Three of Dennis Hopper’s four children — Marin, Ruthanna and Henry — gathered at Paramount Studios with Hollywood friends like Andrew and Luke Wilson and Todd Phillips (director of the “Hangover” franchise and friend of Ruthanna, Hopper’s daughter with the “Zabriskie Point” star Daria Halprin) and art-world luminaries including Bill Viola and Sophie Calle for a screening of their father’s 1971 lost classic “The Last Movie,” in conjunction with the Paris Photo art fair. Jodi Wille, director of the documentary “The Source Family,” arrived with Hopper’s co-star Stella Garcia. The artist Larry Bell, a friend of Hopper’s since the late ’50s, introduced the film.
Hopper co-wrote, directed and starred as the stuntman Kansas in this hallucinatory, nonlinear allegory about a Hollywood film crew and its disruption and corruption of a remote Peruvian town, a personal project he was able to make after the success of “Easy Rider.” The cast includes Peter Fonda, Dean Stockwell, Russ Tamblyn, Toni Basil, Hopper’s then-girlfriend Michelle Phillips and Garcia as the beautiful Peruvian prostitute Kansas takes up with. Kris Kristofferson strums a mournful version of “Bobby McGee” and speaks a single line. Sam Fuller plays the director of the Western in which Kansas is the stuntman, with Sylvia Miles as his script supervisor. “The Last Movie” won the Critics Prize at the 1971 Venice Film Festival but was never widely distributed. In 2006 Hopper bought back the rights and remastered the film, but passed away in 2010 before a planned DVD release. Marin Hopper, who recalled visiting her father in Taos during the film’s infamously belabored editing process (which included an intervention by Alejandro Jodorowsky), said that the Hopper Art Trust still hoped to release the film on DVD. “I feel that coming here tonight and opening it up to a young and new audience is an extraordinary step toward making that happen.”
The 500-seat Paramount Theater on the iconic studio lot was the biggest venue yet for Hopper’s remastered version of the film. Viewers took their seats not with popcorn and soda but glasses of Champagne. Bell, who praised his friend as a “master of spontaneity,” recalled how Hopper told him that the amyl nitrate-huffing Frank Booth from “Blue Velvet” was partly inspired by some oxygen masks Bell once had at his studio. “Funny how one transfers ideas,” he said.
Held on the opening day of Paris Photo, the screening was part of a larger tribute to Hopper that included an exhibition of his 1960s portraits of art world figures like Wallace Berman, Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol. For Paris Photo’s director Julien Frydman, Hopper and his work offer fertile territory for exploring the relationship between moving images and photography, something the fair focused extensively on this year. Frydman was excited to present “The Last Movie” to a wider audience because of its extraordinary cinematography, but also because of its nontraditional narrative structure and the questions it raises about film’s impact on reality. “We are not here to go for the mainstream,” he said. “We are an art fair, so we’re trying to bring, in a way, counterculture to the middle of the industry. I guess Dennis has always been counterculture.”
For Henry Hopper, watching any of his father’s films is a spiritual experience. But “The Last Movie,” he said, feels like “a magical window or a portal.” He added, “I think people are ready for the messages or lessons from people like Dad. I think that’s how time works.” Such sentiments made it particularly poignant to see this young man, his angular, delicate bone structure so similar to his father’s, embracing Stella Garcia, whom he had just met for the first time. Touching his cheek as a light rain began to fall by the arched Paramount gate, Garcia smiled at Henry. “He’s here with us,” she said.