DID YOU READ

Dennis Hopper: The American Dreamer

Dennis Hopper: The American Dreamer (photo)

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Update: Dennis Hopper passed away Saturday, May 29th at his home in California.

Dennis Hopper’s recent announcement of terminal cancer jump-started a long-overdue appreciation of his art and life. He got a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame last month (finally), and newspaper and blog appreciations are starting to pop up, focusing mainly on Hopper the performer. That makes sense: Hopper’s career spanned a half-century’s worth of theater, cinema, TV and recorded music; his list of collaborators stretches from Elizabeth Taylor and John Wayne through Kiefer Sutherland and Gorillaz.

Still, one hopes descriptions of Hopper’s directorial career don’t start and end with “Easy Rider.” Hopper’s 1969 debut is notable for its alternately ecstatic and lacerating portrait of the counterculture, the then-unusual use of pre-existing pop songs for its soundtrack, adventurous editing and its status as the first independently financed feature to become a mainstream smash. But there’s more to his directorial résumé than philosophical bikers.

04092010_DennisHopperEasyRider.jpgAlthough he directed just seven features (“Easy Rider,” “The Last Movie,” “Out of the Blue,” “Colors,” “Backtrack,” “The Hot Spot” and “Chasers”), his style is quite distinctive. It’s ragged and intuitive, more sensual than logical, intoxicated by drugs, sex and music. And to greater or lesser degrees, all of his films address the individual’s struggle to survive within a machine without becoming a cog — the central narrative of Hopper’s long and strange career, with its youthful promise, adult madness and autumnal wisdom.

Hopper loves long, unhurried scenes of people talking — or, as he might have said 40 years ago, relating. You can see it in the campfire scene in “Easy Rider” with Fonda’s improvised line “We blew it,” a depressed co-producer’s judgment on the film itself, transformed via editing magic into a three-word indictment of the counterculture’s squandered promise; in the alcohol-fueled beach party in “Out of the Blue” (1980); in the scenes of cops and drug dealers of “Colors” (1988) driving around L.A. and shooting the shit; and in the scenes from “The Hot Spot” that show Don Johnson’s ice-cool drifter ambling around a Texas town, studying the populace and architecture, cracking wise to everyone he meets.

The director’s commitment to in-the-moment feeling and sensation at the expense of plot is an outgrowth of his early schooling as an actor (with Lee Strasberg) and his fascination with still photography. But he wasn’t yet another actor/director recording performances while ignoring the fine points of picture and sound. Nor was he content to mine a faux-documentary vein. The more grubbily realistic sections of his movies are interspersed with lyrical images and sequences — subjectively rendered drug trips (“Easy Rider”‘s Mardi Gras section); protracted, elegant tracking shots (much of 1980’s “Out of the Blue”; the wandering-through-the-party sequence in “The Last Movie”); proto-music-video interludes (“Easy Rider”; “The Last Movie”; “Colors”; much of “The Hot Spot”). And Hopper often throws in flashy, disruptive cuts (the exploding gas tank at the end of “Easy Rider”) and expressionistic flourishes (helicopter spotlights washing over a nighttime murder scene in “Colors”) that should stop the show, yet somehow feel just right.

These touches and others have an experimental vibe reminiscent of cutting-edge 1950s and 1960s cinema: François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard and the rest of the French New Wave; Pier Paolo Pasolini (“The Gospel According to St. Matthew”); Kenneth Anger (“Fireworks,” “Scorpio Rising”); and, last but not least, Alejandro Jodorowsky (“El Topo”) and Andy Warhol (“Blow Job,” “The Chelsea Girls”), friends and gurus of Hopper.

04092010_DennisHopperTheHotSpot.jpgBut Hopper put everything together in a way that was distinctively his. There is no such thing as a perfect Hopper film, nor an uninteresting one. Even when he was working in a familiar (even stale) genre, the result, while nearly always choppy, indulgent and problematic, was never hackwork, and was often sublime.

Hopper’s 1990 thriller “The Hot Spot,” for instance, could have been just another cold exercise in style. Instead, Hopper turned it into a meandering Deep South ultra-noir, “Body Heat” by way of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” with intricately staged and edited sequences that reference (hell, plunder) Orson Welles’ “Touch of Evil.” Loosely based on hard-boiled crime writer Charles Williams’ 1953 novel “Hell Hath No Fury,” it’s a dirty daydream unfolding somewhere between the Eisenhower era and the present, with Don Johnson’s used car salesman-turned-bank robber, Virginia Madsen’s married femme fatale, and Jennifer Connelly’s curvy ingénue plotting, posing, sweating and stripping. The film’s bump-and-grind, blues/jazz soundtrack — written by Jack Nitzsche and performed by John Lee Hooker, Miles Davis, Taj Mahal and Roy Rogers — is so randy that the record should have been packaged with prophylactics.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.