‘Dennis Hopper was one of Hollywood’s great modern outlaws. His persona, on and off the screen, signified the lost idealism of the 1960s. There were stages in Hopper’s career when he was deemed unemployable because of his reputation as a hell-raiser and his substance abuse. However, he made spectacular comebacks and managed to kick his dependence on alcohol and cocaine.
‘Born in Dodge City, Kansas, Hopper, whose father was a post-office manager and mother a lifeguard instructor, expressed an interest in painting and acting at a young age. While still in his teens, he appeared in repertory at Pasadena Playhouse, California, and studied acting with Dorothy McGuire and John Swope at the Old Globe theatre, San Diego.
‘The year of his 19th birthday, 1955, was extraordinary. Not only did Hopper have substantial parts in three television dramas, but he was cast in supporting roles in James Dean’s last two films: Rebel Without a Cause, and Giant (released in 1956). The two actors became friends over the few months before Dean, whom Hopper idolised, was killed in a car accident aged 24.
‘In Rebel Without a Cause, Hopper is the youngest and slightest member of the juvenile delinquent gang that provokes Dean. In Giant, he gave a sensitive performance as the son of Texan oil millionaire Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor; he marries a Mexican girl and wants to “go north” to become a doctor – decisions against his father’s wishes. Although Hopper appeared only briefly with Dean in both movies, the latter had a huge influence on him.
‘Hopper brought some moody Method mannerisms to bear on his following roles, mostly as callow, trigger-happy villains in westerns, such as Billy Clanton in Gunfight at the OK Corral (1956) – “I don’t know why I get into gunfights. I guess sometimes I just get lonely” – and From Hell to Texas (1958), on which he got into a confrontation with director Henry Hathaway, refusing to take direction for several days. He was also a grumpy, childish Napoleon in the infamous, star-studded The Story of Mankind (1957) and the leader of a street gang, dubbed “Cowboy”, in Key Witness (1960).
‘In the 1960s, Hopper, who alienated several veteran directors and producers, was pronounced difficult, argumentative and violently temperamental. However, he continued to get work, mostly in minor baddie roles, in major films including Cool Hand Luke (1963), The Sons of Katie Elder (1965) and True Grit (1969). He also turned up in the weird space vampire film Queen of Blood (1966), in which he played a clean-cut astronaut who has the blood sucked out of him. The executive producer on the film was Roger Corman, who had just begun his cycle of dope and biker movies, and cast Hopper with Peter Fonda in the seminal acid flick The Trip (1967). The duo together conceived, wrote, with Terry Southern, raised the finance for, and starred in the alienated- youth road movie Easy Rider (1969), with Hopper directing.
‘Made for $400,000, the film’s combination of drugs, rock music, violence, a counter-culture stance and motorcycles as ultimate freedom machines caught the imagination of the young, made pop icons of Hopper and Fonda on their bikes and took over $16m at the box office. This rose to more than $60m worldwide in the next three years. It also brought Hopper, Fonda and Southern a best screenplay Oscar nomination. Easy Rider, which led to a stream of tacky, imitative pictures with equally loud rock soundtracks, retains legendary status in Hollywood lore, although these self-pitying “flower children” of the 60s now seem as dated as the “bright young things” of the 1920s.
‘Hopper, meanwhile, was out of control. His eight-year marriage to Brooke Hayward, the daughter of actor Margaret Sullavan, had ended in divorce. In 1970, he married Michelle Phillips, of the Mamas & the Papas, but it lasted eight days. (“The first seven days were pretty good,” Hopper once commented.) In the same year, a raving, naked, drug-fuelled Hopper was arrested while running around Los Alamos, New Mexico.
‘In 1971, following the success of Easy Rider, Hopper was bankrolled by Universal with $850,000 and given total creative control to make whatever kind of movie he wished. He decamped to Peru with a cast and crew for a self-penned, directed and edited meta-monstrosity, The Last Movie (1971). Starring Hopper as a stuntman with a Christ complex on the set of a western being directed by Samuel Fuller, the film, made for the stoned by the stoned, was stoned by the critics.
‘Before the film’s limited release, Hopper wrote and appeared in an autobiographical documentary, The American Dreamer (1971), which showed him editing The Last Movie at his home in Taos, New Mexico, spouting hippy philosophy, taking baths with women and shooting guns. This sealed his reputation as the most flipped-out man in the movies, and he spent the next 15 years in foreign films, personal projects, and low-budget arthouse or exploitation movies.
‘The quality of these veered wildly, but Hopper turned in one of his most memorable performances as Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley character, who has the enigmatic, homicidal title role in Wim Wenders’s The American Friend (1977). High on drugs, he improvised much of his part of the photojournalist buzzing around Marlon Brando in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979).
‘In 1980, Hopper directed his third feature, Out of the Blue, an effective piece of post-hippy American gothic, about a family well outside the mainstream. It focuses on a 15-year-old punk girl (Linda Manz) trying to survive in a world of drunks (Hopper plays an alcoholic father), drug addicts and rapists. Made in Canada, the picture was well received when it was released three years later, assisting Hopper’s reintegration into Hollywood.
‘In 1983, Hopper entered a drug rehabilitation programme. By then, according to Peter Biskind’s book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, his cocaine intake had reached three grams a day, complemented by 30 beers, marijuana and Cuba Libres. After emerging relatively clean from the programme, he played another alcoholic father – this time to Matt Dillon – in Coppola’s Rumble Fish (1983), now a commanding elder statesman amid the brat-pack cast.
