Dennis Hopper on Art

Dennis Hopper was 13 when he first sniffed gasoline and watched the clouds turn into clowns and goblins. There was little else to do in Dodge City, where he had been born and raised. Catch lightning bugs, fly his kite, burn newspapers, swim. Hopper was, by his own words, “desperate”.   A sensitive child without the stimulation to keep his fevered imagination in check.

He went to movies and watched Abbott and Costello and Errol Flynn. Hopper od’ed on gasoline fumes and became Abbott and Costello meets Errol Flynn, and wrecked his grandfather’s truck with a baseball bat. It was a hint of what was to come.

Signed at 18 on contract to Warner Bros, Hopper identified with Montgomery Clift, Marlon Brando, and James Dean, but found he was expected to conform to the studio’s whims. Hopper was too sensitive to conform, and his vulnerability saw him bullied and picked on by old time studio director Henry Hathaway, who had him black-balled from Hollywood.

For the next few years, Hopper did little work. Instead, he picked up a camera and documented the social and cultural changes that were happening across America, and to himself, during the 1950s and 1960s. He also became a “gallery bum”. Where others went to the beach, Hopper hung around art galleries looking for inspiration for his acting career.

He met and became friends with the young artists whose works were exhibited - Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg and Ed Ruscha - and he started to collect, but it wasn’t about the money.

“My idea of collecting is not going and buying bankable names, but buying people that I believe are really contributing something to my artistic life.”

This short film takes us inside the late actor’s home-studio, where he gives a quick tour around his collection of Modern Art works, from Julian Schnabel, Jean Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, and Ed Ruscha.

Produced and directed by Kimberly M. Wang.


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘Downtown 81’ starring Jean Michel Basquiat: Watch it now

Downtown 81 is more dream than reality, softening the edges and rounding off the corners of a much rougher reality than the film depicts. I was there and I know most of the people involved with the making of the film. We were young, broke and fearless. We flourished below 14th st. in an atmosphere filled with a kind of beautiful dread. You never knew where the city was heading. It was a giant, stinking, drunken beast that clattered, stumbled and lurched but never came to a stop. It’s different now, domesticated and safe. The wildness is gone - the beast shot in the heart with a tranquilizer dart.

The pleasure of Downtown 81 is in watching 19 year old Jean Michel Basquiat gliding past beautifully photographed downtown landmarks to a soundtrack of seminal New York music of the era.  

Downtown 81’ was shot in 1980-81. Originally titled New York Beat’ it was written and co-produced by the well known writer Glenn O’Brien, produced by Maripol, the art director and stylist, and directed by photographer Edo Bertoglio, all of whom were deeply involved in the art, music and fashion scenes of the time. The Director of photography was John McNulty, one of New York’s top lighting men, shooting his first feature.

The film is not a documentary, but presents a slightly exaggerated, romantic and magical version of the reality of the time. The entire cast is composed of the movers and shakers on the downtown scene. In 1981, business problems interrupted the completion of post-production, and parts of the film were lost in Europe. Finally after much searching, the missing materials were located in 1998. Post production was begun in 1999 and finished in 2000, supervised by Maripol and Glenn O’Brien and edited by director/editor Pamela French. Executive producer of the film is Michael Zilkha, whose Ze Records released recordings by severals of the bands in the film.

The cast includes Deborah Harry, and leading bands of the era including Kid Creole and the Coconuts, James White and the Blacks, DNA, Tuxedomoon, The Plastics, and Walter Steding and the Dragon People. Also heard on the soundtrack are rap legend Melle Mel, John Lurie, Lydia Lunch, Suicide, Vincent Gallo, Kenny Burrell and Basquiat’s own band, Gray.”

Downtown 81 also features my mentor the legendary Giorgio Gomelsky.

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment