An intense, very talented actor has passed away. With Easy Rider, which he also wrote and directed, Dennis Hopper defined an era. After the flower power smash hit, he went on a drug-crazed mission to Peru to film The Last Movie, one of the most spectacular failures in cinema history.
He survived that bad trip, which lasted years, actually, and back on his feet he would go on with brilliant, unforgettable performances in Apocalypse Now, Rumble Fish (alongside Mickey Rourke), Blue Velvet, Paris Trout and River’s Edge, which to me is the best teen movie ever. He also played Kopa, the villain in Super Mario Brothers – but hey, we can forgive that.
This documentary might be of interest:
He more or less dropped out from the public eye until he flew off to the Philippines in 1976 to play the zonked-out photojournalist in Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now.” Chattering like a hopped-up monkey, cameras clattering around his neck, T. S. Eliot’s words rolling around in his mouth, dirty, disheveled and totally bonkers, the character is a wonder, but painful. The line between Mr. Hopper’s on-screen delivery and his off-screen reputation seems too thin, it makes you squirm, as do many of his later, greater roles.
If the pleasure of his performance is tinged with discomfort, it’s because Mr. Hopper has apparently never been afraid of looking ridiculous — an important quality for performers. Few actors can navigate the line between terror and comedy as unnervingly, evidenced by his mesmerizing turn in David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet.” Where does that character end and Mr. Hopper begin? You don’t know, and that not knowing is the space in which Mr. Hopper works. Before he started to spill his guts and everything else on screen, his openness could be delightful, as when he was photographed reading Stanislavsky on the set of “Rebel Without a Cause.” He was 17, playing a guy named Goon and hanging on every word of James Dean, who told him to start taking photographs, to look at the world through a frame.