(U)Mon Dieu! What a GREAT week for CINEMA!

29 05 2010

Update: Dennis Hopper, dead at 74

For many film buffs, Dennis Hopper’s career will be defined by Easy Rider, the iconic road movie which he directed and in which he starred.

The film’s success ushered in a new style of movie making in Hollywood, as well as launching the career of a young actor named Jack Nicholson.

However, Hopper subsequently struggled to maintain his career, battling against alcohol and drug abuse, before making a comeback in the 1980s.

Dennis Lee Hopper was born on 17 May 1936 in Dodge City, Kansas.

After the war his family moved first to Kansas City, Missouri, and then to San Diego in California where the young Hopper first became interested in acting.

He studied at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, where he developed an interest in Shakespeare, and then at the Actors Studio in New York.

‘Talent to watch’

Hopper made his TV debut in 1954 in Medic, a groundbreaking NBC medical drama which set the pattern for this genre of programmes.

The following year he played the part of Goon in Rebel Without a Cause, alongside James Dean, who Hopper much admired.

“I came out of playing Shakespeare at the old Globe Theatre in San Diego,” he later recalled. ” I was 18 years old and thought I was the best young actor in the world. Then I saw Dean. I had never seen anybody improvise before. I had never seen anybody do things that weren’t on the page. I was amazed.”

One piece of advice Hopper remembered getting from Dean was “drink the drink, don’t act drinking the drink,” something that was to prove Hopper’s undoing in the future.

In 1956 he was again cast alongside Dean in Giant, which also starred Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson. Dean was killed in a car crash two weeks before filming finished.

Over the next few years Hopper appeared in a number of minor film roles and in a host of TV shows including Bonanza and The Twilight Zone.

Becoming somewhat disillusioned with acting he turned to photography where he achieved some success, once being credited in a US magazine as “a talent to watch”.

He had a supporting role alongside Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke and went on to appear with John Wayne in True Grit and The Sons of Katie Elder.

Easy Rider

Hopper’s liberal political leanings were in direct contrast to Wayne’s right-wing Republican stance, but the two men struck up a rapport on set.

He appeared as a drugs dealer in Roger Corman’s low budget film, The Trip, in 1967 where he found himself working with Jack Nicholson, who had written the script, and Peter Fonda who had a starring role.

In 1968 Hopper again teamed up with Nicholson and Fonda to produce the screenplay for Easy Rider, destined to become one of Hollywood’s cult movies.

Filming was fraught with difficulties. Hopper’s marriage to Brooke Hayward was falling apart and he constantly clashed with his co-star, Peter Fonda, and with his crew.

He was also feeling the effects of an increase in his intake of drugs and alcohol, not helped by the fact that the drug taking and drinking scenes in the film featured the real substances.

The scene in which the protagonists smoke dope in a New Orleans cemetery brought fierce criticism from the Catholic Church, which helped to boost the film’s notoriety.

But the critics welcomed Easy Rider as a new direction in film making. Hopper received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay while Nicholson was nominated for Best Supporting Actor.

A self indulgent follow-up, The Last Movie, also with Peter Fonda, failed dismally at the box office and Hopper would not direct again for another 10 years.

Throughout the 1970s Hopper appeared in a string of TV shows and low budget films but continued to have problems in his personal life.

Having divorced Beth Hayward, he married Mamas and Papas singer Michelle Philips in 1970 but she filed for divorce after just one week.

He returned to prominence in 1979, appearing as a crazed photojournalist in Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam War blockbuster, Apocalypse Now, with many critics noting that Hopper appeared to be playing himself.


He won critical praise for the controversial film, Out of the Blue, which marked his return to directing and in which he also starred.

But his increasingly erratic behaviour, caused by a massive intake of cocaine and beer, was making it difficult for him to find new acting roles.

After a bizarre attempt to blow himself up with dynamite as part of an “art happening”, he went into rehab.

He began to get his career back on track with roles in Rumble Fish and The Osterman Weekend before a critically acclaimed appearance as Frank Booth, in David Lynch’s film 1986 Blue Velvet.

“Blue Velvet was wonderful,” Hopper later recalled. “I called David and said ‘Don’t worry about casting me in this because I am Frank Booth.'”

In the same year he received an Oscar nomination for his role in Hoosiers, the saga of a small-town basketball team.

