Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Frank Booth Was Kurt Cobain's Real Grandpappy

(Reprinted from PopKrazy)

RIP Dennis Hopper, 1936-2010
(This piece originally appeared in Providence Monthly’s July edition, albeit in an altered, shortened form.)

In the long, ever strange history of Hollywood, Dennis Hopper shall stand fast as one of the most vivid flesh-and-blood parameters of an American industry turned inside out and eventually splintered and rendered all too soporific. Born in Dodge City, Kansas he was a pure-bred farm boy whose family eventually moved to San Diego in the late 1940s. He apprenticed at that city’s well-known Old Globe Theatre and became a very young contract player at Warner Brothers, building a budding career until a now apocryphal 1958 showdown with one of the then movie industry’s most macho despots, director Henry Hathaway, wherein the rebellious and cocksure young actor refused to give into Hathaway’s direction and faced him off in a widely viewed and reported public showdown that supposedly went on for some 80 takes, which resulted in a newfound status as a Tinseltown pariah.

Hopper quickly skipped off to New York City and became yet another charismatic Lee Strasberg acting apostle and an Actor’s Studio warrior and jumped from the stage into the burgeoning television dramatic scene, making over a 100 TV appearances. Reputation newly enhanced, he went west coast again, tilting sideways into the disintegrating studio system (even reworking with Hathaway) before inexplicably elbowing his way to the top of the pops by writing, directing and starring in the game changer that was Easy Rider in 1969. Drugs and bloated egomania dropped him to his hippie knees again after the colossal failure of his personal freak flag project The Last Movie in 1971, only to go further drug crazy and wander off into other artistic pursuits before coming back again under the wide shoulders of movie brat generalissimo Francis Coppola in 1979’s Apocalypse Now. A final phase, the ultra-professional actor-for-hire, crowned his grandly strange career trip.

Hopper was always something more than just big screen player, he was and shall remain a dual headed symbol of the both new Hollywood and an in-the-flesh poltergeist of the lost glamour of Hollywood Studio system, bridging the gap from florid and burnished 50’s melodrama (co-starring and rubbing in the glowing-but-mutated pixie dust of James Dean in both 1955’s Rebel Without a Cause and 1956’s Giant), through the emerging American new wave (the sensational mix of drive-in flick and socio-political parable with Easy Rider) to Dream Factory paradise lost (his directorial and personal shenanigans on The Last Movie would become a part of gonzo Hollywood lore), , through the unexpected emergence of the second wave of American independent/commercial filmmaking (David Lynch’s modern day classic, 1986’s Blue Velvet).

Hopper was a writer, photographer, actor, producer, director, performance artist, demi-monde celebrity, and an unending and totally willful repository of personal and professional chaos, plus one of the more memorable post-beat poets of self-immolation. Somehow he endured it all as an indestructible man with an equally indestructible career. Hopper easily stood out in his early films, with his deep boned Midwestern hipster looks belying the fact that even in his roles as hoods, misunderstood youth, or uneasily turbulent cowpokes, he seemed to dig deeper than the better looking hunks of meat surrounding him, his eyes flashing with intensity while he alternated a jaundiced sneer and a dreamy giggle. He transitioned into an alternative culture superstar while simultaneously drowning himself in irony and riches, recreated himself as one of the ultimate pop cultural guilty pleasures as the sharpest and most nuanced exemplars of movie-movie sociopaths (his lanky forehead head and sloped nose just about gleaming with the remnants of his own real life back-story), and lassoed it all into being gracefully acknowledged as one of most consistently solid character actors of all, and maybe even the truest pop cult granddaddy to such lost soul savants as Kurt Cobain. Bad movie, weird movie, great movie, I could never take my eyes off Hopper, and I always watched him both as explorative actor and living, breathing cultural zeitgeist.

A Hopper Baker’s Dozen

1.Blue Velvet. (1986) Frank Booth salivating with gusto for Pabst Blue Ribbon has to be among the most electrifying visual and aural surreal moments in mainstream Hollywood history, and that’s just a toe in the wondrously murky waters.

