Film

Dennis Hopper: He Made Our World More Weird and Wonderful

More importantly, he got more from life than it ultimately took from him. And we certainly got more out of this weird, wonderful man than we had any right to expect.

So cancer finally succeeded in cutting short the odd and inimitable life of Dennis Hopper. That is a shame, of course, although we would probably be wise to give thanks that he managed to stick around as long as he did. He danced with the devil so often they were on a first name basis. And if Thoreau was wise to encourage us all to suck the marrow out of life, Hopper sucked, slurped and occasionally mainlined it. I'd like to think you could cut him open and a good chunk of 20th Century DNA would come oozing out. He may have had a few more battles in him, but no one can deny he left it all out on the proverbial field.

To acknowledge his eccentric and very original brand of genius, I'm inclined to leave the biographical nitty gritty (important as it is) to others and celebrate a handful of scenes that helped make our world a more real, and less predictable place.

First up, a one-two punch from the controversial (and influential), Blue Velvet (more on the movie, and David Lynch, here: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/post/the-david-lynch-dilemma), which nicely illustrate what made Hopper so singular and, at times, untouchable. Exhibit A is that Top of the world, ma celebration of perverted depravity, one of the more genuinely scary and disturbing moments in all cinema. Exhibit B is the brief, beautiful shout-out to that most American of beers. No actor but Dennis Hopper could have pulled off either scene with similar success.



Then, of course, there is Easy Rider. It was iconic and of its time (boy was it of its time), and laid a foundation that several other writers and directors (and actors) improved upon. The acting of the two leads, well, the motorcycle scenes are cool. In fairness, it may be that Hopper (and, to a lesser extent, Fonda) were not playing roles so much as projecting themselves. And then there is Jack Nicholson. Even if this movie served merely as the delivery device to bring Big Jack into the mainstream (and let me be clear, it remains much more than that), it certainly served its humble purpose. Speaking of Jack...let's appreciate him doing that thing he did, arguably without peer, for at least another decade:


It quite possibly says more about me than the movie, but one of the handful of scenes (sans Nicholas) I can stomach watching happens to be the scene where Hopper dies. And no, I'm not saying that the acting is so bad that seeing him get shot is a relief; I'm talking about how effective and unsettling this abrupt ending is (and I can appreciate how unprecedented it was in 1969). Full credit to Hopper, who directed, and help write, this material. There is no denying the impact it had (good, bad and definitely ugly) on film-making in America and on America, period.


And then, obviously, there is the unforgettable role in Apocalypse Now that begged questions about life imitating art or, more likely, the exact opposite:


And finally, inevitably, his ultimate moment (from True Romance, a movie that, pound for pound, quite possibly features as many sublime scenes as any other made in the last two decades).

This scene, notorious for its, shall we say, frank discussion of racial relations, and hilarious for its rather unorthodox delineation of history, is one of the most-quoted of all contemporary films. For good reason, and full credit to Tarantino (who wrote it), Tony Scott (who directed it) and the bravura performances not only of Hopper but also the truly incomparable Christopher Walken. It also features the hulking presence of a then-unknown James Gandolfini.

The scene is certainly problematic (and no politically correct critic would want to touch it with a ten foot soap box), but more than the adults-imitating- schoolchildren one upmanship it sardonically presents, there is real acting going on here. It is to the considerable credit of all involved that this scene never degenerates into parody and is able to be hilarious and horrifying, often at the same time. There probably aren't too many examples of scenes in semi-recent cinema that so successfully skirt the switchblade's edge of tension and release. Hopper goes from scared to crafty, then understands he's screwed and decides to go out with a bang (literally). The moment he realizes he is a dead man, you can almost feel him resignedly saying "fuck it" as he decides to have a cigarette, after all. And when he lets out the mirthful little laugh (a very Hopperesque touch), you get the chance to savor him saying "fuck you" to the men who are about to murder him.

The scene is uncomfortable and amusing in equal measure (well, in all honesty, it's probably a hell of a lot funnier than anything else), but mostly a tour de force on every conceivable level. It just might represent Hopper's finest work.


Dennis Hopper came close to death so many times he may have figured he was never going to actually die. But he eventually found out what all of us will discover sooner or later. And all this proves is that we are human. More importantly, he got more from life than it ultimately took from him. And we certainly got more out of this weird, wonderful man than we had any right to expect.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image