In 2006, the late Dennis Hopper confessed to Charlie Rose on 60 Minutes that he thought his career was a failure. This despite revolutionizing American cinema by directing Easy Rider, and becoming an icon via characters like the lost American photojournalist in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now and the sinister Frank Booth in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. He likely wasn’t otherwise convinced by the star he received on the Hollywood Walk of Fame a couple of months before he died.
These clips from Lawrence Schiller-directed 1971 documentary The American Dreamer find the Dodge City, KS-born Hopper in a reflective and quietly desperate place. Shot while he completed post-production on The Last Movie—Hopper’s convoluted, Peruvian-filmed follow-up to Easy Rider—Dreamer follows the scraggly and bearded director as he wanders, parties and babbles around his Taos, NM ranch.
You’d think that triumph of Easy Rider would somewhat make up for Hopper’s emotionally damaged childhood, career troubles, two divorces, and the trauma of his good friend James Dean’s death. But Hopper here is deep inside his alcoholism, musing on his alienation, and treating the filming as a sort of therapy. As you’ll find in the second clip below, part of that therapy involves what he termed a “sensitivity encounter” with about a dozen variously undressed groupies who the mad director harangues with some group-psych babble before disrobing himself. Hopper would eventually hit bottom, wandering literally naked in a South American jungle, before being hospitalized, rehabilitated, and eventually redeemed in the later phase of an enviable “failure” of a career.