La Ultima Pelicula
Runs Fri., April 25–Thurs., May 1 at Northwest Film Forum. Not rated. 88 minutes.
How many people have seen The Last Movie, Dennis Hopper’s notorious 1971 follow-up to Easy Rider? There is no shame in having missed it, as it’s been hard to locate since its initial flop—a failure that not only demolished Hopper’s career, but possibly smothered the final gasp of ’60s counterculture. One night in the early ’80s, I stayed up late to watch a TV broadcast of a Western titled Chinchero, only to gradually realize this was the infamous Last Movie itself, sneakily renamed and dumped into a late-show time slot. The film, about a Hollywood production that leaves behind a curious legacy for natives of its Peruvian location, is gaseous and self-indulgent, yet a lot of intriguing moments are strewn about the generally insufferable goings-on. Rebel Without a Cause writer Stewart Stern was the screenwriter, although one hesitates to ascribe credit amid reports of Hopper’s freewheeling shooting style.
This is the movie that inspired co-directors Raya Martin and Mark Peranson to concoct La Ultima Pelicula, a riff on Hopper’s grand folly and on subjects as lively as the end of film (because of the digital revolution) and the Mayan prediction of the world’s end in 2012. Like Hopper’s film, Pelicula sniffs around various formal considerations—the movie unfolds in different formats (digital, 16 mm, 8 mm), plays with the line between fiction and documentary, and occasionally tosses a SCENE MISSING title on the screen. We are following, more or less, a filmmaker retracing Hopper’s steps in Latin America; he’s gone to Mexico to film apocalyptic-minded pilgrims and to bloviate about the end of cinema. The filmmaker is played by Alex Ross Perry, himself an indie director (The Color Wheel ). I’m not sure whether his physical resemblance to the Apocalypse Now–era Francis Ford Coppola helped decide the casting, but the associations with another self-immolating filmmaker in love with the sound of his own voice are a definite asset. Accompanied by a local guide (Gabino Rodríguez), Perry stumbles around in search of a subject as fascinating to him as himself.
Although La Ultima Pelicula does its share of noodling—it wouldn’t be true to its inspirations if it didn’t—it has the saving grace of self-aware humor. (That’s more than you could say for Hopper or Coppola.) The high point of this comes when Perry leads Rodriguez around the ruins at Chichen Itza, pontificating about the group-hugging New Age tourists who don’t appreciate what is right in front of them. He may be right about that, but his own cluelessness—he’s wearing a giant cowboy hat and lecturing a native Mexican at the time—is richly drawn. The audience for a project like this is going to be even more limited than that of The Last Movie, but at least they’ll be the people most likely to groove on the insideriness of the thing.