May 29, 2010

Dennis Hopper, RIP

Film is the most difficult art form to master. Think of all the “perfect” songs you've heard in your life, or perfect paintings. The count will likely be significant for both. But when such reflection turns to movies, the typical observer/critic will list but a handful of entries worthy of such recognition.

So when having experienced a particular movie becomes a more apt description than having seen one, and when the reaction ranges from not being able to move off the couch overnight (as was the case with my ex) to having been haunted for months (as a friend of mine recently reflected) --– and when such comments are commonplace --— then you start talking Master with a capital 'M' for its director. There you go, Mr David Lynch.

Lynch's tour de force, of course, was the 1986's Blue Velvet. The premise was simple: evil exists everywhere, even in places you don't expect it could actually lurk. The setting: some mid-western Nowheresville, complete with the picket fences, shiny fire trucks and lush front lawns. All is fine on the surface, but below lurks a motley crew of deranged psychopaths, with its ringleader a gentlemen by the name of Frank Booth.

Enter Dennis Hopper in that lead role. Summoning what could only be personal demons of his own, Hopper delivered the energy and the goods for everything old Franky boy had going on; and it wasn't necessarily pleasant to look at. What we got was a foul mouthed, pill-popping, nitrate-inhaling, gut-busting, ear-chomping serial kidnapper complete with major some pretty out there sexual habits and a rather maladjusted circle of cohorts. All of this action in a film noir setting, complete with 50's lounge music and fresh faced teenagers along for the ride. Troubling? You ain't seen troubling until you've sat in front of this movie, my friend.

Here is the classic “Beer at Ben's” scene that highlights two of Frank Booth's favorite past times: drinking cold beer and having sex, with Hopper at his best and an equally glorious performance by the late Dean Stockwell as the crooning Ben. This is the bit that launched the themes for thousands of frat and Halloween parties as well as added dozens of catch phrases into the popular lexicon, including “Heineken? Fuck that shit: Pabst Blue Ribbon!;” You're so fucking sauve" and many more...

Blue Velvet was Lynch's vision supported by Hopper's execution. Without the two, it wouldn't have worked the way it did. Both went on to subsequent works that were at times uneven, with both even turning into the occasional caricature of themselves. But Da Vinci, Mozart, Chaplin, and Lennon could all be accused of the same.

What's important is their work during their peak years; those moments in time when the full creative capacity of the human spirit is captured and put on display for the rest of the world to breathe into their own consciousness and become something different as a result. Chalk Blue Velvet up as an example of just that; and as the rare perfection of the film making art form.

Dennis Hopper died today after a battle with prostate cancer. Despite the ugliness of his final year, he was still tough enough to get himself to his recent Walk of Fame ceremony.

Here's to Ben. Here's to Frank. Here's to Dennis Hopper.

1 comment:

Ted's Head said...

I fall into that same category, haunted after seeing this flick. Beautiful yet sick.