Saturday, August 26, 2006

the last beta

"Think of it as the use of film as film, as an artist uses paint as paint." -- Dennis Hopper

Does Beta like meta? Enough to mention that one time I got tooootally Walter Benjamin-ed so as to suffer through that tedious acid trip sequence from the end of Easy Rider? Enough to pine for a feature-length version of that scene so that it properly recreates the purgatory of an acid trip, ideally with someone who won't stop babbling about how "Jesus was a freedom fighter"? Enough to wish that it also referenced Dennis Hopper's past as an extra in two-bit TV westerns? Or better yet, what if that guy obsessed with Jesus and Billy the Kid was in fact Hopper? Wouldn't that be tidy?

Lucky me, The Last Movie was recently revived at Anthology Film Archives, some two decades on after Hopper's dead career was. When such an announcement is made to acquaintances, the response glibly goes: "Life is too short to watch The Last Movie." Ah, but what is time when the title sequence appears an half-hour in? Hopper is mad about that gear grind, the opening of the film layering the chimes of rock chisels and church steeples so that they too ring like ceremonial bells, like some cosmic cuckoo clock. It's a sound that synch only inside his skull, much like the idea of The Last Movie probably screened better behind his eyelids after licking toads down in Peru than it does in the projection room.

Brother, have I ever been there: imagining the idyllic tomes writ by Adam when in Eden; the softcore papyrus destroyed in the Library of Alexandria; the galleys of Benjamin's Arcade project; the lines that Virginia Woolf wrote on the surface of a lake with rocks in her pocket; the slam poetry Sylvia Plath recited between huffs of gas; the Beach Boys' SMiLE; the portraits you scrap and lug to bonfires; the transcribed pages of babble and energetic scribbles as glimpsed from the heights of mental pinnacles that are untenable in this world. Moonlight turns to butter in your hands; heavenly messages transform into earthly jive.

Hopper surrounds himself with the stoner rollcall: Peter Fonda, Dean Stockwell, Karen Black, Kris Kristofferson, all hang and hanger on at the movie. Amorphous, abstract movies don't bother me: I can lock into dreamtime and maintain if they can, but somewhere along the way, the plot haplessly lost, Hopper attempts to scrape one together. It only turns the Acapulco Gold to lead, weighing The Last Movie down by trying to go straight with some lost gold, digging some Sierra Madre along the way. It only makes the trip that much more of a bummer.

Movies rip holes in the spacetime fabric, create purgatories separate from time, loop without end, and are stocked full of replicas that repeat, re-enact like phantoms do, no longer aware that they are dead. The director acts as high priest, as human conduit for the demigods. Hopper digs all that and reveals such gnostic truths to the movie-going audience. But he then proceeds to get high on his own supply of the sacrosanct sizzurp. "I got plenty in my pants and plenty in my pocket," he slurs at one point. He teaches the natives how to throw John Wayne punches, but they want the real thing: real blood, not karo syrup, real sacrifices, not stuntmen. He can't give that to them and he can;t give that to us. They surround themselves with remnants of Hollywood: bamboo boom mics, paper mache cowboys, phony ponies, until the plywood sets become temples. It starts to look like the set of the Killers' video for "When You Were Young." Perhaps it's even more appropo that the hook goes: "He doesn't look a thing like Jesus." I'd want to string him up, too.