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May 31, 2010


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Cam Moneo

I've been very blue all day about Hopper's passing. He was an amazing actor, a frequently brilliant director, a fine painter and photographer - a consummate artist.

I recently read Elena Rodriguez's biography of him. So many crazy stories. One choice anecdote: While living in Taos, New Mexico during the editing of The Last Movie, Hopper established a commune there populated with assorted friends and followers. This drew the ire of locals who terrorized the "hippie scum," even raping the women according to Hopper--all with the complicity of the local police. Deciding something must be done, Hopper and his brother David bought up all the guns in the city; strapping themselves with a few pistols hidden under ponchos, they then stormed into a high school assembly and announced to the crowd that they were "macho" motherfuckers and not to be messed with--brandishing their hidden weapons from under their ponchos to prove it. Apparently, the locals didn't screw with them after that.

Then there was the time in the early eighties when Hopper, strung out on speedballs and alcohol, pulled a knife on one of the "heads of the Texas Mafia" in a parking lot in Houston, demanding to know if the Mafia had put a contract out on him (why he thought this is anybody's guess). It will be said a thousand times in the next few days, but it was really something of a miracle that Hopper survived to see sobriety.

Then there were his films. For his career in the 70s and 80s, I'm convinced that he's a genius. Out of the Blue is an out-and-out masterpiece, proof of his remarkably poetic talents as a director. On the other hand, I did watch parts of Easy Rider today and was struck more than ever by its rather lame and obvious symbolism (like Fonda throwing away his watch before they depart on their bikes). It is an undeniably beautiful film, however, and one I still find very moving.

Anyway, I could go on. Thanks for the post Glenn, and thanks for singling out his superlative performance in The American Friend. Truly one of Hopper's best.

Lance McCallion

Glen! I'm thrilled you decided to highlight his role in The American Friend. I've been thinking all day how underappreciated or at least underseen his role in that film is (not to speak of the film itself, one of my favorite from Wender). It's probably the most fully embodied and beautiful portrayals Hopper ever put to screen.

Tim Lucas

The bit of Fonda throwing away his watch in EASY RIDER is an hommage to Roger Corman, who almost produced it. In one of his movies, a protagonist does the same thing at the outset. I'm blanking on it, but it may be Jack Nicholson in THE TERROR who casts away his pocket watch.

Stephen Whitty

A totally screwed-up and often horrendous human, and a fascinating actor.

BTW, I remember hearing from a friend-of-a-friend 30-odd years ago about Hopper showing up on "Apocalypse Now" not only not knowing his lines, but being completely incapable of learning any.

"Just think of T.S. Eliot," advised Coppola.

Which might explain why, for no particular reason, Hopper's introduction is accompanied by a blurted "I should have been a pair of ragged claws, man..." or something like that.

Such an interesting performer. I still marvel over the subtext of "Giant," which proffers him as the progeny of Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor...

Cam Moneo

Tim, in that case the watch-throwing bit is both a lame symbol and a very cool hommage. Thanks for that bit of info!


We put on OUT OF THE BLUE at the store today. I'll have to check that one out someday; looks very unusual.

I'm not a fan of ELEGY, but I agree with you Glenn about Hopper in it; he's the best thing about it, and the only one who tries to play his character as more than a symbol (course, he was familiar with the story, having played Ben Kingsley's role in Bruno Barreto's sincere but misguided CARRIED AWAY). As far as more subtle performances go, I also liked him in his small role in BASQUIAT, and as for the fun over-the-top movies, people will of course bring up things like TRUE ROMANCE, but what about his villain turn in RED ROCK WEST? And while Marlon Brando deservedly received a lot of praise for his tongue-in-cheek riff on Don Corleone in THE FRESHMAN, Hopper actually got their first in FLASHBACK, playing a former 60's radical on the run from the FBI. It's one of the more underrated comedies of the 90's. R.I.P.

Fuzzy Bastard

I was never an OUT OF THE BLUE fan (oy, that ending!). But THE LAST MOVIE is a goddamn masterpiece, and it breaks my heart that he died before Criterion could issue it with J. Hoberman's terrific essay, and all the critics could finally notice that it's one of the only Godard-influenced American films to achieve actual greatness.


