Blu-Ray Review – The American Dreamer (1971)

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Dennis Hopper has just had an enormous box-office and critical hit with Easy Rider in 1969. He is considered a cinematic spokesman for his generation and is given carte blanche to doing anything he wants on his next film. He follows it up with a daringly experimental film The Last Movie which the studio Universal totally buries and this was his dream project, he conceived of it well before Easy Rider. It remains to this day unreleased on DVD or Blu-Ray and is near impossible to even find on VHS so you have to resort to pirate copies to see it.

The American Dreamer was mostly shot during the long and complicated post-production process of The Last Movie. Hopper at this point is using a wide range of drugs specifically cocaine, acid, marijuana and amphetamine by all accounts. The American Dreamer is often thought of a documentary but in reality it’s a fictionalised documentary of the mystique of Hopper’s self-created persona and Hopper is certainly during the film’s 80 minute running acting up for the camera. The film was made by Lawrence Schiller and the actor-screenwriter L.M. Kit Carson who would work again with Hopper on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and who stared as the title character in the cult mockumentary David Holzman’s Diary which in its self is a deconstruction of the filmmaking process.

The film is also laugh out loud funny throughout, Hopper in his act of being Dennis Hopper comes up with some of the ludicrous lines ever committed to celluloid.  My personal favourite is “I’d prefer to give a woman head than to fuck her. I think I’m actually a lesbian” but here comes up with equally golden nuggets like “I would like to make movies on the moon” and “How can I be the American Dreamer without broads?”. Hopper is playing up his non-monogamous persona and it’s certainly an aspect of the free love of the ’60s which Hopper belonged too and in turn became very sexist. He takes this ridiculous heights when he brings in tons of women to have a “party” and there is even a segment where he is having a threesome in a bathtub. Despite his behaviour in the film it shouldn’t be taken any more serious than when he loudly proclaims “I don’t care about reading”.

However through making basically a fictional and sensationalized take on Hopper during this period, it brings more truth than a normal documentary about him could and shows to the audience he was a true artist. It has Hopper talking about his truly stunning photography which has toured the world in Art exhibitions and shows a man at the crossroads of becoming a good director into becoming a true auteur of cinema. The Last Movie would win the top prize at the prestigious Venice film festival and despite that it was still buried by the studio.

Etiquette Pictures who specialise in cult cinema has released this in the US in a dual format edition. The disc includes a making of with newly filmed interviews (Hopper is absent because he sadly died in 2010) and it works both as a making of The American Dreamer and The Last Movie and really is insightful with what the filmmakers were going for in the film and how they eventually realised they weren’t really making a “documentary”. The only other feature on the disc is a photo gallery and a  short featurette about the restoration which isn’t overly cleaned up but cleaned up just the correct amount it has that organic look of film. It includes a booklet with an essay by Chris Poggiali and a reversible cover. The American Dreamer remains one of the best documents on the filmmaking process and a fascinating insight into a man who should be spoken in the same breath as John Cassavetes or Roger Corman as one of the pioneers of American independent filmmaking.

Ian Schultz

Documentary | USA, 1971 | 15 | Vinegar Syndrome | Dir.L.M. Kit Carson, Lawrence Schiller | Dennis Hopper, L.M. Kit Carson, Lois Ursone