Apr 12, 2014
I don’t really give a shit about actors, especially Hollywood ones, yet actor turned auteur Dennis Hopper—a man with a totally singular acting career who appeared in two films starring James Dean (who was personal friend and mentor), played his first lead role in the Poe-esque gothic cult flick Night Tide (1961) directed by Curtis Harrington (who taught Hopper you did not need to work in the studio system to make a movie), directed and costarred in a little film entitled Easy Rider (1969) that started nothing short of a cultural and cinematic revolution in the United States, totally destroyed his career with his second feature The Last Movie (1971) and lived in drug-addled exile from Hollywood for about a decade, and ultimately made an unlikely comeback in iconic performances in masterful films like Apocalypse Now (1979), Out of the Blue (1980), and especially David Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986)—is someone I have always respected, even before knowing his actual name and seeing his performance as the one-legged maniac acting ‘Feck’ in Tim Hunter’s cult masterpiece River’s Edge (1986) when I was a young kid. Indeed, as an innately impassioned actor who starred in films by filmmakers ranging from Nicholas Ray to Roland Klick, an auteur filmmaker who directed only seven feature films but at least two masterpieces, a professional photographer who snapped shots of everyone from Martin Luther King, Jr. to Andy Warhol, a part-time painter/poet/art collector, and a sort of American counter-culture Casanova and (in)famous lecherous ladyman/hippie hedonist, Hopper was a postmodern Renaissance man of sorts who, in his own way via acting, directing, and his personal life, reflected everything that was good and bad about America, so it is only fitting that he once played the subject of a rarely-seen and wholly worthwhile documentary entitled The American Dreamer (1971) co-directed by L.M. Kit Carson (who, on top of penning the script for Paris, Texas (1984), would associate produce and pen The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) starring Hopper) and photo journalist Lawrence Schiller (whose claim to fame is he was the last person to take nude photos of Marilyn Monroe, but is now a TV hack who has directed films with titles like ‘JonBenet: Anatomy of a Cold Case’ (2006)), who were both personally invited by the Easy Rider director to spend 18 days filming him and his girls. Made when Hopper fled to from Hollywood to Taos, Texas with the stolen master print of his second feature The Last Movie—a work that the actor/auteur was given $1 million to make by Universal Studios in the hope that they would receive a major monetary return like they did on Easy Rider, but were ultimately disappointed with the director’s edit—The American Dreamer is an unintentionally darkly hilarious yet sometimes depressing depiction of a filmmaker at the height of his success, but, as he would prophetically predict in the doc itself, would ultimately lose it all. Featuring a nihilistic hippie hedonist pseudo-guru Hopper who looks (and kind of acts) like a cross between Jim Morrison and Charles Manson (who he would visit in prison), The American Dreamer is a virtual catalog of the societal ills that would lead to the early demise of so-called ‘New Hollywood.’ An innately incriminating and undeniably unflattering portrait of Hopper rolling joints and smoking dope, engaging in orgies, describing himself as a lesbian who would “rather give head to a beautiful woman than fuck her,” shooting rifles in deserts with gigantic crucifixes, describing his ex-wife Michelle Phillips of The Mamas & the Papas as the person he is most afraid of, and detailing how he looks to turn innocent virgins into wanton whores (his ideal woman is a ‘virgin-whore’), and pseudo-philosophizing about things for which he has no clue about what is he talking about, The American Dream is also, quite arguably, if not unintentionally so, one of the best anti-drug films ever made.
It seems Herr Hopper has smoked too much Mary Jane by the time The American Dreamer began production, as he certainly is a man who has lost inhibitions as demonstrated by the fact that he begins the documentary answering his door wearing nothing but a towel, which he soon takes off to finish the bath he was in the middle of, thereupon baring his boney hippie ass to the viewer. Hopper regularly smokes grass, drops acid, and engages in orgies and as far as he is concerned, “whoever hates me for that…terrific and whoever loves me for it…terrific.” While people seem to think that his hit film Easy Rider is some sort of pro-counter-culture/pro-hippie/pro-drug agitprop meant to rile up the youthful against old school conservative America, Hopper declares that the film was influenced by his belief that America is a society that “glorifies criminals and glorifies the outlaw,” adding regarding his film, “The people at the end of EASY RIDER that kill us and shoot us off the bikes… What’s the difference between the two on the bikes and the two in the truck?,” thus demonstrating that he is not exactly in solidarity with those kosher clowns of Hollywood who think rural America is populated by demonic redneck savages, but instead thought all groups and subcultures of America were innately tainted and prone toward a sort of barbaric criminality. When asked what he sees as happening to him if The Last Movie fails, Hopper envisions a sorry fate similar to Orson Welles, stating, “What’s gonna to happen to me? Nothing's going to happen to me because…like you know…I was sleeping on a mattress when I edited Easy Rider and I can sleep on a mattress again. I have friends…THE LAST MOVIE is going to be acceptable…It’s going to be accepted…It’s going to be much better than EASY RIDER and if it’s nothing more than like THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS, which was like Orson Welles’ second film and CITIZEN KANE was his first…made no money and THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS made no money, probably a very happy man because, like, it will be that good.” After describing Welles as a “poor bastard,” Hooper goes on to bash the complete structure of the Hollywood studio system, stating, “If they can’t build up Orson Welles…make up a movie for half a million dollars and show it in the universities then fuck ‘em. And fuck the universities and fuck everybody, man…because like, you know, then there’s no audience…it’s only a lot of frivolous, cheerleaders.” Indeed, now a sort of megalomaniac auteur, Hopper clearly has an uncompromising benevolent view of the Hollywood studio system, but he also seems to suspect the days of the ‘soup du jour’ Tinseltown are about to end.
