Looking beyond the Castro's tribute to the late Dennis Hopper
He appeared in Orson Welles' aborted final feature The Other Side of the Wind. In 1977 he played an unraveling Vietnam vet in pal Henry Jaglom's still-most-serious first feature Tracks, then drove everyone nuts on-set as 19th-century Australian folk hero Mad Dog Morgan in Philippe Mora's underrated 1976 film of that name. (Unfortunately it's hard to see save in severely cut versions.)
He had a rare international success as a berserker edition of Patricia Highsmith's sociopath Ripley in Wim Wenders' breakout existential noir The American Friend (1977). Hopper sprang back into U.S. mainstream consciousness as another druggy nutjob — last stop before Brando's black hole — in 1979's Apocalypse Now. In all these he is a combustive element in a mad universe.
Equally if not more revealing are two little-known features also made on the cusp of the '80s. Silvio Narizzano — a Canadian incongruously best known for Swinging London classic Georgy Girl (1966) — directed the incredible surreal tragicomedy Bloodbath, with Hopper as pathetic hippie-trail junkie "Chicken" and erstwhile Hollywood glamazon Carroll Baker as retired sex goddess "Treasure." Both tempt doom, and get it, in a Spanish village that only tolerates Western decadence and wealth so far. Eventually Buñuel-type heavy symbolism requires a climactic slaughter both martyring and morally corrective. It's amazing that a parable so thoroughly anti-bourgeoisie yet ruling-class paranoid — in short, so 1970 — was made as late as 1979.
Hopper often seems utterly mad, or at least mega-wasted, in that delirious film. Ditto 1980's comparatively (barely) sober Out of the Blue, on which he was hired as actor but took over as director when the original one was fired. He plays a total fuckup just released from prison (having committed multiple manslaughter in a horrific school bus accident while drunk) who reunites with his drug-addicted wife (Sharon Farrell) and supremely alienated punk teen daughter CB (the extraordinary Linda Manz, from 1978's Days of Heaven).
Out of the Blue offers genuinely shocking family dysfunction, as well as a little-heralded but great first-generation U.S. punk depiction. (Which nonetheless threads bits from the acoustic half of Hopper friend Neil Young's Rust Never Sleeps through an eclectic soundtrack.) It's terrific, exhilarating, arbitrary, and merciless. Apparently public domain, you can find it in DVD discount bins. Likewise Bloodbath, never released to DVD, can be had on used VHS for a couple of bucks online.
Those few dollars will get you closer to Hopper's boastfully self-loathing perversity than anything on the Castro schedule. He might have been hell to work with — an easy rider who rode everyone else's nerves raw — but the public expressions of his interior mess were always fun to watch.
DENNIS HOPPER: MISFITS AND OUTSIDERS
Wed/4-Fri/6 and Sun/8, $7.50–$10
429 Castro, SF
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