I want to think more on The Last Movie will come; I'd like to try to see it in 35mm again (i.e., tomorrow) before it leaves its one-week run at the Anthology Film Archives. But things have been busy, and I have got some actual obligations to see to, so who knows. But let me get some hyperbole and some baldly unsupported assertions out of the way. I struggled, I was perplexed, I ended up very enthusiastic about this film.
Only the first and last reel are really on the level of trippy disjointedness as I had prepared myself for; the middle hour is elliptical, uneven, meandering but relatively straightforward and easy to follow--more or less a "narrative film." But overall, because of the bookends, the film is an autocritical mindfuck, an angry fictive version of a Jean Rouch film, a document-narrative by "us" of some Other's reaction to "us." Film is a sign of reality, an illusion, but for the Peruvians in The Last Movie, the process-of-filming is something very real, it is the act and process of its own creation. The entire narrative isn't about what the Peruvians, or the natives, or the Others would do, or actually do, however--it's really about what "we" do and think (and consequently what we think they do). We have to shoot retakes to make it right, to make our own death (Dennis Hopper's death) more convincing, more degrading, and consequently more the center of attention. We have to be convinced that they won't do it right, that they might kill us in the process. (Meanwhile, around the time Hopper was shooting in Peru, Jorge Sanjinès and the Grupo Ukamau were working with peasants in Bolivia, making real films--films like Yawar Mallku, '69, which I long to see, about an indigenous community that turns the tables on American 'peace' workers who had been sterilizing them ... or El Coraje del Pueblo, '71, which used actual participants in a vicious labor struggle to recreate the film for themselves, for other Bolivian workers & indigenous people.)
The Last Movie is the only film I've seen that makes me think that it well and truly is an 'anti-Western.' (Though: this much-maligned genre that I love so much didn't actually need 'post' or 'neo' updates--it had a strong critical component to it from the classical era onwards.) The Last Movie is quite possibly the only true and intentional avant-garde feature film I've seen from Hollywood. It shatters its own sense of fiction, of narrative illusion, it's just celluloid material projected, and in so doing foregrounds the personal & cultural situations which constitute these fictions. Apocalypse Now? Child's play--everything Coppola tried to do in his film on violence and imperialism and cinema, Hopper has already done--better--by 1971.