I watched David Lynch’s Blue Velvet years after it was first released in the cinemas. One of the scenes from that weird and surreal film that stands out in my memory is of the evil Frank Booth approaching Dorothy Vallens, an oxygen mask covering his face and breathing stertorously. Frank Booth, the central villain in David Lynch’s landmark film, is one of the most unforgettable characters in Hollywood films.
Dennis Hopper, who died last month, succumbing (I am not sure that is the correct verb—it insinuates a weakness of character, obliquely suggesting that if only the sufferer were made of sterner character, had more will power, the outcome could have been avoided) finally to prostate cancer, played Frank Booth in Blue Velvet, one of the many memorable characters this versatile actor played over the years.
I am not a great film buff. The last time I watched a film in the cinemas was almost three years ago (it was a silly Harry Potter flick, and while driving home, an idiot drove into my car side-on round a roundabout); however there was a time when I used to watch films regularly. My taste, if my memory of those days which are increasingly becoming mist-filled, serves me right, was eclectic. I was not choosy. I watched any film that had a semblance of a plot, had some eye-candies (Sharon Stone, Julia Roberts, and the super-elegant Michelle Pfeiffer), and clever, witty dialogues (any of the Tarantino films). I wasn’t a great fan of a particular actor, although I admired, in no particular order, Michael Caine, Gene Hackman, and Dennis Hopper. The trouble was none of these three actors was terrifically choosy with their selections of films. The sheer dross they have acted in is mind-boggling. Michael Caine was unapologetic about it: he once famously replied, when asked why he had chosen to act in some dreadful flick—I forget the name; there were so many of them—, that it funded the extension to his house. I know not what Dennis Hopper’s excuse was to waste his awesome talent in rubbish films (perhaps to fund his costly divorces, there were five of them). For all I know he saw, in vehicles like Luck of the Draw and The Keeper, an opportunity to impress the viewers with his outstanding talent, but I doubt it. Chances are Hopper was driven by the same motives that made Michael Caine accept Asahnti.
I shall remember Dennis Hopper for his roles in Blue Velvet, Speed—which gave his career a new lease of life (and, I dare say, spawned many derivative villains roles, some of which he could have avoided), Apocalypse Now—in which he played an unsettlingly hypermanic photographer), and of course Easy Rider (a bit before my time, this one)—‘the ultimate road movie’, which he also directed.
Dennis Hopper acted in some great films and lots and lots of not very good films. That detracts nothing from the fact that he was one of the most talented actors.
May his soul rest in peace.