Jean Michel Basquiat
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.