“An incredible assortment of freaks”: The making of Dennis Hopper’s The Last Movie

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Back in America, Hopper began work on editing The Last Movie, alternating between LA and his house in Taos, New Mexico. There were distractions. He was divorcing his first wife, actress Brooke Hayward, and dividing up his art collection as part of the settlement. Hopper’s Taos home, meanwhile, had become a focal point for hangers on, groupies and aspiring filmmakers. Lawrence Schiller, who directed The American Dreamer, a documentary shot while Hopper was editing The Last Movie, recalls Hopper “living the life of his character out of Easy Rider…stoned all the time, carrying round an AK47 or whatever.”

“Dennis was fond of guns at the time,” confirms Dean Stockwell, who visited Taos while Hopper was editing The Last Movie. “Once in a while, he’s go up on the roof and fire off a couple of rounds into the sky. I don’t know if Dennis ever shot at anybody. I remember two or three times inside the house, he’d take a revolver out and shoot it at the ceiling.”

The editing itself proved to be a nightmare. Hopper had 40 hours of footage. He bought the tiny cinema in Taos and spent days screening the rushes for a team of 12 editors. Universal, meanwhile, were increasingly furious with his failure to deliver the film on schedule.

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“The encounters were very heated,” explains Schiller. “He showed them just enough of the movie in just enough of the right way to keep them at bay and never, until the very end, the entire movie. But he didn’t know how the film was really going to work.”

Another guest at Taos during this time was filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky, who recalls “how strong the smell of Hopper’s underarm perspiration was. One day – he had I think 10 women there – and I put everyone in a line for them to smell the perfume of Dennis Hopper. Because he never changed his shirt, for days upon days.”

Hopper invited Jodorowsky to help with the editing. “At the time, he didn’t know what to do with The Last Movie,” says Jodorowsky. “I saw the material, and I thought it was a fantastic story. I was there for two days, and in two days I edited the film.” Jodorowsky claims that Universal didn’t like his cut and Hopper destroyed the print.

Eventually, in late October 1970, Hopper sent for Stewart Stern, to try to help him make sense of the movie. Stern was horrified by what he found. “It took me two days just to look at the footage – some of it was brilliant and some was awful. But the end of the film was not there.”

Stern stayed around long enough to attend Hopper’s wedding to Michelle Phillips, on October 31. “He got married reading ‘The Gospel of St Thomas’ aloud to Michelle,” says Stern. “He decorated the whole place with candles stuck in paper bags. It was a whole mixed mystical thing. He read the whole marriage ceremony, and it was just craziness.”

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