Saturday, May 29, 2010
Dennis the Menace
Dennis Hopper is dead and I don't feel so good myself.
What can you say about a man who got his start in the 50s with Rebel Without a Cause and Giant, alongside James Dean, Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, Natalie Wood, and Sal Mineo, to say nothing of Jim Backus and Edward Platt? And who appeared during the 60s in such iconic classics as The Sons of Katie Elder, True Grit, Hang 'em High and Cool Hand Luke, then helped revolutionize the film industry with 1969's Easy Rider? And then spent the entire 1970s in a drunken stupor until Francis Ford Coppola had the cojones and the patience to help resurrect his career in Apocalypse Now and Rumble Fish?
And then from the 80's on, the man was on fire. Human Highway, Osterman Weekend, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, River's Edge, Blue Velvet, Hoosiers, Straight to Hell, True Romance, Basquiat, Waterworld (why are you laughing?), Speed, The Night We Called It a Day (playing Frank Sinatra!), The Source (playing William S. Burroughs!), Land of the Dead, 10th & Wolf.... not to mention there's a gazillion films in his post-2000 oeuvre that I've never seen but are sure to be pips unparalled, mark me.
But for me, Hopper's moonlight glows brightest on the eerie Carnival of Souls-esque low budget art-chiller Night Tide, where he plays a Navy man who falls for a spooky carny woman who may or may not be a mermaid. And the aforementioned Rumble Fish sums him up perfectly, as a shambling alcoholic lout who nevertheless manages to be more philosophically wise about life than anyone else in the movie.
People in the film industry have often dissed Hopper over the years as being difficult to deal with, but hey, the man was a poet warrior, whaddaya want from him? This ain't Wally Cox we're talkin' about here.
As is the way of tasteful obituaries, most this day are trying to avoid his reputation and controversies, and put a good spin on his "bad boy" life. Even the most envelope-pushing ones I've read so far are basically saying "He was kind of crazy, but he was great". Here at TG, we're saying yes, he was a downright unrepentant NUT, and we love him BECAUSE of that, not in spite of that.
"Sometimes he goes too far.... but he's first to admit it."
I'm still more than a little stunned here on Memorial Day with the news of D.H.'s passing, and will no doubt have a lot more to say in the days to come about the loss of yet another of my cultural heroes. Dr. Dockery and I may just be the last men standing.
Scuse me while I go emulate St. Hopper right about now myself, as I reach for that green glass bottle with a stag's head and a cross.
- - JSH