Monday 31 May 2010

E14 Salutes Dennis Hopper

As many E14ies out there will no doubt be aware, this week the world saw the death of actor, director and artist Dennis Hopper. Now, traditionally E14 deals in humour and satire of the highest order, but on such a sad occasion as this, I figured it was only right that we give Dennis a send-off worthy of his quality as an actor. I may stick a few jokes in, obviously, but I'll keep the cheap shots to a minimum where possible.

Hopper was born in 1936 in Dodge City, Kansas: That's right, Dennis Hopper survived the Second World War. +1 to E14 Factor. While Hitler was rampaging his way through Europe only to be pushed back by the strength of will of the British (and the Americans and Russians eventually, credit where it's due), Dennis Hopper carried on living. Granted, he was only 9 years old by the time the war ended, and would have had very little to do with the actual fight itself, but still a point worth mentioning I feel.

From a young age, he was a keen actor, even going so far as to become a veteran of the Actor's Studio. So there's another point in his E14 favour: Through his association with the Actor's Studio, he is also part of the annals of their ranks, which includes such greats as Christopher Walken, Kevin Spacey and Al Pacino, as well as being a figure of bollocking awesomeness himself.

He made his acting debut on television in 1955, at the tender age of 19, before his first big break in 1955 when he appeared alongside the imminently-expiring James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause. I must confess, I've not seen this movie. I hear James Dean was a fine actor, but then I heard that Kurt Cobain was one of the greatest musicians who ever lived before I heard Nirvana, and I'm still not speaking to the person who told me that.

Regrettably, Hopper took the death of his co-star pretty hard, as they had worked together on two films by the time Dean died in that car accident, and Hopper had grown to admire him greatly. It was through this sequence of events, combined with a particularly demanding director, that Hopper became what showbiz types refer to in the trade as a "prick". Out of protest on one film, he ignored directorial instruction for eighty takes over the course of a few days. How ridiculous is that? If I ignored EIGHT instructions from my boss over the course of a week, I'd be in some serious shit.

One couldn't blame him either: society seems to be going the way of certain types of people thinking that employers owe them something for reducing themselves to working for the company, when actually they should consider themselves lucky to have jobs at all, particularly as so many of them are lazy, unambitious amoebas, and that's all I've got to say about that!

So he went for a few years with difficulties finding work, until John Wayne (or Marion Morrison to his mates) gave him advice and a part that allowed Hopper to find more work, and to demonstrate himself as a changed man, eventually leading to a part in True Grit. Incidentally, just to re-iterate this E14 Factor that seems so prevalent in Dennis' career, his celebrity friends included John Wayne, James Dean and, thanks to a 1950s social group, Elvis Presley. The King of Rock N' Roll himself (unless you're in France, in which case "Le roi de Rock N' Roll" is Johnny Hallyday, and nobody seems to know why Elvis is so popular - true story), was a friend of Dennis Hopper, the subject of our Obituary O'Awesome.

From there, Dennis Hopper's career took off when he directed his first film at the age of 33, with Easy Rider starring himself among a cast of top-drawer actors. Heralded as a visionary director for his innovative approach, Hopper went on to direct The Last Movie, a much less accessible follow-up movie that divided the critical community heavily upon its release. While this film was going through its processes, Hopper was engaged in bitter legal disputes with Jane Fonda (presumably because "why the fuck not?") and suffering from drug abuse and alcohol problems that would plague his career for many years.

These problems, in fact, would see him typecast in the maniacal role in many low-budget pictures until his appearance in Apocalypse Now brought him back to prominence. His directorial skills were lauded again in 1980 for Out Of The Blue, but by this point he was doing three grams of coke a day. Three grams may not sound like a lot, but I imagine it equates to about thirty-six litres of the other Coke, so it's pretty sizeable. After staging a "suicide attempt" involving dynamite and subsequently disappearing in the Mexican desert after a night on the lash, Hopper checked into rehab in 1983. Probably a good call, as when your night on the piss sees the conversation go along the lines of "Alright, level with me: which expansive body of sand did I get lost in THIS time?", it's probably time to knock the drugs on the head.

Hopper was not counted out by any means though, and returned in David Lynch's Blue Velvet to tremendous acclaim, and later that year was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance in Hoosiers. I'll be honest: after a couple of years, his choice of roles gets a little ropey, and he's cast as Koopa in the utterly atrocious movie adaptation of Super Mario Bros. I'm really uncertain as to his motives in this case, but then he did once end up disappearing in the desert, so maybe not all of his decisions are supposed to make sense. Plus, he was about the only good thing about that utter train wreck.

At this point, one of the only up-sides to playing Koopa was yet another demonstration of Hopper's effectiveness as a villainous character, which saw him play an important role in Speed as well as...Waterworld. I've not seen that movie, and I'll be honest and say that I've not heard the best reviews about it. But then, I didn't hear good reviews about disliking Kurt Cobain, and...well, you know the rest.

Now, you may think that this salute to Dennis Hopper has taken a rather negative turn. Let's be fair, so far I've recounted his drug addiction and alcohol problems, as well as his choice in roles not being so good towards the end of his movie career. What you should also notice, though, which is more important, is his resilience. I know it gets thrown around a lot, that word (particularly during Shawn Michaels matches), but it's totally applicable in this case.

It's a testament to not only the strength of Hopper's character but also his quality as an actor that he was able to bounce back so many times and create work of such quality. Sure, he had his share of adversity, and doubtless he brought a large amount of it upon himself, but he had the strength of will to overcome the setbacks this adversity caused, and for that he should be lauded for the rest of time.

Rest easy, Dennis. Emotionally Fourteen salutes you, and you will be missed.

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