Backtrack - 35MM
Crime, Comedy, Action | 1991 | 116MIN
“𝙒𝙝𝙚𝙣 𝙢𝙪𝙧𝙙𝙚𝙧 𝙞𝙨 𝙮𝙤𝙪𝙧 𝙗𝙪𝙨𝙞𝙣𝙚𝙨𝙨, 𝙮𝙤𝙪’𝙙 𝙗𝙚𝙩𝙩𝙚𝙧 𝙣𝙤𝙩 𝙛𝙖𝙡𝙡 𝙞𝙣 𝙡𝙤𝙫𝙚 𝙬𝙞𝙩𝙝 𝙮𝙤𝙪𝙧 𝙬𝙤𝙧𝙠.”
Following an Oscar nomination for 1986’s Hoosiers and rave reviews for helming the LAPD drama Colors, Hopper rigged up a magnum opus called Backtrack with Vestron Pictures, starring himself as an assassin named Milo who becomes obsessed with a young “Cindy Sherman-type artist-entrepreneur” named Anne Benton (Jodie Foster) after she witnesses one of his hits go down. The production spiraled out of control and the producers commissioned a borderline-incoherent cut called CATCHFIRE, which Hopper took his name off of. The twist is that Anne is unabashedly based on the conceptual artist Jenny Holzer, whose signature LED panels — scrolling ominous phrases such as MURDER HAS ITS SEXUAL SIDE, EVEN YOUR FAMILY CAN BETRAY YOU and the iconic ABUSE OF POWER COMES AS NO SURPRISE — factor heavily into the film. Given Anne’s voluntary (!) decision to become Milo’s love-slave, Hopper’s real-life fixation on the Taos, New Mexico location where much of Backtrack was shot, and the brain-breaking list of cameos from his extended creative circle, it seems likely his motivations were classic ones: vanity, wish-fulfillment, and challenging Hollywood philistinism by siphoning money to his friends. (Joe Pesci, Fred Ward, Tony Sirico, Sy Richardson, John Turturro, Dean Stockwell, Charlie Sheen, Catherine Keener, Bob Dylan, Alex Cox, Vincent Price and Neil Young all appear in speaking parts of varying sizes.)
Rare 35mm screening of Dennis Hopper’s 116MIN director’s cut of the film theatrically released as “Catchfire” (which runs 18MIN shorter). Programmed and introduced by programmer Steve Macfarlane. Print courtesy of the Academy Film Archive.