‘Hopper’s comeback was consecrated in 1986, with his astonishing portrayal of a psychopathic kidnapper in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. His performance, in which he inhales an unspecified gas and screams “Mommy” at Isabella Rossellini during bizarre sex scenes, became as much a conversation piece as the film itself. This role as a crazed, drug-dealing sadist was followed with an antithetically subdued and touching performance as an ashamed dad seeking redemption in Hoosiers in the same year. Hopper, who seemed to draw on his down-and-out years, was nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar.
‘Hopper appeared in three further films in 1986 – ranging from a leftwing media terrorist in Riders of the Storm to a mad ex-biker with his own strangely moral code in River’s Edge, and the former Texas Ranger who wants revenge for the chainsaw death of his brother in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. He continued to be extremely busy in the following year, playing a Texan tycoon bumped off by his wife in Black Widow and Molly Ringwald’s father in The Pick-up Artist.
‘In 1988, Hopper directed Robert Duvall and Sean Penn in a violently realistic cops-versus-street gangs drama, Colors, released to a debate as to whether the film reflected or exacerbated gang conflicts in Los Angeles. A worse fate met his next directorial effort, Catchfire (1989), in which he starred with Jodie Foster as, respectively, kidnapper and responsive victim. Released in an edited version of which he did not approve, the film, at Hopper’s insistence, was attributed to Alan Smithee (the pseudonym for directors preferring to remain anonymous).
‘In Flashback (1990), as an erstwhile 60s radical activist gone underground, Hopper seems to be playing his own legend, drawing inspiration from his earlier characters. At one stage, he remarks, “It takes more than going down to your local video store and renting Easy Rider to become a rebel.”
‘This led to similarly offbeat performances, many of them variations on the smiling, charming, cold-blooded killer with a screw loose. He stood out in supporting roles in True Romance (1993) and the box-office smash Speed (1994), and his blackly humorous edge almost redeemed some of the mediocre thrillers he appeared in throughout the 90s, though little saved Chasers (1994), a leaden naval comedy, the seventh and last of the features he directed. In 2008, Hopper appeared in the TV series Crash, the spin-off from the Paul Haggis 2004 film, as a verbose, eccentric, down-on-his-luck music producer. Hopper proudly stated that it was the craziest character he had ever played.
‘Despite his radical persona, Hopper was a paid-up Republican, though he voted for Barack Obama in the 2008 election. In that year, he appeared in An American Carol, a flabby, liberal-bashing comedy starring rightwing actors such as Jon Voight, Kelsey Grammer and James Woods.
‘Hopper, who played an art dealer in the 1996 film Basquiat, was also an accomplished painter and sculptor, and a well-connected player on the American art scene. He was a skilled photographer whose subjects included Martin Luther King; fellow artists Ed Ruscha, Roy Lichtenstein and Robert Rauschenberg; and co-stars including Paul Newman and John Wayne. In 2007, he presented the Turner prize at Tate Liverpool.’ — Ronald Bergan
Dennis Hopper Official Website
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Dennis Hopper Interview- Easy Rider/The Last Movie (1971)
TONY SHAFRAZI: Dean’s death froze everyone. How did it affect you?
DENNIS HOPPER: Before Jimmy had gone up to race his car, I think he had gone into this silent-order monastery down in Malibu and spent three days up there. When he came back, he came to the studio. And it was one of the few times I ever saw him dressed in a suit and tie. It was as if he was saying goodbye to people. He was going to race. But he was going to come back. George Stevens wouldn’t let him race when we were making Giant, which was obviously intelligent, but Dean only had two weeks to go, so Stevens said okay. Dean spent all of his money on this Porsche Spyder. He was actually going up to where they shot East of Eden to have a race. It was not his fault. I mean, this guy came and didn’t see him. Dean had gotten a ticket for speeding that afternoon, so he wasn’t speeding when it happened. Rolf [Wüetherich], the guy who was with him, lived.
SHAFRAZI: And Dean had just shot a clip about safe driving, which is remarkable.
PETER M. BRANT: What was your reaction when you found out that he’d died?
HOPPER: Okay, so I’m in the theater in Santa Monica. My agent is there. The play hasn’t started yet when my agent gets up and leaves to take a call. I’m sitting there, and he comes back and he’s ashen. He says, “I have to tell you something, but promise me that you’ll stay here in the theater.” I said, “Is it someone in my family?” He said, “No, but are you going to stay here?” “Yeah,” I say. He says, “James Dean was just killed in a car accident.” And at that moment, the lights went out on the stage, and the spotlight came up on this empty chair, and I flipped out. That was it. In fact, I think I hit my agent. I went crazy. It was a bad time. You know, I really believe in destiny, and that didn’t fit in.
BRANT: So when Dean passes, you’re a young actor, and you’re going through what has to have been, emotionally, a big change in our life: hitting stardom, landing major roles, everybody watching you. What were you going through at that time?
