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Closing Credits: Dennis Hopper

DennisHopper.jpgDennis Hopper, an iconic screen actor, has died aged seventy-four, leaving behind him a string of amazing screen performances, and a huge gap in the upper ring of classic screen actors, actors who can command the screen by just being there.

You may instantly think of his most iconic role, that of one of the gang of Easy Riders, starring alongside Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson, and also co-writing the script with Fonda and Terry Southern, but also directing the film.

It's something that is forgotten as we always see the images of the three of them on their bikes or sitting around the campfire getting stoned, rather than the talent that went into the film itself, and that Dennis Hopper directed the film.

However, let's have a look through his film career and see what else there is to talk about, because it's not all Easy Rider and Blue Velvet, oh no.

Hopper was actually a photographer in the 1960's and turned to painting and poetry, he was a very creative man, and even earlier this year he was on the shortlist for a show at the LA Museum of Contemporary Art.

He had a darker side too though, with drugs, drink, and stories of outrageous behaviour filled his early career, and at one point in 1984 he was committed to a psychiatric ward after experiencing violent hallucinations. However these aren't the things we're here to talk about, we're here for his films and the roles he played, not his private life and gossip.

Dennis Hopper gained a big break when he was just nineteen, when he starred alongside James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, and it is here that The Guardian say he was heavily influenced for his career and his acting style. They say that he took a lot from the actor, particularly the idea of commitment to acting and being unwilling to bend to a director's desire when they felt it affected the character and his role, something he often took to extremes and caused a lot of negativity towards the actor in Hollywood.

However, that never stopped him getting some amazing roles in a rollercoaster career that saw him appear in some dreadfully dire films as well, but whenever he was on screen he commanded it and was instantly recognisable as a great screen icon.

At the time of Rebel Without a Cause he was starring in three different televisions roles and was cast in another Dean led film, Giant.

Following that role in 1957 he starred in Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, then as Napoleon Bonaparte in The Story of Mankind, a huge role to be playing so early on in his career, or perhaps a small role, however within the space of two years his career had seen a massive rise.

In 1958 he starred in From Hell to Texas, a film that secured his reputation for being difficult, and created anecdotes that have been used throughout his career and are mentioned throughout his obituaries, mentioning his actor-director battles with Henry Hathaway.

He starred in the Swiss Family Robinson television film in 1958, and television played a huge role throughout his early career as his reputation pulled him back from the major film roles, although he still starred in some big films he was often playing the bad guy, and sometimes not the lead bad guy either.

I do remember seeing The Sons of Katie Elder, and his role in the film which was led by John Wayne and Dean Martin, yes a strange pairing indeed, but it saw him back in a Henry Hathaway film, strange considering the stories of their clashing on set, especially more strange when he returns to the grouping of Hathaway and Wayne in True Grit in 1969.

Before True Grit though he starred with Peter Fonda, Susan Strasberg and Bruce Dern in Roger Corman's The Trip, a story of a man going through a personal crisis who turns to a self-styled guru that advocates the use of LSD in effective treatment. So begins a bad trip and he must decide whether this is all real or not.

Following that he starred in another iconic film, the 1967 Cool Hand Luke, yes the one with Paul Newman eating all those eggs, a cracking film and not just for that scene, certainly worth shelling out for.

Hang 'Em High in 1968 saw him starring alongside Clint Eastwood, then after a few other roles we saw him directing co-writing and Easy Rider, his first foray into writing and directing, and what a way to arrive. Together these three talents made an iconic film with characters and performances that captured a generation and became synonymise with these actors.

After starring in True Grit it was just two years later that he co-wrote and directed another film, The Last Movie in 1971, a film that wasn't wholly well received, but is quite the underrated film.

Then he leaps into an Orson Welles film in the 1972 film The Other Side of the Wind. About this time he started seeing a good number of leading roles, although not in films as major as the films he'd supported in to date.

One of the biggest appearances that mark his career came in 1979 with a film that is as legendary for the off-set rumours and stories as Hopper's own life, Apocalypse Now, a truly iconic film of cinema that saw him acting with more iconic actors and director, Stanley Kubrick.

Already this is an amazing career, just look at some of the directors and actors that he's appeared for and with, and having directed and co-written two films, this is a career that actors these days could only dream of, and we're only at 1979.

