Denis Hopper died yesterday. He acted in more than 200 films, and directed eight. Some of these films were milestones in the development of the American cinema, some of them were trash. He was a fabulous actor and a man of his time who lived a controversial life. When I think of him two films come first of all to my mind.

(video source IzwergShkiv)

The first one is a film that I got to see more than 35 years after it was made, but about whose theme and music I knew scores around the time when it was made. Easy Rider was often present in the radio broadcasts of Cornel Chiriac from Radio Free Europe, and Cornel – the mentor of our generation and our teacher in music and freedom – was talking about it and playing its fabulous music. I wonder if Dennis Hopper ever knew what kind of impact his anti-capitalist establishment film had made for the youth of the Communist countries, who were reading in the film and in its music the same elements of revolt and thirst for freedom common to the young generation on both sides of the Iron Curtain.

(video source pulpmur)

When David Lynch’s Blue Velvet was out I was already a free man, and this was one of the first films I have seen after my emigration. I was building from almost zero my cinema culture, and living, surviving, absorbing the culture shock of meeting a film art developed in freedom to say what it wants and how it wants (or almost, as I was to learn in time). Lynch’s brutal symbolism, his world full of shades and mysteries, populated with dark, grotesque, pathetic characters had found in Hopper the perfect actor to fit the director’s mind waves.

Andy Warhol's Portrait - source commons.wikimedia.org

By one of these unique coincidences that makes you wonder, the European TV channel ARTE broadcast the German documentary Dennis Hopper: Create (or Die) just three days before Dennis Hopper died. The film was made in 2003, so it misses the final years of Hopper, which is maybe better as these years included personal dramas like his divorce and the fight with the malady that eventually defeated him. We are taken though the principal milestones of Hopper’s biography, including his debut start in Hollywood, the meeting with James Dean and the influence he played upon him, his insubordination on sets and conflicts with the Hollywood directors which led to his black-listing, the years in New, the making of ‘Easy Rider’ with the road trip he took in open space America under the influence of the French New Wave directors, the filming of milestones like ‘Apocalypse Now’, ‘Blue Velvet’, ‘Colors’, his fight with dependency on drugs and alcohol. We come to know Hopper as a complex artist, a valuable photographer who had always a camera on him, and whose portraits or American life shots figure among the best in the genre, but also a rebel painter (who may still be rediscovered and become famous in posterity) and exquisite art collector. I found the Frankfurt actors class sequences to be extremely interesting, as they present the concept that stands behind Hopper’s technique based over all on the truth of the artistic experience. If you would not die without creating, better go and do something else than being an artist – this is the message that he left to his students and fans.

You will be missed, Dennis Hopper. Easy Ride!