HOPPER: Well, people in Hollywood either loved Jimmy Dean or they hated him—but the people who loved him went into this whole thing where they were having séances, where they were seeing him, where they were talking to him. But I just couldn’t grasp the fact that he was dead. He was going to direct movies. He was the most incredible actor I’d ever seen. And the idea of destiny . . . I was really confused. Warner Bros. had loaned me out to 20th Century Fox to do this film, From Hell to Texas , with [director] Henry Hathaway. But I just didn’t want to do the movie. I didn’t like the part, and I thought, after Giant, I should be doing something else. Hathaway was one of those tough old-school directors. He became a prop man, and worked his way all the way up to becoming a director. He was a real workhorse—and a big filmmaker. He wanted me. He thought that I was the best young actor he’d seen. But he wanted me to imitate Marlon Brando. He gave me gestures, line readings—all these preconceived things. And I refused to do them. I walked off that picture three times on location—and three times, he came to get me. We’d have dinner. He was the most charming man you’d ever meet at dinner. But in the daytime, he was a monster. So at dinner we’d talk about what we were going to do the next day, and he would say, “Great, terrific.” And then we’d get on the set, and he would be like, [raises voice] “That’s fuckin’ dinner talk, kid!” So we finally get back to the 20th Century Fox lot, and it’s my last day on the picture. I come into the studio and Hathaway is there. He points to a stack of film cans and says, “You see what that is over there?” I say, “It looks like some film cans to me, Henry.” He says, “Yeah. We’ve got enough to shoot for three or four months. You see what we got over there?” He points to a bunch of sleeping bags. “We’ve got sleeping bags. We’re going to sleep here on the soundstage until you do the scene my way.” So we start working at around 7 A.M., and we send for lunch at around 11 A.M. when Steve Trilling, who was second in charge to Jack Warner at Warner Bros., calls. He says, “What the hell is going on over there? Do you know that Hathaway owns 40 percent of 20th Century Fox? What are you trying to do, lose our studio? He’s going to sue us! Just do what he says and get your ass back home.” And then lunch arrives, and Jack Warner calls. “Are you out of your fuckin’ mind?” he says. “Hathaway is going to own Warner Bros.! Whatever he wants, do it a hundred times for him.” So, finally, it’s 11 o’clock at night, and I’ve tried every way possible to do the scene, and I finally just break down and start crying. I say, “Okay, just tell me what you want.” And he gives me all of this stuff to do, and I do it, he prints it, we’re done, and I leave the studio. I didn’t really work again in film after that until Hathaway rehired me for The Sons of Katie Elder .
BRANT: How did that happen?
HOPPER: Well, I came to New York to study with Lee Strasberg for five years, which turned out to be really good for me because then I was connected in New York. But I wasn’t thinking that way at the time. I couldn’t work in film after the Hathaway thing, so I was thinking that the thing I could do was work in television.
BRANT: How was it viewed at that time to work in television? You did so many big series. You did episodes of The Twilight Zone, The Rifleman, Bonanza.
HOPPER: Well, Warner Bros. got into television very early, so I did a lot of television there. In the beginning, it was sort of okay to do television. But then it became this thing where movie actors didn’t do television—they certainly didn’t do commercials, because that just meant the end of your career.
Peter [Fonda] said, ‘Let’s promise ourselves that we will not do a motorcycle movie.’ I said, ‘Absolutely, man. We’re going to be like the singing cowboys. I’m going to be the sidekick, and this is going to be ridiculous.’ Dennis Hopper
BRANT: A lot of the shows you did were Westerns.
HOPPER: A lot of them were Westerns—Rifleman, Wagon Train, Cheyenne.
BRANT: After Giant came a period where the Western becomes a really big factor in our culture. You were in one of my favorites, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
HOPPER: Oh, yeah. John Sturges.
BRANT: What was it like working with Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster on that film?
HOPPER: It was great. I mean, the stuntmen on that film also worked on John Wayne’s pictures. They were just a fun group, man. I was the rookie. I got every game played on me. I was actually closer to Douglas because he was a little more fun. One of the tricks they played on me involved a gunfight. We’re out doing the actual gunfight at the corral—we’re shooting and stuff—and there’s a crowd watching, including this young girl who I’d been having a fling with. So they came up to me and said, “The police are here to arrest you because you had an affair with that girl. Just stay with us. They can’t come into the scene because we’re all shooting guns and everything, so stay in the scene.” I went, “Oh, I don’t know. I guess she’s pregnant.” So the guys take me out of the scene like I’ve been hurt, and they get me into my room at the hotel, and this carried on for four days before I was like, “Come on! There’s no police.” [laughs] They’d come in and say things like, “The girl’s trying to get away!” I mean, it was just one thing after another.
BRANT: So what happened after you went to New York?
HOPPER: So then the first job I get after five years is when [director] Stuart Rosenberg calls me in to read for The Twilight Zone.
BRANT: Is that the episode where you play the Nazi?
HOPPER: Yeah. [Twilight Zone creator and producer] Rod Serling was still alive at the time, which was really cool. Rosenberg was the best in television at that time, and I quickly became one of his players. I did two episodes of The Defenders and an episode of Naked City before he took me to England to star with Patricia Neal in an episode of Espionage. Then he made Cool Hand Luke , and he took all of the guys who were on television shows and put them in there. I don’t even have one line in the movie.
BRANT: But your presence is felt.
HOPPER: This is the way Rosenberg explained the character. He said, “You’re not going to have any lines, but you’re going to be around all the time. It’s going to be like everybody takes care of your character because he’s like a child.”
BRANT: So how did Hathaway wind up hiring you again?
HOPPER: Well, I’d married my first wife, [actress] Brooke [Hayward] in 1961, and we’d had our daughter, Marin. . . .
BRANT: Brooke is like Hollywood royalty.
