The American Dreamer (Etiquette Pictures, NR)

The American Dreamer 75Maybe I should try watching it while high, in which case it may make for more intriguing viewing.





American Dreamer 500

Dennis Hopper has certainly had some ups and downs in his film career. The peak must certainly be directing and co-starring in Easy Rider, a 1969 movie about three guys crossing the United States on motorcycle. At a time when Old Hollywood was stuck in a cycle of producing one expensive flop after another, Easy Rider was an innovative, low-budget film that embraced the counterculture and spoke to young people who had no interest in buying a ticket to see the likes of Paint Your Wagon or Dr. Doolittle.

The low, or one of the lows, quickly followed. Funded by Universal Pictures, Hopper headed off to Peru to shoot his next picture, The Last Movie. Instead of another Easy Rider, however, Hopper produced a film that Roger Ebert has described as “a wasteland of cinematic wreckage.” Not everyone has the same harsh opinion, but The Last Movie pretty much fell out of the cinematic universe, and Hopper never quite fulfilled the directorial promise indicated by Easy Rider. According to, he has directed a total of nine films, including two shorts and one credited to Alan Smithee (a pseudonym used when a director wants to take his or her name off a film); the others include the 1988 cop film Colors and the 1994 road movie Chasers. He has worked far more consistently as an actor, of course, and received an Oscar nomination in 1987 for his role as the town drunk in Hoosiers.

What went wrong on The Last Movie? The answer is there in the documentary (or “experimental documentary,” or non-documentary with Hopper playing a role rather than appearing as himself, depending on who you ask) The American Dreamer, co-directed by L. M. Kit Carson and Lawrence Schiller in 1971, which covers the period when Hopper was attempting to cut the footage shot for The Last Movie into a coherent film. Although it’s not the kind of documentary that tells you anything directly, it’s not hard to surmise that spending your time drunk and high, fooling around with guns and naked women, and babbling nutty philosophy before the camera are not likely to lead to creating a movie that anyone would want to see.

You’d have to be a real Dennis Hopper enthusiast to enjoy The American Dreamer. I ran out of patience long before this film’s 90 minutes had run their course, because the experience of watching it is sort of like being the only sober person at a party where everyone else is stoned and quite pleased with themselves and what they feel are the profundities issuing forth from their lips. There are some interesting visuals in The American Dreamer, and some nice use of music matched to the visuals, but on the whole it’s a tedious time-waster mainly of interest as a time capsule of certain attitudes and mannerisms of the early 1970s. It was originally made to be shown on college campuses (this is discussed in extras included on the disc, not in the documentary itself), and might have connected better to young people at the time of its making. Or maybe I should try watching it while high, in which case it may make for more intriguing viewing.

The disc comes with several useful extras that help provide a context for the movie, and as a whole are in fact are more interesting than it is. A making-of featurette, “Fighting Against the Wind: Making The American Dreamer” (30 min.), directed by Elijah Drenner, features a lot of American Dreamer co-director Lawrence Schiller explaining how the project came about and how it went off the rails. It’s a Long Ride Home: Preserving ‘The American Dreamer’, also directed by Drenner and featuring Schiller, discusses EYR (Educational Youth Recreation) Programs, a company created to show films on college campuses, discusses the fate of the negative, and the role of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis in restoring The American Dreamer. Finally, the liner notes include an essay by Chris Poggiali about EYR and the making of The American Dreamer. | Sarah Boslaugh

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