Throughout the 1990s he made a speciality of playing villains with notable appearances in Speed, with Keanu Reeves and Kevin Costner’s flawed epic, Waterworld.

He also made a series of TV commercials for the sporting goods manufacturer, Nike, in which he played a crazed referee.

He again played a villain, Victor Drazen, in the first series of the TV show, 24, and was playing Ben Cendars in the TV series, Crash, shortly before his death.

Apart from his interest in photography, Dennis Hopper was also a prolific painter and sculptor who held regular exhibitions of his work.

He described one such exhibition, in Amsterdam in 2001, as the highlight of his life, even topping Easy Rider.

He recalled how acting guru Lee Strasberg taught him to use his senses and how Jackson Pollock’s art teacher Thomas Hart Benton urged him as a young man to “get tight and paint loose”.

He said: “I think getting in a state where you are free of any pre-conceived ideas and attack a canvas with just source materials is a wonderful freeing experience.”

Michel Gondry in Portland!

Perhaps our pluvial little city is starting to make an international splash at last? 15 April, Charlotte Gainsbourg, daughter of actress and model, Jane Birkin, and French icon, Serge Gainsbourg, came to sing for us (with moderate attendance, probably because most Portlanders who go to rock shows don’t watch movies which require them to read subtitles AND drink beer at the same time, since when their lips move as they read, the beer dribbles out) and now…

Director of a bunch of great Björk music videos, the amazing documentary homage to Wattstax, David Chapelle’s Block Party, and then some pleasers for the twee crowd still in arrested development, such as Be Kind Rewind, Science of Sleep and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, is coming to Portland for a Q&A for his new documentary, THE THORN IN THE HEART (MG, France, 2010)! Mon dieu!

The documentary is a reminiscence about family and Gondry’s influential aunt who was a school teacher in rural France. Portland may not care for the subject, which may be too specific and subsequently alienating, but if it’s got little toy choo-choos blowing cotton ball smoke, no doubt Portland will thing it cinéma hypercool!

Gondry will have a Q&A after THE THORN IN THE HEART screening at 7:30PM. The following 9:45PM screening will only be introduced by Gondry…probably because after 10PM, he has to climb into his oversized matchbox bed and go to sleep.



I realize this is a bold statement, but there you have it. You may (not) remember my lengthy praise written in the 09 April entry of last year when SILENT LIGHT (Carlos Reygadas, Mexico, 2009) played that Easter weekend (which was purrrfectly programmed at The Whitsell Auditorium), so for those of you who are just discovering PDXFilm, you can CLICK HERE to read last year’s praise of the modern masterpiece, SILENT LIGHT.

But the short of it is this:

With SILENT LIGHT, Mexican auteur Carlos Reygadas (Japon, Battle In Heaven) delivers an extraordinary, transcendent meditation on love and religion. To capture the innocence necessary to tell his tale, Reygadas ventured to a Mennonite community in northern Mexico. Rather than falsifying his world, Reygadas cast the film with Mennonites from the community who speak the German dialect Plattdeutsch.

From the luminous opening shot, which is without question one of the most stunning opening shots ever committed to celluloid, it becomes clear that this is a much different film than Reygadas’s last, the graphic and blunt Battle In Heaven. While it appears that Reygadas was deeply influenced by Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Ordet, as well as the works of Terrence Malick, SILENT LIGHT is the work of a visionary filmmaker who is challenging himself and trying to address genuinely deep human issues. Beautiful and profound, SILENT LIGHT is cinema at its most breathtaking.

(There was a trailer here, but then I watched it.  Please don’t ever watch it.)

Film Comment ranked it as the 61st best film of the decade, but in my book…it’s number one.

This will be your last chance to ever see SILENT LIGHT as a 35mm film print. EVER. It’s too obscure to return.

SILENT LIGHT plays this weekend only at 5th Ave. Cinema. Friday and Saturday, it plays at 7pm and 9:30pm. Sunday, it plays at 3pm.

If you are one of my students at NWFC, I showed this in class and your jaws were on the floor. GO, DAMMIT! It’s FREE for all PSU students and for the rest of us, it’s only THREE BUCKS!


Last week, I protested that THE RED SHOES (Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger, U.K., 1948) was going to get only a one week run at 4pm daily. Though the showtime is still designed for the retired and the unemployed, due to the massive turnouts (!), THE RED SHOES has been extended for another week!