2.Easy Rider. (1969) Youthful wannabes and tripping hippies all wished they looked and acted like Peter Fonda’s Wyatt/ Captain America, but the truth of the matter was that, in most neighborhoods, there was a whole lot more of Hopper’s stringy-haired, fast-talking stoner Billy present and accounted for.

3.Hoosiers. (1986) As about an honest and thoroughly ingrained (and emotionally palatable) portrait of alcoholism and redemption, Hopper’s hunched-over character, Shooter, never trots down hokey lane, even if the movie points there.

4.Out of the Blue. (1980) Incendiary and harrowing, a neglected cult classic, a movie propelled by Hopper’s own fierce and unrelenting directorial vision.

5.True Romance. (1993) The stop-the-movie tête-à-tête, scripted by Quentin Tarantino, between Christopher Walken and Hopper is a cinephile’s parlor game wet dream, and it alone probably puts the pair in such stellar company as Claude Rains, Peter Lorre, Elisha Cook, Jr., Robert Ryan, Warren Oates and any other stellar character mug you might wanna bring to the table.

6.Rebel Without a Cause (1955)/Giant (1956) Lurking around the periphery as Goon in the former, hitting lead off between the way-out line-up of Liz Taylor, Rock Hudson and skyrocketing Jimmy Dean in Giant, Hopper’s eyes alone signify as pure 1950’s burnished Technicolor firmament.

7.Rumble Fish. (1983) As the whiskey-soaked Dad at crispy center of the mumbling triumvirate of Mickey Rourke, Matt Dillon and himself, everything about this vastly under praised Coppola toss-off tour de force is simply too cool to be true, particularly the interaction between the three aforementioned lost soul mumblers.

8.Apocalypse Now.(1979)There simply couldn’t be anyone else but Hopper as the mixed-up, jumbled-up, jangled-around, imperiously incoherent photojournalist/ interpreter of both Brando’s Kurtz and the cinematic version of our country’s descent into Vietnam and the ever pulsing heart of darkness that accompanied it.

9.Kid Blue. (1973) An off center, rambling minimalist western ode that teams Hopper’s barely-in-gear magnetism with Warren Oates’s wounded eyes, resulting in a filmic slow burn that shoots right past the movie’s limitations.

10.River’s Edge. (1986) As Feck, the pied-piper of Nowheresville in post mall suburbia, Hopper is chilling and precise, and he singlehandedly lifts the younger and inexperienced cast into a level that most never reached again.

11. An American Friend (1977). A cinematic treat, combining the talents of an on-his-game Wim Wenders, a perfectly cast Bruno Ganz, the blueprint of Patricia Highsmith’s novel, and Hopper as Tom Ripley, the ultimate mercurial, two-sided ugly American.

Press Release: Announcing the first annual shaking like a mountain 2010 Fiction Open
Judge: Janice Eidus

Janice Eidus is an award-winning novelist and short story writer. Her short fiction has won two O.Henry Prizes, a Pushcart Prize, and a Redbook Prize. Her latest novel, The War of the Rosens, won a 2008, Independent Publishers Award in Religion, and was nominated for the prestigious Sophie Brody Award. Her new novel, The Last Jewish Virgin, will be published in October, 2010.

First prize: $350 Second prize: $100 Third prize: $50

The three prizewinners will be published in shaking like a mountain and have their work submitted by shaking editors to the Best of the Web and Best of Net anthologies
Deadline: September 15, 2010. Results will be announced at the website October 15, 2010, and the winners will be published before the end of 2010

Complete Contest Guidelines:
-We accept all genres of literary fiction as long as stories are related to the theme of music.
-Please be sure to include your name, address and phone number in a cover letter with your submission. Do not put your name, address, or phone number on the story itself.
-Entries must be: unpublished; 4000 words or less; and accompanied by a $10 entry fee per story.
-We welcome multiple entries ($10/story) and entries from outside the U.S. Entrants retain all rights to their stories.
-Once a story is submitted, we cannot accept an updated draft. (However, an entrant is welcome to submit an updated draft as a new entry.)
-Entry fees will not be returned or adjusted.
-Entries must be complete by 11:59 P.M. PDT on September 15, 2010.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Lost In the (new) Hood

