The cells in somatic revolt, being eaten alive from the inside, thin in the morning sun.
Dennis Hopper was an American original with the all the excesses and contradictions that go along with being from this country. A hippie counter-culture drug addict and alcoholic who became a Republican who prayed that Barack Obama would be elected to office.
Try saying that three times.
An actor, of the Method school; a director directly responsible (along with his friend and sparring partner Peter Fonda) for the Auteur Director’s Movement (in America) of the 1970′s (and its subsequent cocaine fueled implosion) that empowered and unleashed all the directors who mattered (and who still do); an artist, and a guy who let his guns and his fists speak for his own fragile self. His guideposts in life: his belief in art and the desire for immediate gratification that frequently sold that belief down the river. Standing on the ledge of self destruction, holding desperately on for dear life, yelling that the water was fine and all the while giving Death the Finger. Seeking violent revenge and approbation from those he both loved and hated, on those who he felt had wronged him and innocent bystanders. The pitiable tyrant and the dangerous man desperate for love.
During a 1983 interview with John Gallagher, Hopper said that he and Dean shared a reason for wanting to become actors; that reason was a “love/hate relationship” with one’s parents, a desire to prove something to them, even if, as was the case with Dean, his mother was dead.
I wonder if Hopper saw his exit as a last movie? Or a final chance to play the lead in a Shakespeare tragedy? Or, perhaps, while dying he looked up at a teddy bear on a shelf — the one handmade by his mother. The mother he had violent sex fantasies about, “though I never acted on them,” he told me back in 1985. – Richard Stayton
One of the first stories I remember hearing was the story of how Hopper, new actor on the set of “Rebel Without A Cause”, working with James Dean and being astounded by Dean’s work, frustrated, and finally driven to grabbing Dean and throwing him against a car and yelling “How did you do that?” Pretty nervy for a novice actor in a role described only as “Goon” on a major movie set. Was it true? Does truth matter in the making of the myth, which in the case of Dennis Hopper is literally interchangeable with the man? The man who consumed staggering amounts of drugs per day at his peak of usage, reportedly “a half a gallon of rum with a fifth of rum on the side, 28 beers, and 3 grams of coke”?
Was it really mythmaking? Consider the Russian Suicide Death Chair:
Is it pretend if you end up being institutionalized? Jim Morrison said ““I believe in a long, prolonged, derangement of the senses in order to obtain the unknown.” I believe that Dennis Hopper raced at break neck speeds down that same road, but somehow survived, where Morrison died. So, what did they win? Using drugs, alcohol, and sex to bust open their own hardwired societal behavior patterns to reach that which they didn’t even understand and something that might not even exist. To blast open the doors of consciousness potentially at the cost of their own lives and sanity. To live on the edge of death to feel every minute of the day and bring that truth and fear to their work. Live dramatically and create the stuff of legend that would translate into art that cannot easily be forgotten.
To dare to be a real asshole. To take the title of The World’s Greatest Loser from the cold hands of the previous champion.
Dennis Hopper was married five times, one of those marriages lasted for only several days and was referred to by John Phillips, of the Mamas and the Papas, and the ex husband of the bride, Michelle Phillips, as “The Six Days War”. The look on Michelle Philips face pretty much says it all.
From all reports it was an explosion of violence and paranoid delusions. According to the account of Peter Biskind in “Easy Riders and Raging Bulls” Hopper shot guns off in the house, handcuffed Philips so “she couldn’t get away”, called her a witch, and chased her to the airport trying to block the plane she was in from taking off.
[about his 8 days marriage with Michelle Phillips] The first seven [days] were pretty good.
I guess that means they both wanted a divorce.
Hopper directed 8 films and starred in anywhere between 150-200 movies. His greatest performances are quoted and referenced repeatedly. But there was always something, even in the most evil people he portrayed, that remained charismatic and strangely likable about him while he’s playing those heavies or the rebellious anti-heroes.
No less of an actor than Richard Burton said:
Acting is usually regarded as a craft and I claim it to be nothing more except in the hands of the odd few men and women who, once or twice in a lifetime, elevate it into something odd, mystical, and deeply disturbing.
and Hopper’s own feelings on the subject:
There are moments that I`ve had some real brilliance, you know. But I think they are moments. And sometimes, in a career, moments are enough. I never felt I played the great part. I never felt that I directed the great movie. And I can`t say that it`s anybody`s fault but my own.
