At its center is a movie camera woven out of wicker amid the idols at a procession -- Godard's "fin du cinéma" in the American West, only the American West is a grimy set somewhere in Peru. The beauty rests on Dennis Hopper's dazzling modulation from impressionism to cubism and back, encompassing a vérité Hollywood insider party (with Michelle Phillips and Kris Kristofferson among the guests) and the arrival of Hopper's dense stunt man in a Sam Fuller production, with the lighting equipment burnished like the shields in Vidor's Solomon and Sheba. The story within the story (a prophecy of Peckinpah's Billy the Kid) is wrapped and Fuller bids the crew Godspeed; Hopper stays behind with Stetson and poncho plus Stella Garcia, who wants their adobe pad in the Peruvian hills stocked with a swimming pool. The hero envisions himself riding into a bluish sunset, but the medium to the locals is just part of imperialist corruption -- the Indians rework the Western via fake cameras and real bullets, the priest (Tomas Milian) hopes that "after this game is over, morality can be born again." The implosion of film is Hopper's topic and style, he risks pretension and reaps wonders: A circular tracking shot follows the protagonist past groups of revelers and pauses midway through to isolate him in the dark in tears, a strikingly foul private lesbian show is interjected with the American tourist (Julie Adams) with her back to a poster of a skeletal African child. The expedition for gold which is grandly announced, arranged and then skipped is but one of several deflating jokes that blindsided critics, who had already made up their minds about Hopper's "incoherence;" Alejandro Jodorowsky is said to have dismissed the whole thing as "conventional," which didn't stop him from lifting many of its gags for The Holy Mountain. Surely Hopper anticipated misreading -- "Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose," goes the song in his freest film. With Dean Stockwell, Peter Fonda, Don Gordon, John Philip Law, Roy Engel, John Buck Wilkin, Sylvia Miles, and Henry Jaglom.
--- Fernando F. Croce