HOPPER: Hollywood royalty. Her father was [theatrical producer and agent] Leland Hayward and her mother was [actress] Margaret Sullavan. So Marin is about 4 or 5 months old when Hathaway calls me. Now, during this period of time when I wasn’t making movies, which I think was about eight years, I thought of every way possible to get back, whether it was killing Hathaway or just studying his films. And I realized by watching his movies that the reason he gives you all of these things to do in a scene, or tries to create some kind of anxious energy, is because he doesn’t like to move his camera. I don’t even know if he knows that, but in my mind, that’s what he’s doing. And because he doesn’t move it, he needs you to move in order to get some energy on the screen. So I come in and see him—I mean, I like the guy. It’s not that I dislike Hathaway.
BRANT: You just didn’t admire his work at that time.
HOPPER: I was trying to work in another way, and I couldn’t. So he calls me in and says, “Now we want you to play this part. Duke and I have decided this since you married a nice Irish girl, and we knew her mother.”
BRANT: Duke is John Wayne.
HOPPER: Yeah. He says, “We think, now that you have a daughter and you’re married, you should go back to work. But you should know, Wayne can’t stand this Method shit, so don’t do any of that.” I said, “Don’t worry, Mr. Hathaway. I’m a much better actor now than I was eight years ago.” So we go down to Durango, Mexico, and I’m doing this 10-line scene. It’s the first scene of the picture. So Wayne is there—he had one lung out already—and [producer] Hal Wallace is there. Hathaway gives me the line reading and every gesture he wants me to do, and I just do it, and he comes up to me. He’s got a cigar in his mouth, and he’s crying. He says, “That was great, kid. Great.” So I say, “You see, Mr. Hathaway? I’m a much better actor now that I was eight years ago.” And he says, “You ain’t a better actor, kid. You’re just smarter.”
BRANT: So as we get toward the end of the 1960s, you do Easy Rider.
HOPPER: Well, first I wrote The Last Movie with Stewart Stern, who wrote Rebel Without a Cause. Stewart wouldn’t do it unless I paid him. Because the way we worked, I would tell him what I wanted and he would go upstairs and write it. That was the way we did it. But at some point he said, “You’re going to have to pay me. It’s like going to a psychiatrist. If you want to tell me this story, you’re going to have to pay.”
BRANT: So what happened with it?
HOPPER: We wrote it, and I gave the screenplay to Peter Fonda, who read it and said, “I’ll produce this.” So we go all over town trying to get financing but can’t. We come to New York—we can’t get financing there, either. And then we went in to see Huntington Hartford.
BRANT: Whose family started A&P.
HOPPER: Yeah. I guess he’d been doing a lot of acid because he had somebody painting psychedelic stuff all over his apartment. It was totally crazy. So we get in there, and I’m explaining the film to him and asking him for money to make the movie, and he says, “You’re so passionate about this. I’ll tell you what: I’m going to give you the money.” And I’m like, “Wow.” But then he says, “All you have to do is levitate, right now, in front of me.” [all laugh] I said, “Fuck you. I’m out of here. I wouldn’t fuckin’ levitate in front of you if I could.” But anyway, nobody wanted to make The Last Movie. So then Peter and I went to work at American International Pictures, and Peter stars in The Wild Angels .
SHAFRAZI: With Roger Corman.
HOPPER: Corman, right. And he becomes a big star from that. Everyone was at AIP [American International Pictures] back then—Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Brian de Palma. It was the only place you could go if you weren’t in the union, where they’d give you cameras and let you go out and shoot. They wouldn’t pay you, but if you were making a movie for them, you could go out and shoot on weekends. I did one called The Glory Stompers . But Peter and I were still trying to do a movie. He said, “Let’s promise ourselves that we will not do a motorcycle movie.” I said, “Absolutely, man. We’re going to be like the singing cowboys. I’m going to be the sidekick, and this is going to be ridiculous.” So Peter is out on the road promoting The Trip . He’s at the Toronto Film Festival, and he calls me up at three o’clock in the morning and says, “I just left Sam Arkoff”—who was one of the owners of AIP—“and James Nicholson,” who was the other owner and no relation to Jack. “I told him this story, and they said they’ll let us make a movie and you can direct.” Peter says, “Don’t get angry with me. Just listen: These two guys go over to Mexico on dirt bikes and smuggle back a bunch of marijuana. . . .” Well, you can’t take a lot of marijuana on a dirt bike, but okay. He continues, “They come back and sell the stuff and get these big, gleaming bikes and go cross-country to Mardi Gras. They’re going to retire in Florida, but they get shot by a couple of duck hunters. What do you think?” So I said, “Did they tell you they’d give you the money?” He said, “Yeah.” “And they’ll let me direct and act in it?” “Yeah.” So I said, “Sounds like a great fuckin’ idea to me.”
