Saturday, May 29, 2010


Shit, fuck, goddamn motherfucker!  I don't like this fucking news at all.  In his irreverent honor I'm going to write the most obnoxious blog entry of a eulogy for the craziest bastardo to ever grace the silver screen.  I loved Dennis Hopper the actor.  And the director.  Who cares about the crazy unwatchable shit he made.  If all he ever made was Easy Rider, he's a greater filmmaker than Orson Welles, the other misunderstood great-actor-turned-one-hit-wonder-helmer.  I think Easy Rider is a masterpiece not only for its craft but for its cultural significance.  The film defines the American New Wave, or New Hollywood as it is also known, that brief period of beautiful films financed by the studios in the late 60s and early 70s.  All those gritty little films that reflected the cultural revolution of that time - Midnight Cowboy, Two Lane Blacktop, Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate, Fat City, McCabe and Mrs Miller, Dog Day Afternoon, Badlands,  The Last Picture Show, Five Easy Pieces ...  I could go on and on and on.  Basically almost all of my favorite American films were made between 1965 and 1975.  Until Speilberg and Lucas came along and created the blockbuster epidemic that along with video destroyed the hope of seeing very many gritty personal films in a theater near you.  It's over and that sucks, but I am sure glad I got to be a part of it however young I may have been.
Dennis Hopper the man seems like a total nut job.  I'm not really that turned on by his kookiness and dysfunction in life.  But where he was able to channel it and focus long enough to act in or direct a film, I've always been a big fan. 
When I was eight and nine, my mom was married to an outlaw biker.  It was a dark time in my life in many ways.  Of course it was also a very vibrant time as well.  Kind of like surviving a war.  Everything is pretty vivid in my memory.  My step-dad was a huge Easy Rider fan.  This was just before VCRs.  Yet somehow we managed to see it on tv a few times.  We had the soundtrack album.  My stepfather had Harley wings patches and stickers on everything - his truck, his jackets, his lunchbox and thermos (he was an ironworker).  I remember the time he took me to a Harley shop and said I could get a patch for my jeans jacket.  I chose this one:
It was more Peter Fonda/Wyatt/Captain America than Dennis Hopper/Billy.  My stepfather was a little disappointed I could tell.  That period of my life was not something I was eager to celebrate for a long, long time.  When I started getting into filmmaking, I finally revisited Easy Rider.  First through the cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs.  The Hungarian really saw America as it was at that time and captured it beautifully.  As I watched the film several times, I came to appreciate how masterful it really is.  Initially Kovacs didn't want to do the project, but Hopper pestered him until he did.  Hopper knew what he was doing, even though he was whacked out through much of its filming.  The Mardi Gras and the graveyard funeral march scenes were shot months before principal photography with a 16mm camera like the Arri S in the photo above.  They had dropped acid and were just shooting some tests while scouting and writing the script.  Even if the film was a result of accidental and incidental factors, it doesn't take away from Hopper's vision. Like I said, he knew what he was doing.
In high school World Lit we studied Apocalypse Now in relation to Conrad and  Yeats and the other books on Kurtz's nightstand like The Golden Bough.  Our teacher was fresh out of Brown and a devotee to the 60s and 70s.  We read all sorts of the new Vietnam war literature that was coming out.  It was not a traditional high school class.  The teacher lives in SE Portland and I run into him from time to time.  We have interesting conversations and I thank him for that class.  Anyway we watched Apocalypse Now frontwards and backwards.  We wrote papers on it, comparing it to Conrad.  I loved the film and still do.  I seem to recall finding Dennis Hopper distracting and annoying back then, preferring Willard and Kurtz and the other guys on the boat.  But later on, Hopper became one of my favorite characters in the film.
When I came home from being in the Army in Germany in the mid-80s, one of the first films I saw was Blue Velvet.  Hopper was frighteningly present and bold.  His performance was far more chilling than any of the visual shenanigans.  He alone makes me love and fear that film.  I have an aversion to watching it because Frank Booth is so god damned disturbing.
Through his work, Dennis Hopper will always be with us for better and for worse.  That sort of immortality is what many of us long for.  He definitely earned it.  Rest in peace, you crazy fucking cocksucker.

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