(Reprinted from PopKrazy)

It’s easy to see why the legend of Robin Hood lives on and on as an essential big screen vehicle, as it allows for pungent flourishes of pageantry, romance, violence, and the eternally appealing defense of the common man, and it’s rebel-with-a-cause (plus a bow and arrow) central figure must be as appealing to a big name actor as it might be intoxicating to his director to provide said actor with the aforementioned ornamentations.

It’s equally easy to understand why long time collaborators Russell Crowe and director Ridley Scott (American Gangster, A Good Year, Body of Lies, and, most pertinent to this outing, Gladiator) would leap at the undertaking of revisiting the Robin Hood mythology. Crowe has the unarguable presence for such a spotlight role, and Scott has both the pedigree and the mentality to deliver his star to some greater cinematic glories. Their new film, Robin Hood, is muscular and sinewy, impeccably burnished and floridly filmed, totally flowing with populist ideology. Crowe stands erect throughout, emanating his particular brawny brand of minimalism, yet the movie seems devoid of passion or warmth and absolutely lacks any sense of the dashing tomfoolery that usually part and parcel of the landscape. It’s a ponderously gloomy origins tale, and after two and a half bombastic hours you’ll be zapped of both interest and energy.

Scott, a certified Hack Auteur, has an undeniably dexterous touch with action set pieces, and he delivers those goods as only he can, orchestrating half-dozen show-and-tells of 12th century warfare brutality, with intermittent valorous speeches from the far too taciturn Crowe. The film’s busy canvas also follows the travails of a moat full of pointed characters, including a fiery Cate Blanchett as a Marian with no trace of romantic chemistry with Crowe’s Robin, the ever felicitous Mark Strong as a conniving French villain, and solid types like Mark Addy, William Hurt, and Max von Sydow and the always interesting Danny Huston doing their bits ably.

Through the years the basic Robin Hood socio-political terrain has remained an audience-pleaser, although this Robin Hood doesn’t steal from the rich and give to the pour, instead preferring to penetrate multiple chain mail armaments in the name of fighting the holy battle against taxation without representation, bold flirting with Tea Party version of egalitarianism.

In the long run, every film Robin Hood, whether it be Douglas Fairbanks, Bugs Bunny, Frank Sinatra, Sean Connery, Kevin Costner or Russell Crowe, has be unjust compared to the indomitable Errol Flynn from Michael Curtiz’s 1938 Technicolor wonder The Adventures of Robin Hood. Yet another man -of -the- people, thoroughly illuminated by the Hollywood dream factory in its prime, Flynn’s Robin set unbeatable standards for heroic magnetism, rollicking manliness, eye-winking plumery, all the while providing he and the audience with resolute fun and deep-boned cinematic gratification that the well meaning but oh-so-ponderous team of Crowe and Scott simply can’t touch, however austerely they borough into the (new) Hood.

The Curtiz (old) Hood movie is eye candy of the highest order, a glistening helping of Hollywood classicism is unadulterated pleasure viewing. The movie won three deserved Oscars (Art Direction, Editing, Score) and it is ably burnished by the always capable Michael Curtiz, a perfectly paced and sumptuously filmed adventure tale, with the perfect coupling of Errol Flynn (effortlessly dashing) and Olivia de Havilland (rapturously beautiful), sprinkled with a typically first class supporting cast (Alan Hale, Claude Rains, Ian Hunter) and a devilishly villainous Basil Rathbone. The (new) Hood is passionless and resolutely uninspiring, a costumed dirge for contempo audiences largely unwilling or unready to be truly transported into a blissful state of artful imagination. The (old) Hood is absolute dream machine opium, once embraced by a viewing public unfettered by anything other than resolute professionalism and into-the-vein entertainment values.