and Carson, even though Hopper is credited onscreen as a co-writer. Archerd noted that the film was scheduled to be shown at UC Berkeley on April 22, 1971, but as with the other college screenings announced by the media, it has not been confirmed that the screening took place.
       According to June 25, 1971 and July 13, 1971 Daily Variety and Hollywood Reporter news items, Hopper and Alta-Light, Inc., Hopper's company, filed an injunction to prevent the showing of the film in the Brentwood Theatre in West Los Angeles. The news items noted that the film had already been exhibited at the Aquarius Theatre, a commercial theater, on 18 and 19 Jun, in direct contradiction to the agreement signed by Hopper, before production began, stipulating that The American Dreamer be shown "only in college-oriented media." The outcome of the injunction has not been determined, although August and September 1971 reviews of the film commented that it was still scheduled to be distributed only to universities.
       The June 1971 Los Angeles Times review announced that The American Dreamer would be shown at Pomona College on June 19, 1971, with two showings on June 21, 1971 to be held at the Factory discotheque in West Hollywood. According to the May 1971 Coast F.W. Fine Arts review, the picture had "already been banned by authorities at UCLA, where it was scheduled to play," largely because of the explicit sexual sequences with Hopper and the two women in the bathtub. An August 1971 Where It's At article on the film, discussing its unusual distribution plan, noted that Robert Redford was an investor in EYR Programs, the company that was distributing the picture to college campuses.
       Although Schiller, a journalist and still photographer, had previously completed the 1971 documentary The Lexington Experience (see below), his first feature-length film, that picture received a very limited number of public screenings due to disagreements over music rights; The American Dreamer was the first of Schiller's films to receive a wider theatrical release. Schiller went on to work mostly in television as a producer and director. The American Dreamer marked the only directorial experience for Carson, who went on to write and produce a number of feature films.