[Bumped and updated.]
It was pretty widely known that Dennis Hopper had been terminally ill for some time; and for all that, I don't doubt there are those who are prone to speculate that his passing over this particular weekend was a final manifestation of his imp of the perverse, forcing bloggers and journalists and other media sorts who no doubt had other plans for their time out of their leisure and back to their work stations for at least a little while. I don't truck in that sort of thing, so you won't find me making any speculations of the sort.
I wrote an official Hopper-type obit for MSN Movies some months ago, and I imagine the actor's death has taken the folks over there somewhat unawares, or maybe they just felt my piece wasn't up to snuff; the Associated Press obit is all that's up there at the moment. I'll update with a link to the piece when it goes up. (Update, 6/1/10: And here it is.) In the meantime; well, of course everybody's going to talk about Blue Velvet, but boy, there are so many others, and the Hopper performance I find more resonant every years—"A little older, a little more confused," man, ain't that the truth!—is his Tom Ripley in Wim Wenders' The American Friend. What a stroke of genius, to play Highsmith's master sociopath as genuinely, thoroughly, poignantly, sad...to his very bone. But not pathetic or pathetique; still utterly lethal. The look in his eye after Bruno Ganz's Jonathan Zimmermann brushes him off with an "I've heard of you," and how that offhand remark seals poor Zimmermann's fate...that's both film acting at its best, and most nuanced, and directorial sensibility/sensitivity that knows just how to use such performing genius.The one problem with his being so fully identified with the Velvet madman Frank Booth is that the notoriety of the association didn't yield Hopper many subsequent roles in which he could be terribly subtle. Say what you will about Isabel Coixet's Elegy, but it was certainly one of the latter-day films in which Hopper wasn't being asked to play a cartoon, and he was clearly happy for the opportunity to stretch a bit. Other such opportunities came with films such as Alison McLean's 1999 Jesus' Son and my friends Brian Koppelman and David Levien's 2001 Knockaround Guys. And let's face it, some of the cartoons were a hell of a lot of fun; see Romero's 2005 Land of the Dead. That aged baby boomer he played in those financial planning commercials, though; that dude I wasn't too nuts about.
He lived a Hollywood career that really does earn the designation "legendary:" from old school to new school to what-the-fuck-school and back again. The crazy so-and-so went through a bazillion permutations of not compromising; if anyone ever earned a "Rest in Peace," he has.
UPDATE: My friend Joseph Failla recalls the early days of the revival of Hopper consciousness among metropolitan cinephiles:
I happened to find the actual Film Forum schedule from Dec '87 to Mar '88 which included their tribute to Dennis Hopper titled, OUT OF THE SIXTIES, which ran for three weeks in March (4-24) and that we attended. It included the New York premiere of DENNIS HOPPER: SOME KIND OF GENIUS, a 1987 documentary by Paul Joyce, basically a candid conversation with Hopper about "his Shakespearean training, his early idols, the acting technique he learned from James Dean and his history of conflict with the Hollywood establishment". This is where we heard about Hopper's confrontation with Henry Hathaway during the making of KATIE ELDER in which he suffered a breakdown. GENIUS was shown at least once a day throughout the series.
The line up was as follows...
March 4-5 Fri/Sat
EASY RIDER and a new 35 mm print of THE TRIP
March 6-7 Sun/Mon
THE LAST MOVIE (print courtesy Dennis Hopper) and THE AMERICAN DREAMER
March 8-9 Tues/Weds
KEY WITNESS [I do love that the Film Forum dug up this Phil Karlson gem—G.K.] and THE SONS OF KATIE ELDER
March 10-11 Thurs/Fri
THE AMERICAN FRIEND and REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE
March 12,13,14 Sat/Sun/Mon
OUT OF THE BLUE and BLUE VELVET
March 15 Tues
TRACKS and RIVER'S EDGE
March 16-17 Weds/Thurs
NIGHT TIDE, QUEEN OF BLOOD and HIGH AIR (a Screen Director's Playhouse television episode from 1955)
...and for one week, March 18-24, the New York premiere of Altman's O.C. AND STIGGS
I believe someone remarked as the lights came up at the end of THE LAST MOVIE, "Nice try, Dennis!" At the time most folks still held the film in complete contempt but very possibly, if there was to be any kind of turnaround on LAST MOVIE's reputation, this retrospective was as good a place as any to start, if only because no one had been able to see the darn thing in years. Hopper was enjoying a renewed popularity as BLUE VELVET was then a strong midnight attraction, and pairing it with his own OUT OF THE BLUE made for a very fitting, if extremely uncomfortable, double bill.