27 of Dennis Hopper’s 204 roles
Nicholas Ray Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
‘“I’m the best damn filmmaker in the world who has never made one entirely good, entirely satisfactory film,” so said Nicholas Ray, according to his friend Dennis Hopper. In a bit for Turner Classic Movies in 1997, Hopper reflected on Ray’s work and their relationship, which began during his debut role as Goon in the filmmaker’s iconic Rebel Without a Cause. At the time, Hopper remembers thinking “that James Dean was directing [the] film, he had so much input in his character and lines, even deciding how a scene would be shot,” later to realize that Ray “gave Dean the freedom he needed…[he] was intelligent enough to let the creative forces work.” Intelligent, maybe, but also trusting and confident. Ray’s emblematic refrain was “It’s never all in the script. If it were, why make the movie?”‘ — Filmmaker Magazine
George Stevens Giant (1956)
‘A showcase for stars-to-be Dennis Hopper, Sal Mineo, and Carroll Baker – and for Dean, who was killed in a car accident before it was released. Stevens’ tours-de-force include the burial of a former Hispanic ranch hand/now WWII hero, and the final fight as “The Yellow Rose of Texas” blares on the juke box. Ten Oscar nominations, including both Hudson and Dean for Best Actor, with Stevens winning his second for Best Director.’ — LAFF
Curtis Harrington Night Tide (1961)
‘Curtis Harrington’s surreal thriller Night Tide stars Dennis Hopper as a young sailor who answers the treacherous siren call of a mermaid—or at least that of a strange girl who appears as a mermaid in a seaside carnival in Venice Beach. Harrington achieved a cult following in the mid-1940s and 1950s with his avant-garde film adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe and the myth of Narcissus, and today he is remembered as one of the pioneers of New Queer Cinema. (Night Tide is invariably compared with the horror films of Val Lewton, yet the openly gay Hollywood filmmaker James Whale seems another guiding spirit.) Belatedly released on the bottom half of a double bill with Roger Corman’s The Raven, Night Tide first caught the attention of critics in Italy and France, who were impressed by Harrington’s dreamlike gothic sensibility.’ — MoMA
Andy Warhol Screen Test: Dennis Hopper (1964)
the entirety (muting added sound is recommended)
Curtis Harrington Queen of Blood (1966)
‘Shot on a miniscule $50,000 budget, and including footage from a 1959 Russian film that was later purchased by Roger Corman, this science fiction feature finds a tiny planet slowly dying. With the inhabitants in danger of perishing, some kind-hearted astronauts bring a green-blooded female alien back to Earth. The extraterrestrial shows her gratitude by going wild for human blood in the fashion of a blood-sucking vampire. John Saxon, Basil Rathbone and Dennis Hopper are some of the actors sentenced by their vindictive agents to appear in this 1966 film.’ — rt
Roger Corman The Trip (1967)
‘With The Trip, Roger Corman delves deep inside the mind of the artist. TV commercial director Paul Groves (Peter Fonda, The Wild Angels), with both his personal and professional life in crisis due to a crumbling marriage and stagnating career, begins to experiment with LSD to free himself artistically. Paul s trip provides the viewer with psychedelic and hallucinatory moments worthy of Fellini, as an onslaught of strange, beautiful and terrifying images flood Paul s subconscious and leads to a revelatory denouement. Featured in The Trip are Bruce Dern (co-star of the Corman directed The Wild Angels) as John, the self-proclaimed LSD guru who sends Paul on his trip; Susan Strasberg (Psych-Out) as Paul s estranged wife; and Dennis Hopper (Chattahoochee) as a drug-culture everyman.’ — az
Ted Post Hang ‘Em High (1968)
‘This Western however followed on from Clint Eastwood’s success with Sergio Leone and became Eastwood’s first film for his newly formed Malpaso Production Company. He’s made better, a lot better, but this fledgling attempt to use his new found fame to impress American audiences was a huge hit both with the critics and at the box office. We get Pat Hingle as the hanging judge Adam Fenton, Dennis Hopper as a crazy prisoner (what else would he be?), Bruce Dern honing his double-crossing ways as a murderer, and Ben Johnson in a fleeting role as a bad-ass Federal Marshal.’ — Andy Summers
Dennis Hopper Easy Rider (1969)
‘Decades later, “Easy Rider” is not remembered so much as a great movie–although it did break out Jack Nicholson as a movie star– but more as a shocking commercial success that shook Hollywood’s timbers. The studio reaction to “Easy Rider” changed the industry forever.’ — indiewire
Dennis Hopper The Last Movie (1971)
‘This year’s posthumous release of Orson Welles’s The Other Side of the Wind may reignite interest in another misunderstood film of that period that Welles’ work very much resembles, and which may well have inspired it: Dennis Hopper’s fascinating, flawed, experimental The Last Movie from 1971, about the ritualistic voodoo of cinema, now on rerelease – featuring cameos by Samuel Fuller and Kris Kristofferson. After the smash-hit success of Easy Rider in 1969, awestruck Universal studio bosses agreed to give Hopper and his co-writer Stewart Stern (screenwriter of Rebel Without a Cause) a million-dollar budget and an undertaking not to interfere with what they were doing. Hopper took their money, went to Peru and over a year filmed this audacious experimental picture about a movie shoot. Universal didn’t know what to do with it and it was hardly seen.’ — The Guardian
Wim Wenders The American Friend (1977)
‘Wim Wenders pays loving homage to rough-and-tumble Hollywood film noir with The American Friend, a loose adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel Ripley’s Game. Dennis Hopper oozes quirky menace as an amoral American art dealer who entangles a terminally ill German everyman, played by Bruno Ganz, in a seedy criminal underworld as revenge for a personal slight—but when the two become embroiled in an ever-deepening murder plot, they form an unlikely bond. Filmed on location in Hamburg and Paris, with some scenes shot in grimy, late-seventies New York City, Wenders’s international breakout is a stripped-down crime story that mixes West German and American film flavors, and it features cameos by filmmakers Jean Eustache, Samuel Fuller, and Nicholas Ray.’ — Criterion Collection
