Monday, 31 May 2010

Dennis Hopper 1936 - 2010

After having read Alexander Walker's review of "Blue Velvet" for "The Evening Standard" in 1986 I was compelled to go and see David Lynch's praised surreal film about the underside of an American small town. It was not just Walker's reference to Lynch's obsession with the Bobby Vinton song of the same name but the description of the villain, Frank Booth, played by Dennis Hopper that persuaded me I had to see this distilled acting performances that was getting all the rave reviews. I had actually stopped going to the cinema having found it jaded and grotty. I saw Blue Velvet at a Hampstead theatre in London on a late Saturday night and literally fell in love with Frank Booth and the whole Lynch franchise.

I knew of Hopper from other films principally his directorial debut "Easy Rider" but after seeing this movie I sought out all his movies. From "Rebel without a cause" through to the tedious "Sons of Katie Elder" and onto the sublimity that is "Out of the Blue" I found that Hopper had led an interesting life making movies. The drugs and drinks of the late sixties had helped him to
fuse for himself an idealized vision of the film industry that culminated in the brilliant and allusive "The Last Movie" - an exercise in true art-house experimentation that just gets better with every viewing. After that movie the studios decided they could not take chances with the maverick director whose behaviour was described as erratic and dangerous. After memorable appearances in Wim Wenders' "The American Friend" and Coppola's "Apocalypse Now" he completed directing the extraordinary and disturbing "Out of the Blue".

Although acclaimed for his role as the alcoholic father in "Rumblefish" Hopper struggled with his drink/drug problems and checked into a rehabilitation clinic in a final effort to save his sanity. With his role as Frank Booth he reestablished himself as both an actor and an artist and had a further twenty years in the industry albeit not always in top quality material. But his own "Colours" and his scene stealing terrorist in "Speed" remain highlights of celluloid. Both a passionate and ironic man Hopper will be remembered for several roles but for me, sitting in that cinema one April night, as Kyle MacLachlan sends a love letter into Frank's brains and as the curtains drew it is blue velvet that I still see through my tears...

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