During multiple segments of The American Dreamer, it seems that Hopper is quite annoyed by the filmmakers. On top of complaining, “you sure are nosey” to a cameraman who is filming him rolling a joint, Hopper also berates the directors for what he sees as them not being able to direct a subject in the proper context. Of course, Hopper wastes no time displaying his various exotic concubines, including a young Asian chick that the actor/auteur admits upon first seeing her, “I immediately attempted to take that virginity and turn her into a whore.” Naturally, when a young ‘actress’ approaches Hopper on the street, he tells her he is the easiest person to talk to in the world and then he proceeds to sweet talk her so as to presumably get in her panties. When Hopper is asked by one of the filmmakers what kind of girl he looks for in terms of marriage material, he gives the following confused response: “I had the classic American concept… I wanted the virgin that I married, that had my children and stayed at home…then when I discovered that I was a whore, I decided that I wanted the whore, you know, who could understand me and we could understand each other. So, I don’t know really, I’m caught between two worlds…like I think that everyone wants the virgin and wants the whore, but I’m just hoping someday I will find the…virgin whore.” Despite Hopper’s harem of hyper hedonistic hippie sexpots, he ultimately seems like a rather lonely fellow, which he pretty much admits when he remarks, “I don’t believe I can relate to one person anymore and give my trust to one person anymore.” After Hopper absurdly proclaims, “I’d rather give head to a beautiful woman than fuck her really” and then nonsensically adds, “Basically, I think like a lesbian,” one of his chicks has enough sense to bring him back to reality and remind him that he is a man. Indeed, despite Hopper’s fruity pseudo-philosophical musings about his inner-lesbo, he is no pansy pacifist as testified by his remarks, “I believe that a man that doesn’t protect himself is really a fool. You have to protect yourself” and “I believe in love and hate,” not to mention his seemingly pathological proclivity for shooting off rifles in the desert, as if he is a born-again Mansonite preparing some sort of societal collapse of the apocalyptic sort. In a sort of shockingly senseless anti-bourgeois revolutionary act, Hopper strips all his clothes in a Los Alamos suburb (what he describes as ‘scientific suburbia’) and declares of his pseudo-Aktionist action on retrospect, “that was really far-out symbolically…I was really self-conscious.” In terms of metapolitics, Hopper declares in all seriousness, “It is very difficult at times…if you believe in evolution, not to believe in revolution.” As for plans for the future, Hopper gives the classic response, “I would like to make movies on the moon…I like to put people on. Hahaha.”
While Dennis Hopper babbles on about a lot of brain-dead bullshit in The American Dreamer he says a lot of insightful, if not sometimes obvious, things about the film industry and the art of cinema in general. In terms of cinema’s power to brainwash the mentally feeble (as well as the not so mentally feeble), Hopper, referencing one of the rare occasions when a Bolshevik revolutionary was right, states, “The camera doesn’t remind me of a gun but it does remind me of a weapon…and Lenin believed that the revolution would be fought with the camera…with films…and at a certain point guns would be unfeasible…and that minds would be won in the theater rather than on a battlefield.” Indeed, Hopper’s own film Easy Rider would start a cultural revolution of sorts that changed the way people looked at the cinema as an art form, the American landscape and its ‘eclectic’ populous. Ironically, Hopper would more or less give a scathing criticism of the counter-culture zeitgeist with his third feature Out of the Blue, which makes Easy Rider seem like a work of highly idealistic youth naivety of the shamelessly sensational and retardedly romantic sort. To fully respect Out of the Blue and much of Hopper's post-dope/post-cocaine acting, including in Lynch’s Blue Velvet (despite playing a deranged rapist killer in the film, Hopper would tell Lynch regarding why he wanted to play the role, “I have to play Frank because I am Frank”) and Hunter’s River’s Edge, The American Dreamer is mandatory viewing as it demonstrates that the somewhat unhinged actor/director wised up, got his shit together, and dropped most of the false nihilistic non-values that so many other people of his degenerate generation bought into it, screwing up their lives as a result. As Peter L. Winkler reveals in his Hopper biography Dennis Hopper: The Wild Ride of a Hollywood Rebel (2011) as to why the documentary would ultimately become a lost film: “At the beginning of THE AMERICAN DREAMER, Hopper says that he welcomes the opportunity to lay his life bare in the film, whether people love him or hate him as a result. After early screenings of the film, he changed his mind. Lois Rudnick wrote that he blocked the film’s distribution, though a soundtrack album was issued.” Undoubtedly, The American Dreamer makes for the perfect double feature with the Dutch documentary Dennis Hopper: The Decisive Moments (2002) directed by Thom Hoffman, which is also unfortunately rather hard to find. Of course, Hopper makes no mention of The American Dreamer in The Decisive Moments but he does demonstrate that his mind is no longer clouded by drugs and self-destructive tendencies. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of longhaired and high as hell hippie era Dennis Hopper, The American Dreamer is a celluloid train wreck about a true ‘survivor’ who managed to survive the crash. Ultimately, The American Dreamer proves without a doubt that Hopper was a more interesting and complex fellow than the one-note wonder character he played in Easy Rider, which one certainly cannot say about most stars in Hollywood. Indeed, Hopper is probably the only actor in the history of the studio system whose public actions and behavior where more juicy than the dubious rumors cine-magician Kenneth Anger wrote about in his Hollywood Babylon books.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 12:40 AM
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