Good Neighbor Scene from “Blue Velvet”
Much has been made of this role and with good reason. Frank Booth is an unforgettable character. Reportedly, while being considered for the role by David Lynch, Hopper exclaimed “I’ve got to play Frank because I am Frank!” and he also was quoted as saying, dismissively, “I always get the parts as middle class degenerates, because I am a middle class degenerate.” As a young actor, Vincent Price told him he would be cast as the heavy which mystified Hopper. So why does this character resonate so much with audiences, why is it so iconic? Why was Hopper such a good bad guy? Just watch. The secret of Frank Booth is not about being what would be considered a badass. Frank is, if anything, vulnerable. When Jeffrey hits him, the look on his face is hurt and shock that someone actually retaliated. For one pregnant moment, Frank is dumbfounded and revealed. It’s particularly interesting when you think about his words to Jeffrey, “You’re like me.”, right after, they psychologically exchange roles. In Frank Booth, Dennis Hopper let down his guard long enough to let you see that this guy still lived inside of him.
One of the other stories I heard, directly from the mouth of Dennis Hopper himself, was the story of exactly how fucked up Frank Booth might have been. I heard that there was going to be a showing of “Blue Velvet” at LACMA (The Los Angeles County Museum of Art). Lynch screenings happen at regular intervals but the truly exciting part of this screening was that Dennis Hopper would be taking part in a Q&A session after the film. After the screening, someone asked him a question that led to the following story:
The original idea in the script was that Frank would be sniffing helium. So when David and I talked about it, I refused to do it and convinced him that the mask should have amyl nitrate instead (a drug used in heightening orgasm). But could you imagine? Frank inhaling from the mask and speaking in a voice sounding like a cartoon character? That would have been great. But I was too afraid to do it and I was wrong. That’s my fault, that I didn’t go with David’s first instinct. I was wrong and I admit it
The Sicilians Scene from “True Romance”
The video cannot be shown dickfore at the moment. Please try again later.
An acting contest par excellence, with two of the masters of cinematic villainy. Hopper even has what is actually the harder part, not the Anti-Christ, but the absent father who finally makes the ultimate sacrifice. This part calls for him to be everything he’s not known for. Stolid, slow moving and fatherly. A retired cop from Middle America, who’s not quite as ordinary as he seems, the dad that you have to watch and make sure he’s not stealing a real kiss from your new wife. Who is willing to dare the wrath of the evil personified to save the son he never quite was there for, and in doing so, redeeming himself. Seemingly without power and already doomed, he chooses his own death and his own way. If you watch closely, you can see the moment when he realizes that he’s going to die no matter what. Never afraid, he makes Clifford Worley into Don Vincenzo’s equal. No heroics, no big theatrical moments, just two guys talking. It should be said that the scene as written could be considered offensive in clumsier hands. Hopper’s sure sense of truth and intelligence fits perfectly with the screenwriter’s intention.
His turn as a nameless civilian photo-journalist in the Cambodian jungle that is Colonel Kurtz’ deadly paradise. The corpse strewn compound is filled with a silent army. Those corpses are real (provided by a grave robber that the production thought was getting them from a medical lab), the palpable mania is real, after all this is the set that gave Martin Sheen a heart attack. Dennis Hopper, the snake in the garden, tempting the good soldier sent to put Kurtz down with his seductive arguments of freedom. In this role, he could be describing himself “He can be terrible, he can be mean, and he can be right.” “Sometimes he goes too far, he’s the first one to admit it”. In this part, you get to see the enormous personal charm that Hopper had. Magnetic and supple, he darts from peak to peak, like an apologetic butterfly, smiling disarmingly with a snake-like sensuality. While speaking to Martin Sheen from outside the bamboo cage, he almost looks like a the proto-typical seventies lothario trying to get a chick to put out.
As a matter of fact, during his rambling explanation of ‘Him”, he quotes the Rudyard Kipling poem, If, that he read in this clip from the Johnny Cash show:
But even during this time, Dennis Hopper also collected fine art and took photographs. He actually had an original Warhol, bought for 75 dollars, that he lost in a fire along with his early collection. His first wife, Brooke Hayward, gave him a camera as a consolation and encouraged his interest.
“I was doing something that I thought could have some impact someday. In many ways, it’s really these photographs that kept me going creatively.” —Dennis Hopper
During the 1960s, Dennis Hopper carried a camera everywhere—on film sets and locations, at parties, in diners, bars and galleries, driving on freeways and walking on political marches. He photographed movie idols, pop stars, writers, artists, girlfriends, and complete strangers. Along the way he captured some of the most intriguing moments of his generation with a keen and intuitive eye. A reluctant icon at the epicenter of that decade’s cultural upheaval, Hopper documented the likes of Tina Turner in the studio, Andy Warhol at his first West Coast show, Paul Newman on set, and Martin Luther King during the Civil Rights March from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.