I happened to dvr Mad Dog Morgan off IFC many weeks ago, had started to watch it and turned it off because the quality was so bad, but am glad I saved it for today's sad occasion to pay a bit of homage to the Great Mr. Hopper. I had never seen it - never even heard of it frankly - and it is a pretty damned great movie, with Hopper in his element, sporting a remarkably good Irish Brogue no less, and joining forces with the always impressive David Gulpilil as 19th century highway cons in the Land of OZ. It really was a fitting toast to Hopper in all his dysfunctional and unpredictable glory, while representing his incredible diversity despite the one-note reputation garnered by Blue Velvet, Paris Trout, etc. He was so much more than a psycho. With any luck, his passing will get some of his less known work like Mad Dog Morgan some long overdo attention - and in the case of this particular film, a watchable DVD. Apparently it's a 1.66 crop of a zoomed Pan and Scan version of the original 2.35 presentation. A travesty.

R.I.P. Dennis....you will most definitely be missed.


"He'll never bring The Beatles back to Hamburg"

Dennis Hopper, God bless you. Rest in peace.


I'm glad a couple people have mentioned Out of the Blue already, I don't think its influence (however subtle) has received nearly enough attention or credit. You can see so much of it in films from the mid-80's to the mid-90's, and things like River's Edge or the work of Larry Clark comes off pretty weak by comparison. Fantastic shit. And of course, Linda Manz.

Chuck Stephens

And his bass-playing with Soft Machine: truly out of sight.

Boy, am I glad FuzzyNutsack is finally be able to hip the rest of the world to THE LAST MOVIE.

Stephen Bowie

I see that a longish comment seems to have been eaten (perhaps I transposed a digit while typing the "y4ntym"), so in case it doesn't reappear ... in substance, I recommended the Australian DVD of MAD DOG MORGAN to Brad and everybody else, as it is uncut and in the proper aspect ratio, and reveals the film as the revisionist-western masterpiece it is. Hopper is on fire, and his technical mastery of an Irish accent is not something I expected. Even though Hopper's is a pretty controlled performance, Philippe Mora offers in the DVD extras plenty of deadpan anecdotes involving Hopper's on-set insanity, which among other things made the Australian authorities rather eager to see him leave the country.

I also dig OUT OF THE BLUE, including the ending, which seems like a sincere (if clumsy) effort at a sort of punk/anarchist attitude that's rare in American films, even of that era. I'd like to know how much of it is actually Hopper's, since he replaced the original director (a Canadian who never directed another feature, if memory serves).

Other great Hopper performances: in Jaglom's TRACKS and the above-mentioned CARRIED AWAY.

Tom Russell

"Boy, am I glad FuzzyNutsack is finally be able to hip the rest of the world to THE LAST MOVIE."

Boy, am I glad that Chuck Stephens is here to act like an asshat.

Seriously, dude, what's your problem? He's expressing an opinion about a film-- a film that, yes, *is* not terribly well-regarded, a film that was very personal to the recently-departed actor that Glenn's post and the ensuing comments thread are trying in some way to honour-- and somehow, that warrants that level of snark?

Chuck Stephens

And now I'm so glad that Tom Russell is here because the Nutsack needs a nanny.

My problem is only that Nutsack is so eager to go mano-a-"all the critics" on THE LAST MOVIE, as if he and he alone had just discovered the film, forged an astonishing new appreciation of it, and in his dreams of fuzzy glory has taken over Criterion's releasing schedule and package editing to promote it to his own satisfaction and vindication. And to think, all it took was Dennis Hopper's death for Nutsack to climb up on his tiny mountain of personal soil and crow about his clear-eyed vision of cinema.

He wasn't celebrating Hopper (p.s. OUT OF THE BLUE sucks because Nutsack doesn't get it): he was making yet another drooling stab at his own vainglory, and failing hilariously...even as you rush to his aid with a fresh drool-cup in hand.

Surprise, some of "all the critics" actually have seen a few films, and don't need the death of a major filmmaker to come out trumpeting about it.

Fuzzy Bastard

Oh geez no---no, I most certainly didn't discover it all alone. I only discovered THE LAST MOVIE when J. Hoberman's terrific exegisis opened my eyes, so no claims to my own brilliance here.

