Friday, June 4, 2010

Dennis Hopper


I was shocked, on returning from our trip up north, to learn of the death of Dennis Hopper--perhaps in part because we were so close in age; and certainly in part because I had the good fortune, years ago, to have been given a personal tour of the actor's art collection and his home, and to have sat down with him for an extended interview. The resulting article I wrote was published in ARTnews magazine in September, 1997. It still reads well, I think, and is different from most of the other Hopper articles--and recently the obits--I have seen. It's in large part about his own work as a visual artist, about his art collection, and about the influence visual artists had on his vision and peripatetic career as an actor and director. The occasion was an exhibit he was at that time scheduled to open at a Los Angeles gallery. It was, as he said, "a thrilling moment" in his life, one that gave him "a wonderful opportunity to fall on my ass."

It's not often that I have the chance to go one-on-one with a person of such prominence, and it was certainly a memorable occasion. What impressed me most--at least in recollection--was the man's voracious appetite for life, for experience, for art... His sardonic take on the world, especially the world in which he achieved his fame, was as refreshing as it was thought-provoking and amusing. The wicked twinkle in the eye that was the hallmark of so many of his demented movie characters seemed genuine and unrehearsed. As we sat and talked, he seemed to be having a lot of fun with his memories, and with the image of himself that he had projected out into the world. There was a cat-like quality to the way in which he played with people and ideas, teasing them with genuine curiosity and affection until he had exhausted their interest and let them run away.

Our interview was certainly one of the highlights of the professional aspect of my life as a writer--now long gone! I was a student at Cambridge University when "Rebel Without a Cause" was first released, and I was James Dean for at least a week after seeing the movie. I suspect most men of my age had the same experience in their youth. What a thrill, then, to be sitting with the man who had played in the movie with James Dean, and who readily conceded to having learned his craft at this feet of this Hollywood legend. You'll find mention of Hopper's memories of James Dean in my article, which I hope you might find time to read...

So, as you may have noticed by now, I'm back. I've been having some moments of panic about getting back to work. Would I, in between times, have forgotten how to do it? Would I find the motivation to do the necessary? I went to be last night feeling totally inadequate to the task. I'm still not sure how I'm feeling about all these things--The Buddha Diaries, Persist: The Blog, Persist, the book, and all the attendant busy work. But there you go. So far, I have managed these few words. Bon voyage, Dennis, no matter where you're headed next. I wish you well, and thank you for the memory.


6 comments:

M.M. said...

What a great article you wrote. I just read a bland obituary in The LA Weekly, and reading your article and post revived my spirits. I also had the good fortune to meet Mr. Hopper for a few moments at another of his retrospectives, at The Ace Gallery. Full coverage of this hero meet, at http://orphicdoorman.blogspot.com/

Cheryl said...

So sad.

I hadn't even known he was an artist as well as an actor until my friend saw an exhibition in Amsterdam and told me to check out his work.

Lovely memory you have written about here. And I am a new reader to your blog, so...hi!

PeterAtLarge said...

Thanks, M.M. I'll check out your blog...

And welcome, Cheryl! I hope you'll be back.

robin andrea said...

A great article, Peter. I can't remember if any of the obits I read even mentioned Dennis Hopper's deep affinity for painting and photography. I'm going to google around to see if I can get a glimpse of some of his art.

CHI SPHERE said...

The San Francisco de Asis church, courtyard and plaza overflowed with respect, tears and friends last Friday. Many present were famous and it was for Dennis they wept and prayed one last time in his beloved town of Ranchos de Taos.

I was fortunate to live 100 paces up the hill from that church during the 90's and to also have worked with him on Apocalypse Now. We had many talks and walks together during those years. I learned about listening without reservation from him. He taught me to see differently through all his artistic expressions.

Larry Bell, Gus Foster, Ed Ruscha, Val Kilmer and Jack Nicholson paid their respects with many local friends that knew him to be shy, passionate, bombastic, willful, inventive, deeply committed to art in all its forms and above all kind and caring.

I had the privilege to work on Apocalypse Now as a scenic artist. It was Dennis who could talk Brando
out of a funk when the rain wouldn't stop pouring and convince him to use the rain to give him the power to cry and tear away at our souls regarding "the horror" of war, death and destruction of our souls.

I will miss him very much and have the deepest respect for his work and commitment to art and life.

PeterAtLarge said...

Robin, the "art world" knew and cared about his vision as an artist and photographer. Hollywood could have cared less...

Gary, thanks for this added piece. Good to know that Dennis was remembered in a good way in at least one quarter.