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Tony Grist

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Dennis Hopper [May. 31st, 2010|09:51 pm]
Tony Grist
Dennis Hopper wasn't my generation; he was the generation before- fifteen years older than me, in fact- but it felt like he was my generation because of his being such a goddam hippy. Whenever and wherever the goddam hippies are discussed his name is likely to come up sooner or later (a) because of his heroically gonzo lifestyle and (b) because of that goddam movie.

I didn't like Easy Rider. Only within the context of the Hollywood studio system could it be seen as in any way revolutionary. We Europeans had been making movies like that- on the hoof, with small crews, with molto improvisation- for ages- mainly because we didn't have any money. Its importance is that it opened Hollywood up to a new generation- and a new- more European- style of film making. 

It's not a particularly good movie- but its a brave one- and you couldn't write the history of the American cinema without nodding in its direction.

I haven't seen any of his other movies as director. I gather they're OK.

As an actor he appeared in a very large number of very good movies- almost always in supporting roles. You'll be watching an old John Wayne movie of the kind that gets shown on weekend afternoons and a very young, scruffy, wild eyed dude will shuffle on screen and give the Duke some lip- and it'll suddenly hit you, "Oh my God, that's Dennis Hopper!" He was always an egomaniac- known for defying directors and displaying artistic temperament even though he was only playing third bad man from the left- in spite of which he kept getting hired-  because- even though they only wanted him as third bad man from the left- he could be counted on to bring bags of moody charisma to the role. He was in Rebel Without a Cause, he was in Giant, he was in True Grit, he was in Apocalypse Now. By the end of his life he'd notched up a number of indelible performances- most notably as Frank Booth in Blue Velvet. He wasn't a great actor, but in the right role under the right director he could be sensational.

He was also an artist, a photographer and an art collector.

Finally there's the legend. The drugs, the booze, the tantrums, the stunts. I don't know how much of it just happened, how much of it was carefully constructed or even how much of it is true, but it's the legend- even more than the work- that makes him the towering cultural figure that he is. He was insanely ambitious, single-minded, self-destructive and strong-willed-  an awful warning and a shining light- and against all the odds he died- at a respectable age- in his bed.

It was a helluva life- and I think we'll be talking about it-  trying to make some sense of it- for a very long time to come. 
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Comments:
From: mamadar
2010-05-31 09:16 pm (UTC)
I remember Hopper chiefly from Speed--which is not a bad movie, at least the first time you see it--and from WaterWorld, which everyone hated but which I, as a sci fi fan, thought was a decent flick. Hopper got to ride around on motorcycles and chew scenery in a mad post-apocalyptic setting, so what could be better?
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-05-31 10:42 pm (UTC)
I haven't seen Speed.

Waterworld was spoiled for me by Kevin Costner's self-love. That man is so vain! But Hopper was fine in it- and I loved the art direction.
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[User Picture]From: michaleen
2010-06-01 02:26 pm (UTC)
What a jewel of a performance he gave in True Grit, I thought.

I suspect it is telling that I have never seen Easy Rider. I am a full generation younger than Hopper, with you sitting about half-way between us.

For me, his most memorable performance will always be Apocalypse Now, not so much because of him as because I was only sixteen and saw the film in the theater. I was probably scarred for life.


Thanks for such a thoughtful obituary. Yours was much better than the BBC's.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-06-01 02:50 pm (UTC)
Thank you.

He was always good value as an actor. Apparently he's brilliant in The American Friend- which I haven't seen.
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[User Picture]From: petercampbell
2010-06-01 05:27 pm (UTC)
I saw East Rider for the first and only time as a teenager, and even then it seemed quaintly dated.

His performance in Blue Velvet, on the other hand, is astounding. How much of that is Lynch's input, I don't know, but it the role he'll ultimately be remembered for, I think
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-06-02 07:08 pm (UTC)
Easy Rider survives as a period piece, I think.

Lynch wrote the role of Frank Booth- and Hopper jumped on it. I suspect it would have been a memorable role whoever played it- but clearly it fitted Hopper like a glove.
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