As for its desired rerelease: THE LAST MOVIE is pretty well-established as a hugely important, personal film for Hopper (as you can see in AMERICAN DREAMER). And it was such a flop it more or less destroyed him for a decade---he obviously had addiction issues before that, but it seems like the disastrous reception of his an ambitious film was a factor. But its recent run at the Anthology Film Archives was pretty successful, and I just think it's a shame that Hopper died before it could be more widely rediscovered---would have been very satisfying for him, I imagine.

Chuck Stephens

Thank you Fuzz: had you said it that way in the first place, I wouldn't have piped up, and Tom R wouldn't have his Pampers in a twist about it right now.

The last time I saw THE LAST MOVIE projected was at FILM FORUM back in the 80s, just prior to the occasion for which JH wrote that essay. I believe the print used then was Hopper's own, so he was aware of the respect and acclaim it had in certain circles.

(THE LAST MOVIE was double-billed at that engagement with AMERICAN DREAMER, in the same crummy gone-pink print from which bootleg dupes still circulate today.)


I dimly recall--and it's very dim, being forty years back--Hopper coming to the U of Wisconsin-Madison and showing an early version of THE LAST MOVIE. I wasn't able to see the film (probably went to a class or something silly like that instead), but I went to a conversation he held with students afterward. Some of them were berating him, I thought quite viciously, for his movie not being political enough, or political enough in the right way for them. I was very young and hadn't seen the film (still haven't), so I didn't really grasp the issue, but I remember feeling bad for Hopper, especially when I saw that he seemed to be genuinely hurt by the comments. I wanted to say, Hey, don't listen to these assholes! But of course I didn't. And I think he really did care what they thought.

Adam R.

Why does every single film blog comments section have to turn into insane dick measuring about who was hip to X's unheralded masterpiece first, and which clueless critic/commenter will never appreciate Y's vision? Mr. Stephens, we all bow to your girth, your ground-scraping member and your haughty swagger, but every time I've come across your name at the bottom of a comment on this blog, the above words have positively vibrated with unearned snark. What the fuck is wrong with some of you people - why the endless putdowns, the twittering and sneering, the me-first school of film crit cool? It's like a parody of cinephilia, a cruelly inverted take on something that should, fundamentally, be guided by love and enthusiasm.


I saw THE LAST MOVIE about two years ago in a really nice looking 35 mm print at the Cinefamily in LA. Hopper was on hand to answer questions after the screening, and he was quiet and soft spoken, almost shy. He seemed not to be able to relate to the film more at this point in his life. THE LAST MOVIE itself is easily one of the hardest sits I've ever had to endure, clearly the work of a man not operating on any sort plane of functioning rationality. Sometimes in the past I had a tendency to romanticize artists with mental illness or a drug addiction or whatnot. THE LAST MOVIE cured me of that.

Oh, I did get to chat with Hopper briefly as we both waited in line for the men's. I shook his hand and told him how much I admired his work. He accepted my hand and was polite and respectful but that was it; he had been shaking a lot of hands that night.

Pete Segall

Hopper showed up in one of the better hour-long Twilight Zones called, if my brain still works, "He's Alive," with Hopper playing a street corner neo-Nazi who finds a muse in the titular He, Hitler. It's interesting to see a very early riff on the unhingedness that Hopper would make a cottage industry out of, but what I remember most about the episode is the beginning of Rod Serling's narration: "Portrait of a bush-league fuhrer..."

Chuck Stephens

Adam R, I think I was pretty clear about my specific disgruntlement with what FB said, and he responded to it.

Exactly which aspect of "cinephilia" was your post meant to guild with "love and enthusiasm"?

Sounded a whole lot like yet another: "Oh, that Stephens, he exemplifies everything I hate about 'film blog comments section(s)', not that I have a single interesting or substantive thing to add to the discussion myself."

Glenn Kenny

Just to chime in here on tone: I'm fairly happy with the fact that the comments threads on this blog are, more often than not, relatively civil. Yeah, there's some bile and even some name-calling once in a while, but things rarely if ever get out of control to the extent that you'd see elsewhere—on a lot of political blogs and, yes, on some movie-enthusiast sites/blogs.

