03 June 2010

RIP, part two: Dennis Hopper

photo by Dennis Hopper

Yeah, I'm a little late on this one.

Here's my small offering to the conversation. A woman I directed, Kestrel, worked with Hopper on a tv series not too long ago. The series, "Crash," was nothing very special -- believe me -- a melodramatic serial riff on the not-so-great movie of the same name.  Kes played a slightly insane devotee of a Manson-like cult leader. Hopper's character confronts the psychopathic son of a bitch.
But here's the deal. Hopper took the director aside, and said we're missing something with these lines. Let me add something. See, I knew people who were killed by Manson -- let me use that.
The director agreed, and Hopper had a nice moment.

Now, as I said, Crash is pretty much a sequence of tripe. A lesser actor could've just accepted the lines as written or the scene as set up, hit the marks and collect the paycheck. Hopper himself could have coasted -- he's turned in so many extraordinary performances that he could just dial it in, and be content to relax with his Cohibas and art collection at day's end.
Instead, he's working -- hard -- on every line in the script, every scene in the series, always looking for ways to make it meaningful, better, more full of life.

In the public mind, I think he became a kind of caricature of two of his roles, Frank Booth and  the Hoosiers guy -- the wacko weirdo who'd done too many drugs and drifted off into lunacy.
But that was only and always an act.

Check him out in this interview from the Actor's Studio

He's completely lucid, eloquent and instructive about his main art, acting. I think is work as a director is underrated -- the Hot Spot is a terrific neo-noir with a perfectly cast Don Johnson as a sleazy drifter who you know would fuck your wife given half a chance -- along with a smoldering and very sexy Virginia Madsen. Colors, too, was a fine movie, maybe too earnest, but a way into dealing with the gang violence in LA.

I'm glad his photos are making it on to the Net.

Not to say he wasn't crazy -- if half the stories in Easy Riders, Raging Bulls are true . . . .whew. If he drank a tenth or did a fraction of the drugs,  he's some kind of superman to come through the other side.

But it's his acting that ruled over his other gifts. Frank Booth -- man, he was the perfect embodiment of every scary, shit-kicking redneck motherfucker, a true nightmare figure. He became David Lynch's small town mean ass sadist in the frightening flesh.

So, I salute you. I hope to see you on the other side, man.

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