Book Reviews

DENNIS HOPPER AND THE NEW HOLLYWOOD

By • Apr 9th, 2010 •

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I couldn’t help but feel sad when asked to review the book DENNIS HOPPER AND THE NEW HOLLYWOOD. I am certainly a fan, and I’m thrilled that he just received the Hollywood star, but it is in the public knowledge that he is terminally ill with cancer, and Hollywood is known to give artists their due when it looks like they might soon be knocking on heaven’s door. Robert Altman got his Lifetime Achievement award the same year as his death. At 84, Roger Corman just received his. Lets hope he has more healthy years ahead. With that being said, this is not a eulogy. It’s just a review of a book.

Up until his diagnosis, Hopper wasn’t exactly what you would call a “movie star”. Only a couple of performances from the last three decades stick out in my mind. BLUE VELVET being the top of the list. Then there is SPEED and that one great scene in TRUE ROMANCE opposite Christopher Walken.* Yes, there was the Best Picture winner CRASH but he was overshadowed by a large ensemble. He starred in at least one movie a year up until he got sick (and he still has two awaiting release). He also did television (the CRASH series), and video games (GRAN THEFT AUTO). The man worked; but he mostly did independent films. It is hard to imagine a more different career than that of his long-time buddy and collaborator Jack Nicholson. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jack popped up as the male lead in the new Jennifer Aniston rom-com. It’s not that Hopper isn’t as good looking as Nicholson, it’s that Hopper is too dangerous of an actor to star in a Nancy Meyer movie. He can’t phone a performance in like other actors, he has too much going on behind his eyes. He would make everybody feel nervous. Hopper has always been a rebel. His spot has always been a bit on the outskirts of Hollywood. Which is appropriate since he was one of the key artists of what we now call “The New Hollywood”.

“The New Hollywood” is hard to explain. It differs from other film movements like the “French New Wave”. This is because the artists were not DIY directors like Jean-Luc Godard. Most of these filmmakers went to film school. The movies they made were funded and distributed by major studios. The difference was that they were young, and were tapped into a counter culture. Their films followed anti-heros, they were open about their political beliefs as well as their sexual freedom and recreational use of drugs. Hollywood knew that they could use these fresh-minded artists to connect to a young audience.

Although this is where Hopper might stand on his own. EASY RIDER is said to be the only truly independent film of this movement.

DENNIS HOPPER AND THE NEW HOLLYWOOD was an art exhibition in France, and eventually made it’s way to Australia. After looking at the book I wish it would have found its way to New York. I knew Hopper dabbled in other art forms such as photography and fine art, but I am surprised at how good he was! It turns out his talent really shines throughout all these mediums. His photography is excellent, usually in a rich black and white, either portraits of his friends/other famous artists, or just capturing what seems to be candid moments in 1960’s America. While not as realized as his photographs, his abstract expressionist paintings aren’t too shabby. I found myself a couple of times checking the caption, expecting to see the name of a famous artist, and being surprised that it is a work of his own.

Speaking of famous artists, He has acquired millions upon millions of dollars worth of art throughout the years, most of which were personally donated by the artists themselves who are friends of his. He owns pieces from Warhol (he once fired a gun at one while he was high, and you can see the bullet holes!), Franz Kline, Rauschenberg, Robert Irwin, Basquiat, the list just goes on. It is probably the most impressive personal art collection I’ve ever seen. Inevitably, there is controversy as to who will inherit said collection. In recent news, his current wife, Victoria Duffy (whom he is in the middle of divorcing), disappeared with a good portion of his collection.

DENNIS HOPPER AND THE NEW HOLLYWOOD is a nice book, and beautifully put together, but I must warn the reader that it is a coffee table book. You won’t learn much about Dennis Hopper the man. It is an overview of Dennis Hopper the artist but offers no critical analysis whatsoever. It is a glossy picture book peppered with a chronology and short selected interviews with Hopper. It lets you make your own judgments, and hopefully will encourage you to seek out or revisit his film work, because the screen clips really can’t do justice to this man’s extensive and unique career.

*Allow FIR’s editor to mention a few more: APOCALYPSE NOW, THE RIVER’S EDGE, and RED ROCK WEST.

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4 Responses »

  1. So glad to see this as I am at this moment writing my own take for FIR of Hopper as an artist as much as an actor since he is a success on three levels as this book points out. I think you need to understand his life in the underground of the LA art scene to inderstand his films both as an actor and especially as a director. THE LAST MOVIE is gettimg a dvd release this year but sadly not with Hopper’s commentary…too late…..

  2. I had the good fortune of experiencing DENNIS HOPPER AND THE NEW HOLLYWOOD at the ACMI in Melbourne last week. To experience Hopper’s artwork and photos firsthand was almost surreal. The book does a great job capturing the essence of the New Hollywood in what is essentially a moving image story. Watch Easy Rider while you read the book.

  3. Of course I wouldn’t omit APOCALYPSE NOW, but that was 79 and just missed my three decade cut off. I do agree with RIVER’S EDGE.

    Glad to see THE LAST MOVIE is getting a release, I don’t know why it took this long…It’s a shame about the commentary. I’m sure he has lots to say about it.

    THE AMERICAN FRIEND should get a proper release as well.

    Looking forward to your tribute, David.

  4. From his lonely childhood in Kansas to his drug-fueled days and nights in Hollywood and Taos, New Mexico, Dennis Hopper’s amazing life was a roller-coaster series of triumphs and failures. Dennis Hopper: The Wild Ride of a Hollywood Rebel is the first biography to cover the entire life and career of one of America’s most intriguing show-business luminaries and true mavericks.

    “I knew Dennis Hopper in his wild days and his sober days, and this book captures the man in his many incarnations. Winkler’s deeply researched biography is the definitive book on this live wire who lived on the high wire.” – Filmmaker Philippe Mora

    dennishopperbook.com

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