Talking of directing and co-writing, here we are again with Out of the Blue in 1980, and he's back to the big directors with Francis Ford Coppola's film Rumble Fish, another great film, a great young cast, and some great performances.

The Osterman Weekend in 1983 is another underrated film, and in 1986 we see something that is very reminiscent of Hopper's career. We saw him appear in Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and then follow that, with a few films in between, with the iconic Blue Velvet.

Just look how much I've used that term iconic in relation to Dennis Hopper's career, and here we are at another iconic role, that of the violent Frank Booth in David Lynch's classic film.

However here we find a role that I certainly remember as one of Hooper's best, perhaps one of his most personal, and a very emotional role. In Hoosiers we see his acting come out at its best, and is far from shadowed from the excellent Gene Hackman. I totally love this film and his performance, and I really do hold it up with those previously mentioned iconic roles, in fact above them in some cases.

You see I do feel that sometimes we are veered towards his bad guy, drug induced roles, rather than the real meaty acting roles. So often he's labelled with a role that doesn't define him as an actor, and Hoosiers shows the opposite side of him.

Julien Temple's Running Out of Luck in 1987, followed by Black Widow with Debra Winger and Theresa Russell, Alex Cox's Straight to Hell, James Toback's The Pick-Up Artist in 1987 with Molly Ringwald and Robert Downey Jr., are just four of the six films he made in 1987, and that shows another aspect to his talent, the sheer amount of films he made, and reinforcing the diverse talent that he worked with.

Then in 1988 he directed a film that he neither had a hand in writing nor starred in, the excellent Colors about the cops and gangs in Los Angeles carrying an amazing cast led by Sean Penn and Robert Duvall. A superb film and another landmark in his career, a film that shouldn't be underestimated or forgotten about amongst his acting career.

Sean Penn's The Indian Runner in 1991 leads to a role that I remember in 1993, Red Rock West, John Dahl's film starring Nicolas Cage, J.T. Walsh and Lara Flynn Boyle. I enjoyed that film, although to a degree Hopper is playing his standard role, although it's a lot less manic here.

Avoiding films like Super Mario Bros. in 1993 we see one of the roles that bring him to a new generation of film fans, Tony Scott's True Romance as Christian Slater's dad, a strong role that plays against type again, and one that sees him recognised and remembered for in this star cast film.

Strange then that Hopper directed the comedy Chasers the year after, good cast, not a great film. However at least that was followed by his excellent role in Speed as the bad guy, and not his totally drug crazed bad guy role, but a human baddie with some flaws and real motivations. Plus it was a damn entertaining film.

From there on if I mentioned Waterworld in 1995 and Space Truckers in 1996 you get the gist of the run of films up until Edtv in 1999 got him in another blockbuster film. 2002 saw him appear in 24 and lend his voice to Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, and in 2003 he played Frank Sinatra in the comedy The Night We Called It a Day.

More rough roles in George A. Romero's Land of the Dead in 2005 and then Hell Ride in 2008 with him reprising his Easy Rider role to a degree, but then comes the excellent Elegy (Filmstalker review) where he plays a real character once again, someone without that manic side to him, and although he's supporting Ben Kingsley and Penélope Cruz, he does give an emotional and strong personal performance.

He returned to television in the latter years of his career with the Crash television series, and we're waiting to see The Last Film Festival and hear him in the star voiced Alpha and Omega.

What a career, and what a legacy to leave cinema. For me though I'll pick out roles that most won't. Hoosiers and Elegy, his accomplished work on Colors before I turn to True Grit, Red Rock West, The Sons of Katie Elder, and of course Apocalypse Now, and the legendary Easy Rider.

The news, Tweets and Facebook posts of the weekend are clear, he will be a much missed face and voice in television and film.

It's a sad time in my life for being such a fan of cinema, for as I have grown older in years so have the screen icons I grew up with, and more and more I'm seeing the great screen actors dying and disappearing from big and small screens.

For a film fan they are immortalised in film, and with their death their greatest roles come to the fore again, but they also mark the passing of an era, an era of great and powerful actors made such by a different kind of Hollywood and film.

I know I speak for Filmstalker fans when I say that our thoughts are with family and friends, and all through the coming weeks Dennis Hopper will be on our screens.

Actor, Director, Writer, Icon
Dennis Hopper



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