There is a reason why Martin Scorsese named THE RED SHOES his all time favorite film. There is a dizzying hysteria for cinema in every edit, every composition and every shadow and light. THE RED SHOES is PURE CINEMA.

Roger Ebert accurately wrote, “The film is voluptuous in its beauty and passionate in its storytelling. You don’t watch it, you bathe in it.”

The New Yorker writes of this newly released print from The Janus Films archive, “No wonder Britain, still rationed in color, food, and feeling in the wake of an exhausting war, could not cope with what the movie proposed. Catch it here now, and you will not just be seeing an old film made new; you will have your vision restored.”

THE RED SHOES plays for one more week daily at 4pm ONLY at Cinema 21. DON’T MISS IT!

Hong Sang-Soo films return!

Friday only at The Whitsell Auditorium is WOMAN ON THE BEACH (Hong Sang-Soo, S. Korea, 2006).

As in his latest film, Like You Know It All (S.Korea, 2009), which screened in this year’s PIFF, Hong Sang-soo’s earlier film explores, in the words of Village Voice film critic J. Hoberman, his preoccupations with “karmic irony, self-deceived desire, squandered second chances, and unforeseen abandonment.” A filmmaker struggling with a new screenplay sets off on a wintry retreat to a desolate seaside town in search of inspiration…or perhaps just to procrastinate. Either way, he winds up wooing his production designer’s girlfriend and even a local girl who looks just like her. “One of recent cinema’s deepest portraits of an artist,”writes Richard Brody of The New Yorker.

Film Comment ranked WOMAN ON THE BEACH the 83rd best film of last decade and this is definitely your last chance to see it as a 35mm print!

WOMAN ON THE BEACH plays Friday, at 7PM only at The Whitsell Auditorium.

On Saturday, one of Hong Sang-Soo’s more recent films, NIGHT AND DAY (S.Korea, 2008) plays at The Whitsell.

In self-imposed exile from his native Seoul, Sung-nam, a fortyish year old married photorealist painter, wanders the streets of Paris. But a roundelay of chance meetings in the City of Lights entangles him in the emotional lives of two Korean women. Hong’s lucid film wryly observes one man’s confused attempt to savor a footloose year—even if it is 20 years too late.

“One of Hong’s lightest and most easily digestible metaphysical meals to date.”—Variety.

“An international critic’s favorite! Thoughtful, ruminative, sexy romances set in South Korea’s upper-bohemian scene.”—New York Magazine.

NIGHT AND DAY plays one night only, Saturday, May 29th at 7pm at The Whitsell Auditorium.

Awright this is it. This is the Big One.

PDXFilm.org & Laughing Planet Café Present


35mm FILM PRINT – Exclusive Engagement at CINEMA 21


SATURDAY, JUNE 12th at 11pm


In attempting to summarize the infamous history of FRANK ZAPPA’S 200 MOTELS, three quotes mentioned in Amos Vogel’s book, Film as a Subversive Art, come to mind which also address early malignment of the film.

For the music’s ribald, bawdy lyrics, which caused a live performance of 200 MOTELS to be banned from the Royal Albert Hall in 1971, Goethe wrote to Johann Eckermann, “Only the perverse fantasy can still save us.”

For co-director, Tony Palmer, who publicly disowned the film in an article he submitted to the British Sunday Observer for what he wrote off as a shamble and misguided scrap heap, Nathanael West wrote, “Your order is meaningless, my chaos is significant.”

Of note, Palmer withdrew his repudiation of the film recently by placing his name above the film’s title on last April’s DVD release (We’re Only in It for the Money, Mr. Palmer?).

And lastly, for Zappa who had no formal filmmaking training and for his prescient useage of videotape (200 MOTELS was the first feature film shot on video; director Palmer threatened to erase the master videotapes, which producer, Jerry Goode, later did in order to “balance the film budget”), then transferred to 35mm film using 3-strip Technicolor process, filmmaker Jean Cocteau wrote, “What one should do with the young is to give them a portable camera and forbid them to observe any rules except those they invent for themselves as they go along.”


On the surface, FRANK ZAPPA’S 200 MOTELS is a tapestry of stream of conscious vignettes chronicling how “touring can make you crazy”, blurring life on the road into a nightmare of conformity and narrow-mindedness.

