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Village Voice, Sound of the City: “Dennis Hopper, Soundtrack Savant”


This piece is based on a theory about Hopper’s work that I’ve had for a while now, and it’s a shame it took the dude dying for me to write it, but you know. Everybody’s got an opinion on Dennis Hopper and like, everyone has a performance to talk about, but I tried to place him in a tradition beyond “batshit crazy actor genius” and also, touch on some of his work that doesn’t get talked about as much as it should or in the way it should. Easy Rider, Out of the Blue, and Colors makes up a good night of movie watching and if you want to extend it another day, throw in Last Movie, Tracks, and River’s Edge.

​In the aftermath of Dennis Hopper’s death this past Saturday (J. Hoberman’s obit is here), tributes to the actor didn’t even try to construct an easy narrative out of his chaotic life. How could they? Hopper was many things at once: the actor who pushed the “method” style way past its breaking point; the ’60s icon turned rightwinger who publicly voted for Obama; the sensitive art photographer and abstract expressionist; and the nut who, threatened ex-wives and co-stars with guns and once attempted to blow himself up with dynamite in front of live crowd. He was far out in every role, from art-house classics to chintzy afternoon HBO staples like Spacetruckers, but was nominated only once by the Academy for his onscreen work–Best Supporting Actor, for Hoosiers.

The only constants in Hopper’s career were chaos (even his final months of life were wrapped up in a divorce) and his outre acting style, but there’s a narrative in Hopper’s career that’s been mostly ignored–his fluency with pop culture, especially in his work as a director. Particularly, three films he directed between the late ’60s to the late ’80s: The ’60s movie Easy Rider (1969), the grimy punk tragedy Out of the Blue (1980), and the proto-gangsta rap police procedural Colors (1988). Together they form a trilogy of music-tinged mini-masterpieces, showing Hopper to be a guy with his finger on the pulse of an ever-shifting pop music landscape for three decades–way longer than someone like Dennis Hopper really needed to have his finger on the pulse of pop music…

Written by Brandon

June 1st, 2010 at 4:06 pm

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