on May 29, 2010
It seems like we’ve been saying goodbye to a lot of amazing people lately.
I don’t know if it’s a result of the modern depression we live in, or just a string of bad luck.
Personally, it’s hard for me to discuss Dennis without taking a look at his career and the effect his work had on an industry which had a uncomfortable relationship with him.
Hopper’s career represented the work of a real maverick, a true independent spirit, an artist of the highest regard. He broke rules, he made masterpieces, he easily switched gears between actor, writer, director, photog, and painter. He’s one of the few solid, well known examples of a modern renaissance man.
And our paths crossed on multiple occasions. Most people don’t know that we were attached to the same film for some time. A project I worked on for nearly a year in development and pre-production. To sum it up, he was to play my nemesis of sorts. I won’t say the title here, because I don’t want to publicize the film. Needless to say it was a challenged project, a great script, great cast, but helmed by an inexperienced, selfish team of narcissists.
Does that sound familiar, like much of Hollywood to you? Maybe so – if you are lucky enough to be working amongst the projects with great scripts and great casts – the inexperienced, narcissistic part is much more predictable.
But back to Dennis. He was a Kansan, like myself. A Dodge City boy. And he rarely compromised on subjects he didn’t believe in. He was blackballed from Hollywood as a young performer, he made a mess of a film called The Last Movie, and he made some of the best films ever: Easy Rider and Colors.
Dennis, although he could easily be criticized for his recent politics; or his lack of real engagement with social justice, did something which probably seemed bigger than that to him. He represented those people to us. He helped to cement them in our collective consciousness. Countercultural figures, artists, drugged out geniuses, father figures, freaks and villains. He played them all with equal fervor and he played them very well.
Needless to say, I hardly knew him, but I miss him now that he’s gone. If I saw him today I’d remind him of Jack Nicholson’s response to a line he fed him while gathered around a bonfire deep in the desert:
Billy: “Hey, man. All we represent to them, man, is somebody who needs a haircut.”
George: “Oh, no. What you represent to them is freedom.”
(Easy Rider, 1969)