Saturday, May 29, 2010

Dennis Hopper

The funny thing of it all was that this morning a work associate and I were talking about recent celebrity deaths, a habit many of us indulge in when more than one celebrity passes away. We'd had gone through the mentions of Art Linkletter and the actually tragic Gary Coleman when she asked me how Dennis Hopper was doing. I  said that I hadn't heard anything since I read that he was gravely ill a couple of weeks earlier.
A half hour later during a break I  went online to check on Google News headlines, and there it  was, Dennis Hopper Dies. It caused a chill. Hopper was  as iconic an actor as has ever come out of Hollywood, an intense student of the Method who's twitching, mercurial intensity got him involved in some truly landmark motion pictures--Rebel Without a Cause,  Easy Rider,Apocalypse Now, Blue Velvet, Hoosiers, River's Edge. One might say that his trademarked style of performance, of finding the raw-nerved insanity of each emotion a scene called for and maintaining a sense of a barely contained contradictions within his  character, was something that limited the range of roles of might have had during his career.

His style  could at times be like listening to late period Coltrane, where the saxophonist pushed his technique to a sustained , shrieking harmonic emotionalism; the ability to get to that edge and maintain it over time was impressive, but it could also grate. Hopper's presence--a figure of narcissistic menace who was constantly evaluate what is in his world and abruptly, violently remove the people and things in it he no longer fancied-- had the good fortune to find use in a series of films that weathered the fickle preferences of studios and audiences.The appeal of Hopper's roles in this best work is that he seemed to be the person in the crowd who had realized the great possibility that the meaning of existence depended more on the quality of choices one made in good faith rather than adhering to an abstract moral framework one is intractably born into. It seemed that his most extreme creations--Frank Booth, The fried  Photo Journalist in Apocalypse Now--had come across the fine print hidden that  stated that our philosophies and our certainties are based on nothing outside our own invention. In that regard , one wonders what Hopper might have said of his own life, his own work,  his legacy of worthiness beyond his personal and career struggles to be honest, creative and helpful in the world he actually lived in. To over-stated praise after his passing, Hopper's lurking  spirit paraphrase the Photo Journalist's rant about the cryptic Kurtz:

 I mean, what are they gonna say when he's gone? 'Cause he dies when it dies, when it dies, he dies! What are they gonna say about him? He was a kind man? He was a wise man? He had plans? He had wisdom? Bullshit, man!