The Psycho Path
Dennis Hopper, Star of Super Mario Bros, Dead at 74
Hey, man, you don’t talk to the Colonel. You listen to him. The man’s enlarged my mind. He’s a poet-warrior in the classic sense. I mean, sometimes he’ll, uh, well, you’ll say “Hello” to him, right? And he’ll just walk right by you, and he won’t even notice you. And suddenly he’ll grab you, and he’ll throw you in a corner, and he’ll say “Do you know that ‘if’ is the middle word in life? ‘If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, if you can trust yourself when all men doubt you’…” – I mean, I’m no, I can’t – I’m a little man, I’m a little man, he’s, he’s a great man. I should have been a pair of ragged claws scuttling across floors of silent seas – I mean –…
–Dennis Hopper as the photo-journalist in Apocalypse Now
Don’t be a good neighbour anymore to her. I’ll have to send you a love letter! Straight from my heart, fucker! You know what a love letter is? It’s a bullet from a fucking gun, fucker! You receive a love letter from me, and you’re fucked forever! You understand, fuck? I’ll send you straight to hell, fucker!… In dreams… I walk with you. In dreams… I talk to you. In dreams, you’re mine… all the time. Forever. –Dennis Hopper as Frank Booth in Blue Velvet
I was 14 years old when I first became aware of Dennis Hopper. I suppose I must have seen him earlier than that, in other films including his first, Rebel Without A Cause, but I guess he hadn’t made much of an impression.
In the summer of 1969, a group of us went to see Easy Rider in downtown Boston, Mass. Beforehand, we smoked a few joints to get ourselves into the right counter-culture mood (we were precocious yoofs and, with the intense self-absorption of 14 year-olds, considered ourselves dangerous rebels).
In high spirits, we sat through the Coming Attractions stuff, chattering happily. A hippy sitting behind us leaned forward and said Be cool, man.
We all turned around and looked him over. Long, carefully tended hair? Check. Little, John Lennon-style granny-glasses? Check. Pancho Villa-moustache? Check. Reeking of patchouli oil? Check. We cracked up laughing.
Be cool, man, we admonished one another. Be cool, man…we must have repeated the phrase with varying degrees of scorn and sarcasm 50 times. I’ll bet he wished he’d kept his lentil-sucking mouth shut.
I loved the film. Loved the music, loved Jack Nicholson but I especially liked Hopper’s character, Billy. He was seedier, rougher, more ‘authentic’ than Peter Fonda’s character–and he had a better bike.
Fonda, playing Wyatt, was entirely too image conscious, too concerned with looking the part, too well-groomed, well-designed, well-shod and well-coiffed. And his bike was an absolute joke. To ride that heap of shit on anything other than a long, flat, straight road would be a nightmare.
So Hopper it was. After that, I kept an eye out for him. He appeared in an awful lot of crap but the high points were very high indeed.
He was especially good in roles that called for the character to be tormented, driven, demon-haunted or just flat-out fucking bat-shit crazy. And he was a terrific villain. Any idiot can be the hero, the ‘good guy’; but it takes a certain kind of actor to be convincing as the ‘bad guy’. Hopper was convincing.
In an industry that’s increasingly populated by surgically-enhanced, glossy-haired, impeccably-toothed clones who are perfectly capable (in Dorothy Parker’s unimprovable phrase) of running the gamut of emotions from A to B, Hopper will be missed.
Thanks for all the moments, Dennis. I expect you and the Devil will get along just fine.