However, through Dada “anti-art” aesthetics and Brechtian epic theatre, 200 MOTELS is also about the destruction of meaning through replication and repetition, whether it’s Zappa’s surreal depiction of Centerville U.S.A. as a “sealed tuna fish sandwich” with indistinguishable churches and liquor stores dotting every town, the formal representation of rural America through deliberately flimsy sets and blatantly fake props cast from real objects, or even through the medium of video itself, a cheap and instantly gratifying alternative to film, converting the motion picture screen into the same television, complete with sitcom laugh track, found in any chintzy American motel.

Zappa’s vision challenges us to see our own activities and values as inane, superficial and policed to ensure that we lead xenophobic, God-fearing, “productive” lives. Free creativity under capitalism is represented by the musicians interned in a concentration camp. In contrast, Zappa’s doppelgänger, Larry the Dwarf–ironically coming from the mouth of Beatles drummer, Ringo Starr–satirizes the function of popular culture by explaining, “the power of pop music to corrupt and putrify the minds of world youth are virtually limitless.”

Scene after scene, 200 MOTELS is a synthetic, psychedelic, kaleidoscopic burlesque of representation and facsimile swirling with wailing guitar air sculptures and modern dance, lewd yet jocular humor, winks to VanDerBeek collage animation, Warholian pop-art repetition and Claes Oldenburg’s art replicas of the mundane, references to Mephisto, Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Oddysey, Brecht/Weill’s Mahagonie City and parody of Schoenberg’s atonal Pierrot Lunaire, all stuck together with a gob of spit in the face of peace and love, pre-dating The Sex Pistols by six years, with Zappa as the silent overseer symbolized by a single brown eye (vulgar slang for the sphincter) parodying power. Dense with images and ideas, FRANK ZAPPA’S 200 MOTELS is a post-modern junk sculpture of Joycean polysemy, or as Zappa would put it: “It’s a bit like eating a sausage: you don’t know what’s in it, you probably shouldn’t know what’s in there; but if it tastes good, well there you go.”


FRANK ZAPPA’S 200 MOTELS stars Ringo Starr as Larry the Dwarf (dressed and mustached like Zappa, who in turn is represented by a dummy in some scenes), Academy Award nominated actor and folk singer, Theodore Bikel as Rance Muhammitz, part Faustian Mephistopheles, part fascist dictator (Bikel’s family fled Austria to Palestine during the Nazi occupation), The Who’s Keith Moon as a pop star disguised as a groupie disguised as a nun (Moon’s scene prognosticates his real life death from a drug overdose, “The pills, I took so many downers that I know this is the end for me!”) and Martin Lickert, Ringo Starr’s chauffeur who took the part of Mothers of Invention bass player, Jeff Simmons, when he quit the group during production (Lickert as Simmons’ double devolves into a cartoon character of Faust in a furious animation maligning Simmons’ real life decision to quit playing “comedy music”).


In 1971, Variety wrote, “The incidents are often outrageously irreverent. The comedy is fast and furious, both sophisticated and sophomoric.”

Vincent Canby, New York Times, “No self-proclaimed surrealistic documentary can be all bad when it has a score composed by Frank Zappa, the Orson Welles of the rock music world….It cheerily evokes the image of groupies, warm beer, cheeseburgers, overflowing ash trays, efficient plumbing and inefficient air-conditioning, which freezes the air without cleaning it, in an endless chain of identical bed-sitters that are the homes-away-from-home for the members of a touring rock group.”

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times, “We have been hearing for a long time that videotape is going to revolutionize filmmaking, and now here is the vanguard of the revolution. Whatever else it may be, FRANK ZAPPA’S 200 MOTELS is a joyous, fanatic, slightly weird experiment in the uses of the color videotape process. If there is more that can be done with videotape, I do not want to be there when they do it….The movie is so unrelentingly high that you even wish for intermissions….It is the kind of movie you can barely see once: not because it’s simple, but became it’s so complicated that you finally realize you aren’t meant to get everything and sort everything out. It is a full wall of sight-and-sound input, and the experience of the input — not its content, is what Zappa’s giving us. 200 MOTELS is out of Howard Johnson by Tinker Bell, with Aquarius setting.”

FRANK ZAPPA’S 200 MOTELS plays Saturday, June 12th ONLY, 11PM at Cinema 21 and will be introduced by yours truly!

Also of interest, DWEEZIL ZAPPA PLAYS ZAPPA performs the following Sunday night, June 13th, at The Roseland Theater.