Francis Ford Coppola Apocalypse Now (1979)
‘When Brando arrived, he shocked everybody – he was enormous, maybe 300 pounds. “You couldn’t see around him,” says Frederickson. This gave Coppola palpitations, as he had envisioned Kurtz as a lean and hungry warrior. Also, what the hell was he going to wear? There was no Green Beret uniform on earth big enough! Worse, Brando hadn’t learnt his lines or done any preparation whatsoever for the role. “Francis had to literally start from scratch with him,” says Doug Claybourne. “He had to bring him up to speed on what the thing was about and who the character was.” According to his co-star Dennis Hopper, the production was shut down for a week while Coppola read Brando the script out loud. “Nine-hundred people, the cast and crew, just sat and waited!”‘ — The Independent
Stoned Dennis Hopper on the set of Apocalypse Now
Dennis Hopper Out Of The Blue (1980)
‘Hopper described Blue as a follow-up to Easy Rider, even though it contains none of the same characters or that film’s fascination with motorcycle culture; rather, the connection is spiritual and stylistic. As Reader emeritus Jonathan Rosenbaum once wrote, the movie is defined by “the Hopper flavor: relentlessly raunchy and downbeat, and informed throughout by the kind of generational anguish and sense of doom that characterizes both of his earlier films [Rider and The Last Movie].” It’s unmistakably a downer, beginning and ending with scenes of violent death and featuring numerous depictions of drug abuse and emotional violence along the way. It’s also a haunting portrait of juvenile delinquency that ranks among the most powerful in American cinema.’ — Chicago Reader
Neil Young Human Highway (1982)
‘Young, who reveals himself to be a surprisingly solid and charismatic comic actor, stars as Lionel Switch, the incompetent, nerdy and good-hearted mechanic at a roadside garage and diner near a nuclear power plant. Lionel can’t drive and knows nothing about cars, but he has confidence, and dreams of becoming a rock star like his hero Frankie Fontaine. Tamblyn plays Fred, Lionel’s even more incompetent best friend, who’s hired to help him out in the garage. Stockwell is Otto, the unscrupulous new owner, determined to turn around his late father’s failing business, even if it means firing everyone and torching the place for the insurance money. A clearly stoned Hopper is Cracker, the short order cook constantly pestered by radioactive flies. The members of Devo, in matching red jumpsuits and hard hats, are the garbage men at the nuclear plant, who regularly dump radioactive waste into the local water supply. And wandering through it all is Mothersbaugh’s bespectacled and baby-faced Booji Boy, acting as the films Dadaist Greek Chorus.’ — Den of Geeks
Francis Ford Coppola Rumble Fish (1983)
‘Like The Outsiders, Rumble Fish is cinema-literate, composed from disparate reference points: the strange angles and painted shadows of Expressionist silent film; the theatricality and fanciful choreography of old Hollywood musicals; surreal, symbol-laden mise-en-scene recalling the weirder works of arthouse directors like Orson Welles, Federico Fellini, Jean Cocteau, and Ingmar Bergman. The experimental score, written by The Police’s Stewart Copeland, is largely rhythmic, evoking the ticking of a clock. To my mind, Rumble Fish stands as the most realized fulfillment of Coppola’s aesthetic aims during this period of his career, and one of his very best films, period. It calls to mind many other works of art, cinematic and otherwise, yet its style is completely singular. But most remarkable, perhaps, is that through this filmic language, Coppola is able to grasp something that is not esoteric but simple and universal.’ — Jacob Mazer
Robert Altman O.C.and Stiggs (1985)
‘As much a state-of-the-union satire as Nashville, with which it shares omnipresent politico Hal Phillip Walker, here falling on blind eyes as he once did on deaf ears, O.C. and Stiggs (1985) is, going by received wisdom, a career nadir for Robert Altman, the lowest-of-many-lows during American cinema’s fallowest decade.‘ — Keith Uhlich
Tobe Hooper The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)
‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 picks up a dozen years after audiences last saw Leatherface, dancing with his chainsaw in the Austin dusk. Fans hadn’t yet experienced sequel fatigue when it hit theaters in 1986, but whatever they were expecting, it surely wasn’t the sideshow freak-out that Tobe Hooper cooked up. Chainsaw 2 has the goofy middle-finger vibe of other punk horror comedies like Return Of The Living Dead or Repo Man, and the soundtrack to match. Like Texas itself, everything is bigger in this sequel, from the explicit gore by Tom Savini to the endless references to the cannibals’ home state to the scenery-chewing performances.’ — Jenni Miller
Tim Hunter River’s Edge (1986)
‘The 1987 film River’s Edge was a film that shocked audiences and critics alike with its depiction of aimless teenagers in a dead-end town. Roger Ebert called the film “an exercise in despair” and “the best analytical film about a crime since The Onion Field and In Cold Blood.” “Bleak” is the word that sums up Tim Hunter’s groundbreaking film. River’s Edge is a fictionalized account of a 1981 murder case in Milpitas, California, in which 16-year-old Anthony Jacques Broussard strangled 14-year-old Marcy Conrad and dumped her body near the foothills outside of town. For two days, Conrad’s murder went unreported, as Broussard brought classmates from Milpitas High School to view Conrad’s dead body. The story received widespread media attention as parents grappled with tough questions: Were America’s children completely amoral? What did they believe in? Did they believe in anything?’ — Matt Gilligan
David Lynch Blue Velvet (1986)
