Saturday, May 29, 2010

RIP Dennis Hopper

Well, not this was unforeseeable, but still a terrible loss.
Not the most prestigious or best-remembered role of his career, but I think I first saw Hopper in Super Mario Bros., at a birthday party in the third grade. I was more than a little bugged that the filmmakers chose to do away with King Koopa as a walking, talking, fire-breathing dinosaur, but, in the end I think Dennis Hopper as a cold-blooded tyrant with Lisa Simpson hair was probably the better decision.
Before I really knew what good film acting was (or good film, for that matter. I defended Super Mario Bros to several friends over the course of the next few months), I was struck by how he accomplished so much with single-word lines of dialogue, such as "Monkey!" or Plumbers!" Now that I think about it, "plumbers" probably came at the end of or in the middle of a sentence, but it's that one word that sticks with me: in those two syllables he really sells the contempt that a different actor could easily gloss over, not according any serious effort to such a silly concept, and that's why we loved Dennis. We always felt he was a dangerous presence and that's because he always bought in to the paranoia and psychopathy of the characters he portrayed in such a tangible way.
At the risk of sounding dismissive or reductive, he was one of the last truly nutball actors. Like Klaus Kinski, when he stalked onscreen he displaced any sense of normalcy the film may have established up until that point. Using Hopper was a way for a director to show that everything had become unhinged and where ever you thought the movie was going, Hopper was sure as hell going to frustrate any expectations of complacency and bring you into his nightmare. Up until the last thirty minutes of Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, I was bored by what seemed to be a pale attempt at recapturing the danger of a cultural phenomenon that had passed more than a decade previously. And then, in the climax, "Oh shit. Dennis Hopper has chainsaws." And he did.

2 of 'em.

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