I know that Mr. Stephens can come off as kind of what some might call unduly feisty at times, and I've had pretty intense arguments with him in the past myself, but I've always found he's always got a genuinely substantive point that some may find obscured by his demeanor. Cinephilia is about love and enthusiasm, sure, but it's also about argument. I've rarely seen an argument get so heated here that I've had to "moderate" it too much, or come in and delete comments or what have you.

That said, back to Hopper. One of my favorite parts of "The Last Movie" is when Julie Adams turns up, and for all the world her whole demeanor is pretty much "What the hell am I doing here?" To see the starlet who aroused the mammal in the Creature From The Black Lagoon in this particular context is almost as unnerving as seeing Molly Ringwald in Godard's "King Lear."

Chuck Stephens

Thanks Glenn, you've shriveled my snark-hose right down to furl-able size.

How about a little love for the eternally underrated Don Gordon, who plays mortified Abbott to Hopper's hophead Costello in both THE LAST MOVIE and OUT OF THE BLUE?

And speaking of OUT OF THE BLUE (detractors, look again: BLUE VELVET is unthinkable without it): not since GODZILLA has Raymond Burr been used to such, uhm, cinephilic effect!

Panties in a Knot (yup, you nailed me!)

I'm sorry, but occasional insights aside, Chuck Stephens is a hate letter to humanity. Every time I stumble upon his comment-section sniping I feel like I've stepped in rhetorical dog shit. I like many of the essays he's written for Film Comment (stuff on early Apichatpong especially) but this dude makes Armond White seem as supportive as a summer camp counselor. If you don't have anything nice to say, Chuck, then just shut up.

Chuck Stephens

Another cineaste afraid of her own name, disappointed by my lack of support. Deary me.

Fuzzy Bastarrd

Okay, this I gotta hear---how is BLUE VELVET unthinkable without OUT OF THE BLUE?

Glenn Kenny

OK, while the last thing I want is for this thread to turn into a debate on the relative merits of C.S.'s rhetorical practice, I have to admit that the phrase "makes Armond White seem as supportive as a summer camp counselor" made me chortle. But say what you will about C.S.'s lack of supportiveness, unlike A.W. he's scrupulous about getting his facts straight. He's also a curmudgeon as opposed to a lunatic.

Again, though; moving right along: Yes, Don Gordon, who also appears in "Out of the Blue," is an exemplary foil. The cast of "Last Movie" would be a notable one in any context—other members include Sylvia Miles and Tomas Milian—but they're a particular kick to watch in such a resolutely radical context.

Panties in a Knot (yup, you nailed me!)

My name is Amy Brand, I work in the provost office of a Boston university, and I approve this message: get a life, Chuck.

FYI, I have no intention of getting into a back-and-forth with you, so don't expect me to reply to your next round of nastiness. No doubt you'll probably take my silence as proof that you've "won." I hope those Pyrrhic victories may you feel a little less miserable.

Chuck Stephens

FB: I'd start with the image of Hopper stuffing Linda Manz's blue nightgown into his mouth while sexually terrorizing her, and start counting the correspondences from there. I haven't seen OUT OF THE BLUE in many years, so I guess it's time to unwrap the .99 cent copy I got at the grocery stuff last year and enjoy anew.

Fuzzy Bastarrd

Does Hopper do any gown-munching in OotB? I don't recall, although that final scene is so badly lit and indifferently shot that maybe it happened and I missed it. I had just taken the nightgown bit as more of Lynch's fabric-fetish (which I don't mean at all negatively---the obsessive care with which he plans his films' drapery is part of their whole obsessive-compulsive gestalt), rather than a reference (and find it hard to imagine Lynch referencing a movie made after about 1964 anyway). Still a ways from "unthinkable".

Honestly, I'd be really interested to read a solid defense of OUT OF THE BLUE---given my love for THE LAST MOVIE, I'd be delighted to have a reason to regard OotB as something other than messily lit, sub-hackishly shot (so... many... medium masters), and sloppily scripted (in contrast to TLM, with its intricate connections from first to last, everything in OotB seems to come out of nowhere and is never brought up again, except for the "punk" dialogue, which is just embarassing). Hell, maybe the cheapo DVD I have was such a terrible print that someone could post screencaps proving the real movie looks much better!

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