"The American Dreamer"
by Sam Richardson

We were treated to a showing of “The American Dreamer” recently at TCA in Taos, the finale of the “Dennis Hopper Rebel Film Festival.” Ironic that Hopper is now celebrated as a cult hero, when at the time “Dreamer” was filmed (1971) he wasn’t that popular in Taos. Sixties Taoseños will remember that Chicanos and Native Americans and hippies didn’t get along in those days, and somewhere in the mix Hopper and his West Coast entourage were getting high, living low and shooting this kinky film at Mabel Dodge Luhan House, which Hopper owned at the time.

I could see this film as something Hunter S. Thompson might have written and called “Fear and Loathing in Taos.” The doc, which had no plot, was sort of a cinema verité run and shoot thing that showed a lot of skin and people smoking dope. Most scenes were disconnected with Hopper philosophizing about everything from oral sex to politics, mooning a room full of women, some of whom were buck-ass naked, walking naked himself down a residential street in Los Alamos, doing a threezy with a couple of gals in a bathtub, and firing several weapons into the sage brush. In his narrative, he tried to attach symbolic meaning to the nudity and sucking face, but somehow the dots didn’t connect.

Even though a 7 p.m. start was advertised by TCA, we sat through an hour of proclamations being read, one by the mayor, a talk about Mabel, and a folk singer. Hopper would have loved it. Much ado about a hippie filmmaker who took the world for a controversial ride on his terms and now whose image has been sanitized in the new century. Some in the viewing audience seemed to take the whole presentation as a religious experience: St. Dennis, the debauched guru who had us over to Mabel’s for sex and drugs and rock ‘n roll, but who, unfortunately, didn’t live to enjoy his canonization.

The first and only other time I saw the film was 45 years ago, when Lawrence Schiller, one of the producers, brought it to the University of Texas. At the time, cinema verite was trending, and Schiller sold us on the idea of his great genius due to the random spontaneity of the shooting and editing. Looking at it all these years later, I might say the film wasn’t that well done, even though we must remember that at the time of the filming all those years ago, with all the toking up and scenes with young women parading around au nat
urel, it was considered pretty risqué. Somehow our evaluation of the doc as art in 1971 become secondary in the face of all that bush we were gaping at.

But, overall, seeing “Dreamer” again made for a fun evening, a true Taoseño experience with an actor who gave us a lot of great movies, not to mention a visit to our younger years, when we, too, were along for that wild ride.

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