Dennis Hopper has died.
In the coming weeks, and months, I think we’ll begin to learn more about Dennis Hopper’s great range of talent, not just as an actor and director, but also as a photographer and painter. From what I understand, late in his life, Hopper had become something of a serious fine artist. I’ll leave that aspect of his career to those who know more about pictures, and look instead to my favorite piece of Hopper, his scene in True Romance.
Film craft aside, what I love about this scene is how un-Hopper like Dennis Hopper is. All the manic volatility we see in the Hopper of Blue Velvet and Apocalypse Now has been shut down, and his signature brand of gesticulation – as wild and menacing as his I’m-going-to-eat-you-now grin – is nowhere to be found.
But they are implied. Because he is Dennis Hopper, and we know what it means to watch Dennis Hopper, the suggestion of sudden implosion is present throughout. It lends a time-bomb feeling to the scene. We wonder, will he or won’t he go off? More succinctly, Will Hopper hopper?
Of course, credit is due to director Tony Scott for using Hopper so cleverly, and for throwing a bit of light on the bulging veins in his forehead as if to say, “Don’t forget, this is where the time bomb lives.” If you find yourself smiling at the brutality, that’s why; we’ve been let in on the inside joke. Even though we know Hopper’s character is going down, because it’s Dennis Hopper we know it’s going to be a fair fight; more than fair, it’s going to be a fun fight.
Part of what makes Hopper such an eerily addictive screen presence is the feeling of childlike joy he imbued into deathly circumstances. In Blue Velvet, for instance, the contrast is terrifying, but here in True Romance, it’s actually touching. Playing a man who knows death is upon him, Hopper, toward the end of the scene, can’t help but show a smile, and not because he has a morbid death wish, but because, above all else, he is a man who loves the ride. Even at his darkest, you could see him on a rollercoaster, throwing his hands up in the air when everyone else was holding on for dear life. That’s the kind of man – and actor – he was. Whether it was up or down, Dennis Hopper just wanted the trip.