May 31, 2010

Dennis Hopper, 1936-2010: "Now it's dark"

I've shared this on this blog before but: Blue Velvet was the film that started me smoking. I was 16. I'd been trying to smoke, unsuccessfully, for several weeks, but could never keep the smoke down; I wandered out of Blue Velvet, dazed, and by the time I'd made it to the bus stop I was sucking down a Marlboro red like a Stevedore. Maybe it was the rasp of that oxygen mask. I don't think I'd ever been so frightened by a performance as I was by Hopper's Frank Booth. His first scene is a ritualistic rape, almost unwatchably private in its detail; from there on, whenever he is onscreen, you know that bad things are going to happen to anyone within a given radius of this man. He means harm to everyone he meets. Hopper has an awful, instinctive understanding of the power-trip of bad men. This is his Manson, with Manson's black halo and dark-star charisma: you can't take your eyes off him, or quoting his lines ("Heineken? Fuck that shit!") for he is the only free agent in the film. Everyone else moves so gingerly: Hopper strides in to the room, plants himself in the centre, and lets his imagination run riot. "Let's hit. The Fuck. In' Road!". They are now his plaything, his pawns. The word "masterpiece" makes me as uneasy as the next man, but if pushed I will often point to Blue Velvet. (That and Badlands. And Night of the Hunter. I feel like the only movies that truly deserve the term are the ones that feel ripped from the unconscious, thus completely bypassing the hubris gland). Lynch never made a better movie. It is a film possessed. And Hopper is it's demon.


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