‘They had helium on set while filming the rape scene, but the gas didn’t have the eerie effect that was intended. Dennis Hopper later told David Letterman, “I tried it and I sounded a little like Donald Duck.” So, he talked to Lynch and they decided to choose a substance that wouldn’t be voice-altering. The gas isn’t mentioned by name in the film, but Hopper told Lynch that when he read the script, he imagined the substance as amyl nitrate because that is a disorienting drug, unlike helium.’ — mental floss
Alex Cox Straight to Hell (1987)
‘Written in three days, shot in three weeks and widely loathed on release, the film now reveals what might best be described as a wilful sloppiness. But it’s hard not to be charmed by the freewheeling energy and genuine oddball sensibility (for all the bloodshed, the closest thing to foul language is an invitation to “go boil yer ‘ead”), while Strummer in particular is unexpectedly great. The result is, if nothing else, an interesting halfway house between the sardonic glee of Repo Man and the Central American odysseys of Walker and Highway Patrolman, three films that provide the bulk of their director’s finest moments.’ — The Guardian
Sean Penn The Indian Runner (1991)
‘The Indian Runner, Sean Penn’s debut film as director (he also wrote the script, based on the Bruce Springsteen song “Highway Patrolman”) is a brooding tale of two brothers — one peaceful and sedate, the other violent and aggressive — whose natures, left unchecked since they were children, are set to the boiling point as they head toward middle-age. David Morse is the quiet brother, Joe Roberts, who is a deputy sheriff in a small town. His older brother Frank (Viggo Mortensen) shows up on Joe’s doorsteps, after a recent run-in with the police. Frank tells Joe that he is coming back home to stay and that he has given up his criminal life. His wife Maria (Valeria Golino) is skeptical, but Joe tells her that he is prepared to help Frank get his life back together. Frank has almost convinced himself that his future holds real promise and he’s ready to start a new life with his pregnant girlfriend Dorothy (Patricia Arquette). But, once again, Frank’s violent temper explodes, and everyone’s plans for Frank’s future crumble into rubble.’ — rt
Tony Scott True Romance (1993)
‘Tony Scott’s True Romance finds Vincenzo Coccotti (Christopher Walken) interrogating Clifford Worley (Dennis Hopper) about the…well, to tell would to be disprove the theory. Worley’s acceptance of his fate at the hands of ice-cool Coccotti leads him to push for one final hoorah. Using Coccotti’s racial prejudice and ignorance against him, the reveal of his ancestral heritage is a “your mum” insult that hits hard for the Sicilian. So skilful is Walken’s performance that for a moment, even if only briefly, there’s a glimmer of hope for Hopper’s character. With a script so sharp you could slice a cop’s ear off a natural, convincing performance from Hopper, this scene more than steals the movie: it shoots up the place, steals its girl and goes on the run with its suitcase full of coke. What more do you need to know?’ — flick feast
Kevin Reynolds Waterworld (1995)
‘The most expensive film ever made at the time, Waterworld was released to mixed reviews, praising the futuristic setting and premise but criticizing the characterization and acting performances. The film also was unable to recoup its massive budget at the box office; however, the film did later become profitable due to video and other post-cinema sales. The film was also nominated for an Academy Award in the category Best Sound at the 68th Academy Awards.’ — Wikipedia
Julian Schnabel Basquiat (1996)
‘Jim Jarmusch has long been fixture of the New York City art and music scene, so you won’t be surprised to learn that he knew Basquiat. However, he has some very personal reasons why, to this day, he’s never watched Schnabel’s film. “I refuse to see that film. I knew Jean-Michel and he was not friends with Julian. I like Julian very much, he’s a very generous guy, even if he is an egotistical character,” he told THR. “And his films… ‘The Diving Bell and the Butterfly‘ is one of the masterworks of recent cinema. Once a year, he’ll ask me, ‘So are you ever going to see Basquiat?’ And I’d say, ‘Never.’ I refused to talk to Schnabel about Jean-Michel when he was making the film. But Jean-Michel was not a fan of Schnabel as a person back then. And I would not betray him in that way. I’ve seen a few clips, though, and Jeffrey Wright is f—in’ amazing in it.”’ — indiewire
Alison Maclean Jesus’ Son (1999)
‘JESUS’ SON is the intense, edgy, often hilarious story of a young man’s circuitous journey from drug dependency and petty crime to a life redeemed by this startling discovery of compassion. The story is set in the drug subculture of the 1970’s, and it’s protagonist — a young man in his twenties — careens through his days getting stoned, stealing, or scamming a quick buck. Through it all, he tries to make sense of the mutually destructive passion he shares with a beautiful woman named Michelle. He is also driven by an overwhelming desire to help those around him, so save them from their often-sorry fates, but he repeatedly fails.’ — rt
George A. Romero Land of the Dead (2005)
‘It is tempting, and enjoyable, to read this movie as a comment on race and class in America: the zombies are leading a kind of unending, futile spartacist uprising against the Wasp rulers in their shopping malls and thousand-dollar suits. On the other hand, the zombies could be a comment on undead America – the cultureless, valueless service-economy drones in their trailer parks and project housing. Satire is admittedly a little undermined by some semi-intentional hilarities of script and performance. Asia Argento is always on the verge of woodenness and it is a dodgy moment when Hopper has to whack an associate, after farcically distracting him by shouting “Look over there!” – and then sorrowfully realises that he didn’t have to kill the poor fellow after all. Romero’s zombies still have a spring in their shambling step though; there’s life in the old corpse yet.’ — The Guardian
Isabel Coixet Elegy (2008)