In many ways this work is photography as film, a poignant narrative expressed through a series of stark images–early shots of Tijuana bullfights, LA happenings and urban street scenes show an experimental freedom that would translate into the vivid cinematic imagery of Easy Rider and beyond.
As the conquering hero of “Easy Rider”, as talky and dated as it can be seen as, he was pretty much given carte blanche to create his next masterpiece. The lunatics were given keys to the asylum. BBS was producing it and Montgomery Clift had been Hopper’s pick for the lead (it was actually the movie he intended to be his directing debut) and Clift’s death in 1966 left a void. One day, to the horror of the producers, Hopper came to the conclusion that only he could play the role. BBS got cold feet, as the part was meant for an over the hill wreck, and the irascible Ned Tanan at Universal, which had formed a youth movie division in the sputtering haste to be relevant, took the film on trust. The movie’s title lent itself to cheap shots as it was reportedly “a catastrophe, not a disaster”.
“They sure named this movie right because this is gonna be the last movie this guy ever makes
According to Biskind’s book, the movie was so polarizing, that this is what happened at a screening in Iowa City:
After the screening, Hopper got up to talk to the audience and they were throwing things and screaming abuse at him–”It’s the worst piece of shit…” This wasn’t just hostility. I was getting really uncomfortable feelings like something could happen here that’s not going to be good, like this could be “Suddenly Last Summer… we were going through the lobby and the most beautiful 18 or 19 year-old girl was sitting behind it…”Mr. Hopper” “Yes, my Dear” “Can I talk to you, did you make this film?” “Yes”, he’s being flirtatious and very charming. She hauled back and popped him from about six inches away, right in the nose..and she started screaming at him, “You sexist fucking pig!”
After this he didn’t work for about 10 years, much less direct a film, while “The Last Movie” won the top prize at the Venice Film festival. The doors got blasted open, but then the tools he used to reach for the unknown took over his life. The prophecy of that Universal projectionist turned out to be wrong. After he cleaned up, he went on to direct 6 more films, of varying quality, but “Colors” was a major studio movie, praised for its realism in a decade of gloss, that starred Sean Penn and Robert Duvall.
Today, Dennis Hopper will be laid to rest in a private ceremony in Taos, New Mexico. In various quotes he reckoned he lost about 20 years to his insane time and said that there’s a lot of things he didn’t remember. He voiced regret that he hadn’t spent that time creating, directing movies of his own. He worked furiously, because he realized that he had no more time to waste. Even taking movies, like the dire “Super Mario Brothers” as the cult favorite, “King Koopa” for the money.
I made a picture called Super Mario Bros, and my six-year-old son at the time said, “Dad, I think you’re probably a pretty good actor, but why did you play that terrible guy King Koopa in Super Mario Bros?” and I said, “Well Henry, I did that so you could have shoes”, and he said, “Dad, I don’t need shoes that badly”.
Even for this Hopper was not only forgiven, but admired by a new generation of fans. He reached the video game kids who would carry his memory into the future, the people who didn’t know he was John Wayne’s personal pinko while shooting such films as “True Grit” and “Sons of Katie Elder”.
Whenever some dramatic antiwar action occurred, Wayne would hold him (Hopper) responsible, and come looking for him. When the two were working on “True Grit”, Wayne once flew his helicopter in…landed on the Paramount lot, swaggering into the soundstage with his .45 hanging from his belt, and bellowed, “Where’s that pinko Hopper? That goddamned Eldridge Cleaver’s out there at UCLA saying ‘shit’ and ‘cocksucker’ in front of my sweet daughters. I want that red motherfucker. Where is that commie hiding?
Some people have implied that it would be in bad taste to recount the less savory stories of his life. But I don’t think so. All of his life, the good and the terrible, is part of the man that we all lost. To deny any part of it is to deny his legacy. All we leave behind, as people and as artists, are the stories and memories in the brains and hearts of those we love and hate. The artist, musician, actor, photographer, painter, etc, seek to share something of themselves and leave the world a desperate note. “For a time I was here and for a time, I mattered.” The world, and beyond that, the universe, which is teeth grindingly oblivious to our pain and our need remains silent and impassive . No wonder that many artists are shy people who become angry, lonely, and anti-social. In the face of such monstrous indifference, wouldn’t you be?
Like all artists I want to cheat death a little and contribute something to the next generation.
Oh, Bastard Prince of Cinema and Art; Death has no dominion over you.
This is some text prior to the author information. You can change this text from the admin section of WP-Gravatar To change this standard text, you have to enter some information about your self in the Dashboard -> Users -> Your Profile box. Read more from this author