Sunday, May 17, 2015

Birthday: Dennis Hopper (1936-2010)

Dennis Hopper's career during the seemingly fallow period between that magnificent disaster The Last Movie (1971), and David Lynch's reviving his career by tapping him for Blue Velvet (1986), includes some interesting gigs: Apocalypse Now, of course, and later Rumble Fish with Coppola again; The American Friend for Wim Wenders, and some other, very obscure European films; The Osterman Weekend for Sam Peckinpah; The Other Side of the Wind for Orson Welles; O.C. and Stiggs for Robert Altman; Henry Jaglom's Vietnam vet psychodrama Tracks; another post-Vietnam oddity, The American Way aka Riders of the Storm; the Australian outlaw biopic Mad Dog Morgan; James Frawley's stoner western Kid Blue; rock star Neil Young's indie comedy Human Highway; the punk rock drama White Star; and Tim Hunter's River's Edge, which was shot around the same time as Blue Velvet. My favorite IMDB description of a Hopper film during this period is that of Silvio Narizzano's Bloodbath (1979):

Chicken [Hopper], a desperate hippie junkie living in a small Spanish village, is finding it difficult to separate fantasy and reality. This isn't helped by the villagers practising magic and child sacrifice, or his involvement with a group of boozy ex-patriots lost in their own dreams and regrets.

An IMDB commenter adds, "Hopper as Chicken hallucinates frequently, mumbles, rambles, freaks out, shoots up, makes love, quotes Hassan I Sabbah, and terrorises a poor girl by breaking a raw egg in her face and making her sing 'Shortening Bread.' Yup, it's that good."

Hopper's one shot at directing at this time came about by accident, when the original director of Out of the Blue, Leonard Yakir, was fired early in the shoot, and Hopper, on location as an actor in the production, was able to step in. Naturally, he rewrote the whole script.

After a 1983 screening of Out of the Blue in Houston, an inebriated Hopper transported the audience by school buses to a local speedway where he performed and somehow survived the "Russian Dynamite Death Chair Act." There is footage of this, that includes Terry Southern and Wim Wenders who were on hand for the excitement. (Apparently a young Richard Linklater was there too.)

The detail about the school buses is reminiscent of Andy Kaufman's famous use of 20 buses to take the audience for his April, 1979 Carnegie Hall show out for milk and cookies afterwards. I can't help but think that the violent nature of this Hopper Happening must have been an inspiration to the Jackass crew. Hopper expressed pride that he didn't shit his pants during the stunt.

So one thing that you cannot say about Dennis Hopper in this time-frame is that he ceased to be counter-cultural; he kept it up longer than most, and was kind of a go-to guy for crazy projects.


Out Of The Blue

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