Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The American Dreamer (Etiquette Pictures Blu-ray/DVD)

Dennis. Hopper. That name should evoke something in you. Whether you're a Horror fan, a fan of road movies or cult cinema in the 1960's or perhaps an Easy Rider buff, you know the name. You love his sweet face. You admire his crazy eyes and quiet demeanor ready to explode. I'd go so far as to say some of you simply adore him from his sports related TV commercials. For me, Hopper starred in one of my favorite movies, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, and gave me a new kind of hero to root for; a dangerous man with hand grenades and chainsaws and a cowboy hat. While I saw TCM2 when I was a kid, I didn't fully appreciate Hopper's films until I got older and realized that he had a catalog of material from many years prior through which to salvage. I am not the Hopper expert, and the era in which he helped to create some of the most memorable and important counter culture movies is simply one I enjoy. It is with The American Dreamer, a document to his life and philosophy and in fact a unique interpretation of the early 70's post-counterculture revolution that one can truly understand Dennis Hopper. It's a picture of a man peaking, ready for disaster but blazing through the sky like a shooting star.  Etiquette Pictures in connection with the Walker Art Center in Minnapolis give you the chance to know him better by putting out a tremendous restoration of this documentary.

While this is a truly special release it is important to acknowledge its limitations. This was shot on 16mm and while it has been lovingly restored, it shows signs of wear. Do not expect a pristine print. Expect a 16mm look into a human being's soul full of grit. The transfer is superb preserving the look and feel of 16mm film which can sometimes be mistaken for a quality issue. Please do not make this mistake. Etiquette knows what they're doing.  We are lucky to have a Blu-ray that looks this good and wasn't slapdash as a bonus on a lesser release by an uncaring label. The experts got it first.

The release is housed in a Criterion style case with booklet inside detailing restoration notes, credits and essays about the period from which The American Dreamer was released as well as the imporantance of this particular work in Hopper's life as well as co-directors Lawrence Schiller and L.M. Kit Carson. As with Some Call It Love Etiquette's first release), this is a special treat for folks who are just learning about The American Dreamer. You'll need to fill in the gaps between strange, counterculture documentary, Easy Rider and The Last Film. 

The American Dreamer itself paints a portrait of a philosophical Dennis Hopper who is filled to the brim with wanderlust and hedonism; some how with moderation, though and balance. Watching Hopper offer his thoughts on cunnilingus wholesale vs. actually sexual intercourse stands out as an eyeopening moment. He prods you with an idea that seems so far fetched from the status quo and then delivers you into the idea as if the idea was YOURS all along. The movie is filled with scenes of sexual freedom, but it's strongest point is the message of the importance of the independent free creator. Hopper as a model for the artist. Hopper as a model for a man who lives within and of the world creating and living by a code that is as childlike as it is dangerous.  Sometimes Hopper simply exists and the world is insane around him. Sometimes he is the insane cog turning the great wheel.

Ultimately the creation and presentation of The American Dreamer caused Hopper pain due to his contractual obligation and restriction from Universal at the time. Screenings were done on college campuses across the country in an effort to skirt legal challenge, but the movie only sought to embattle Hopper with the studio and create bad blood. You have the opportunity to see it now, not on a college campus but in your living room. You can feel it intimately. You can better understand Hopper and the 1970's filmmaker better by watching this movie. The making of featurette provides even more back story behind the film creation and works well in conjunction with the essays included to provide a well-rounded vision of the picture. 

Note: The restoration feature is important. Do not skip this. I always ask people to focus on the effort of the boutique company. You need to understand a film's journey. You need to know why you support a release like an Etiquette Pictures Blu-ray. This is how you archive and preserve great works.

From Etiquette Pictures:

The wild, unexpected success of Easy Rider ushered in what is now seen as one of the most significant turning points in film history, making pathologically rebellious Dennis Hopper an unlikely King Of Hollywood for a day. Hopper’s follow-up work, The Last Movie, a deeply personal, but ultimately disastrous, meditation on the meaning of cinema, found Hopper drifting further and further into foolishness. Captured by co-directors Lawrence Schiller and L.M. Kit Carson, The American Dreamer is a multi-faceted document of the life and mind of one of the 20th century’s great cinematic voices at the peak of his artistic and commercial success. Shifting between being an insightful document of a complex artist in the midst of his creative process and a self-reflective exploration and explosion of vérité filmmaking tropes, The American Dreamer is a mesmerizing journey into the private world of one of Hollywood’s most hypnotic directors/stars. Fortuitously timed, fantastically made, and virtually unseen, The American Dreamer is the great ‘70s film documentary you always wished existed.

Etiquette Pictures, in partnership with the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, brings this forgotten masterpiece to home video for the very first time in a new, director approved 2k restoration, painstakingly reconstructed from four 16mm prints housed in the Walker Art Center’s Ruben/Bentson Moving Image Collection. Major support to preserve, digitize, and present this film and the entire Ruben/Bentson Moving Image Collection is generously provided by the Bentson Foundation.

Features include:

+ Blu-ray/DVD Combo | Region Free | 1.33:1 OAR
+ Restored in 2k from multiple 16mm prints
+ All extras on both Blu-ray and DVD
+ “Fighting Against the Wind” – 30min making-of featurette
+ “A Long Way Home” – 7min preservation featurette
+ Extensive Photograph Gallery
+ 16pg Booklet Essay by Chris Poggiali
+ Reversible artwork
+ English SDH subtitles

You can order The American Dream on Blu-ray now.

or you can purchase it as part of a package for all the September releases.

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