‘Despite the initial identification with Gandhi, the shaven-headed Kingsley has always carried more than a hint of menace, and this has been fully exploited when he’s played gangsters, psychopaths and hitmen. One wonders what this picture would have been like with an actor less coiled and potentially explosive. But Kingsley conveys very well Kepesh’s air of intellectual superiority and slightly smug intelligence, while remaining sufficiently sad and human to retain our sympathy. There’s real tenderness in the erotic scenes with Cruz, and the interludes with Clarkson are beautifully handled. Those with Hopper are perfunctory, though the film’s highlights include Hopper’s deathbed sequence. So this is an enjoyable, often moving and generally well-considered film, though (as with Updike) the novelist’s precise tone inevitably eludes the film-maker.’ — The Guardian
Orson Welles The Other Side of the Wind (2018)
‘The Other Side of the Wind really looks more like an experimental American movie of that time. It resembles The Last Movie by Dennis Hopper (who has a cameo here) or the early, scrappy pictures of Brian De Palma: Hi Mom! and Greetings. It is a vivid snapshot of a turbulent zeitgeist, the ordeal of making a film independently, the agony of feeling oneself obsolete. Watching The Other Side of the Wind, I found myself thinking of the final scene in David Niven’s Hollywood memoir, The Moon’s A Balloon, in which he remembers turning up to a trendy Hollywood party and being harangued by a aggressive hippy-ish guy for being irrelevant, but then told he could atone for his sins by coming up with some “heavy bread” for this man’s new film company. Niven seraphically accepts that his time is up. But Welles is angry: rage and frustration punch holes in this film.’ — Peter Bradshaw
p.s. Hey. ** JM, Hi, man. New Zealand has this and this, but I don’t know anything about them. I’ve found most of the experiential, theatre-like haunts that I’ve been to pretty unsatisfying, although their ambitions are quite admirable albeit more interesting in concept. I’m going to hit a couple of them in LA. I’m good, thanks, and you? Look forward to seeing you again whenever that is. ** Misanthrope, Hi, G. Oh, you’re absolutely right that I met Sailor. I was in a spacing out mini-phase yesterday morning. What a non-stop superstar crowd that was, man, and I’m obviously really happy to hear that you all liked ‘Crowd’. What were the odds of that? Continue the amazingness. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. They never frighten me. I’m more of a scholar. I’ve seen ‘Le Livre des Images’ and think it’s amazing and great. This will be my first time seeing it projected. The big event, which is co-curated by Godard, features all kinds of screenings, an exhibition, installations, videos and things to do with his work. I hear it’s incredible, and I’ll find out in a mere few hours. ** KK, Hi, K. You probably know this, but Austin also has Scream Hollow, Scare for a Cure, Terror on Two Jacks, and Haunted Halloween Trails. Busy week, eh? Very cool about the Ricard book. ‘Rene Ricard 1979 – 1980’ is my favourite of his books, and it was recently republished. Very good poet, and also probably the most evil person I’ve ever known in my life. Tip top weekend to you! ** Quinn R, Hi, Quinn. Very nice to see you. Well, I’ll be in LA for Halloween and the time leading up to it. Halloween itself, no plans. It seems like a bit of a dud when you’re a child-free adult and now that trick-or-treating has become a shadow of its once riotous self, but I’ll be going to haunted houses every night through November 3rd, so there’ll be Halloweening galore. Horror movie? I haven’t seen the recent ones. Giallos are always good, Italian ones especially. Hm. I’ll have to think about specific recommendations. I see, about your writing issues. I think ‘career’ is a total bogeyman of an idea. It’s something that others project onto so-called successful people. ‘Careers’ happen by luck, accident, coincidence, and every writer’s trajectory is unique, and I don’t there’s a right or wrong way to succeed, and I don’t any valuable writer can calculate how and when and by what means their work becomes accepted. No, I never thought about that in relation to other writers or myself. I never compared myself to other writers. I didn’t publish my first novel until I was in my late 30s because I wasn’t ready and good enough until then. My interest was always into trying to understand my own talent and maxing it out and trying to do something unique. If you look through lit. history, the work that matters long term is work that is unique no matter how quirky or offbeat or unusual it is. So I think you basically just have to believe in yourself and find exactly what you love to do and want to do and do everything possible to simultaneously not compromise your work while considering what constitutes reading pleasure, negotiating that area and not juxtaposing what you do with what anyone else does. Otherwise, you get infected by fear, and fear is obviously nothing but an enemy. Something like that, if that makes sense? Good to talk with you. See you soon, I hope! ** Sypha, That is clear: your excellent memory. I have no idea how many films I’ve seen. A ton, I guess? Weird to think about that. ** _Black_Acrylic, Those image challenge makeovers are cool. Ha. The UK has a scatter of haunted house attractions, but they’re mostly in theme parks rather than the do-it-yourself kind. Totally, if some enterprising person, or, I guess, persons, really went for it and made a great independent haunted house, it would be a big hit and a total money maker. It’s a golden goose just waiting for a doer with the imagination and resources. Same here in France. ** Steve Erickson, Hi. Right, not new, newest. He is supposedly making a film about the Yellow Vest movement, but I don’t know anything about it. I made a Damon Packard Day. It was pretty easy. It’ll pop up here in early November when I’m back from my Halloween blog vacation. ** FlamingHotKeatos, Ha, not bad, the name drop. Rococo, right. Makes sense, yeah. I guess the French can opulent. Versailles and all that. Or used to be. Yes, do say hi from an admirer from afar. Florida has a fair amount of haunted house attractions, and not bad looking ones either. Tell me what you find if you find. ** Right. I thought the blog should do its ‘Day’ thing about Dennis Hopper. Makes sense, right? Have at it? See you tomorrow.