This film captures Dennis Hopper and Orson Welles at unique moments in their lives.
Dennis Hopper was working on The Last Movie, his wild, nonlinear, metafictional passion project that blended fiction and reality. Orson Welles was in the early stages of shooting The Other Side of the Wind, his own “film within a film” parody of the New Hollywood Era about an aging film director screening his latest project. The conversation in Hopper/Welles was filmed by Orson Welles for The Other Side of the Wind, with Welles occasionally assuming the role of the lead character in the film, the wild pretentious eccentric director Jake Hannaford, during the discussion. This detail makes the conversation challenging, as we, the audience, cannot always tell whether Orson Welles is talking as himself or as Jake Hannaford. Additionally, with both directors working on their own metafictional projects, one must ask, how “real” is this conversation?
The film is more than just a meaningful conversation. Both Orson Welles and Dennis Hopper are entertaining as expected, and any filmmaker or movie buff will walk away with a fun quote of the conversation here and there. Even though the movie is somewhat hard to evaluate, merely stating that “it’s well shot, it’s well-edited, and the sound is good” feels inadequate. The movie doesn’t even have a plot or much of a narrative. As such, it needs to be appraised more as an art piece.
Orson Welles is known for playing around with fakery, making bullshit an art form in his documentary F for Fake. Hopper/Welles plays with the audience’s expectation’s regarding the sincerity of the conversation. The conversations are generally about relationships: filmmakers and movies, filmmakers and audiences, movies and audiences, filmmakers and general people, or filmmakers and other filmmakers. Depending on where you are in life, you’ll be drawn to different aspects of the discussion. However, as you get sucked into a discussion, something always happens to draw you out intentionally. Either one of the two filmmakers call each other out for their pretentiousness, or the film interrupts itself. The crew is heavily showcased in the film, either making cuts, laughing, or just talking in the background. Sometimes they even interact with the filmmakers. The film is drawing attention to its own artificiality, challenging you to develop a relationship knowing, full well, that it’s fake. At least parts are fake, the fun comes from sifting through the conversation. However, the film’s honesty with its own artificiality makes its ideas and content feel even more real. The film is honest, and by extension, the experience allows us to reflect on our relationships with movies. It’s an amazing experience, as the film draws attention to how we interact with it.
Throughout the conversation, I was personally drawn to the discussions on audience’s relationships with movies; due to my experience as a film critic and acquisitions executive. However, I’m certain a filmmaker or film student will resonate with a different part of the conversation. Any worthwhile work of art can be subject to multiple interpretations upon multiple critiques, and Hopper/Welles is no exception. I would have loved to watch the film in a theater to see the audience’s response to the conversation.
This film will screen virtually from September 28th at 8:00 pm ET through October 3rd at 8:00 pm ET at the New York Film Festival.