Madman & Rebel: Dennis Hopper

DATELINE: Don’t Forget Drunkard!

 He’s Not in this Doc!

Dennis, Our Favorite Menace!

A semi-interesting documentary on James Dean contemporary, Dennis Hopper, whose career went through many incarnations, is allegedly told by his “co-conspirators”! The film on his life is called Along for the Ride. With friends like the intense Hopper selected, he was in for a long run toward Doom.

Hopper underwent many transformations in his life—and it mirrored his career, or vice versa. He started out as an All-American wholesome-looking boy, became a slimy and bushy-bearded druggie and drunkard, and ultimately became a haggard and highly respected character actor. He survived, which is the truly amazing fact.

Like most under-educated people in Hollywood, Hopper was sensitive to his intelligence and self-education. The film ignores his youth and early years—and picks up with his personal assistant in 1970 who owns most of his correspondence and memorabilia. He is the power behind this portrait, which really puts emphasis on his directorial ability in The Last Movie, a big flop. Having made a fortune with Easy Rider,his counter-culture friends and attitudes were given free-reign in the 1970s Hollywood-in-transition.

Hopper was never helped when friends like Satya keep telling him he’s a genius. Inevitably, his Last Moviebecame Waterloo in Peru. Hopper was a colorful show-biz personality, but he was notOrson Welles. The low-lifes and sycophants around him convinced him otherwise.

You won’t have to see The Last Movie to know from this picture that it is an unmitigated disaster. When working on Apocalypse Now, Marlon Brando refused to do any scenes with him. He had told the most powerful Hollywood moguls to go “f” themselves. He was on Ruination Row in a self-constructed prison.

There is a passing nod to his mentor and progenitor, James Dean, but really he was on his own trip far from his rebel youth movies.

Blue Velvet resurrected him. He always felt he was personally difficult, but not professionally so. In the end he made so many movies that any idea that he was blackballed cannot be believed.

Hopper’s right-hand man and behind-the-scenes acolyte does his job to the bitter end.

 

Night Tide & Mermaid

DATELINE: Dennis Hopper Fantasy

How wrong could a movie genre be? Try Night Tide,a strange little low-budget movie from 1963. It stars Dennis Hopper as a sailor who meets a sideshow freak star Mora, the mermaid. The question is whether this creature is like a werewolf—she turns back from a lovely woman to a part-time fish with the full moon.

Now, this hardly qualifies as a horror movie unless you are slightly off-kilter to begin. It does qualify as a movie direction for Dennis Hopper that is off-the-beaten path of Hollywood mainstream.

For all his traditional looks, Hopper was a true rebel to the system, and his selection of $25,000 budget movies indicated his went against all Hollywood norms in the early 1960s. It likely spoke volumes about where his buddy James Dean would have gone, had he lived.

Yet, it now seems like a marvelous jazzy film noir choice, daring and delightful. Mora (Linda Lawson) lives over a merry-go-round and special effects are more suggested than actual. She is hooked into some middle-aged harridan who may be queen of the gypsies, Madame Romanovitch (Marjorie Eaton).

Hopper was absolutely stunning in his little sailor outfit, out on shore leave—by himself. That, in itself, is an odd plot twist. The seaside arcade he visits and quite cosmopolitan beatnik bar are a scream. We love the patrons with dark glasses at night inside a bistro while a jazz quartet plays David (Laura) Raksin’s film score.

We almost expected him to walk into a gay bar of the 1950s, but that would mean mermen, not mermaids.

Curtis Harrington wrote and directed this small masterpiece, which channels Edgar Allan Poe with a twist.

 

 

 

Windy Conditions for Orson Welles

DATELINE: Citizen Kane’s Bookend

Orson's Last

It’s disorienting to see a new movie that is 35-years old with stars long dead: John Huston, Mercedes McCambridge, Edmond O’Brien, Paul Stewart, and all the usual Orson Welles friends. He also included new discoveries in his films like Bob Random and Rich Little. Orson called it The Other Side of the Wind.

The movie is a mockumentary of a movie made on the last day of the life of a legendary film director named Jack Hannaford.

Huston is Hannaford, playing God again, or the devil to Welles as observed by Susan Strasberg (daughter of James Dean’s acting tutor Lee Strasberg) as she plays a carbon copy of film maven Pauline Kael.

As the insider look at Hollywood develops, those in the know will begin to recognize that Johnny Dale is Jimmy Dean, and that the director appears to be a combo of Nick Ray and George Stevens, the men behind the films Rebel Without a Cause and Giant.

Indeed, two of Dean’s co-stars have roles in the film: Dennis Hopper and Mercedes McCambridge. Our money is on Nick Ray—whose ambiguous sexual relationship with stars seems to be at the heart of the Welles picture. He is giving us the ultimate insider look.

Welles never used nudity in his films until this final movie: he plays to the times, psychedelic sex, which now seems dated. The film made by Johnny Dale is sandwiched within and around the life of Hannaford who dies in Dale’s Porsche Spyder, a copy of Dean’s death car.

All the usual Orson touches and themes are present: betrayal of people, rather than principle. There are no principles in Hollywood. He also has a field day ridiculing all those New Wave European directors.

Movie magic is everywhere because Welles could do so much with so little—and scenes seem seamless, even if shot with body doubles three years later.

Critics claimed he never wanted to finish the picture because it was his raison d’etre. It was also his Swan Song and his testament to Hollywood. It’s brilliant and fascinating with every step of the much-sought divine accident that Welles believed essential to film inspiration. Highly recommended.