The Dennis Hopper Cheat Sheet

Want to become an instant expert in our filmmaker of the month without committing yourself to an entire filmography? Then you need the Hell Is For Hyphenates Cheat Sheet: we program you a double feature that will not only make for a great evening’s viewing, but will bring you suitably up-to-speed before our next episode lands…

EASY RIDER (1969) and COLORS (1988)

Not all filmmakers create a work that changes cinema and continues to resonate for the next five decades, and those that do rarely achieve such a feat with their debut. Dennis Hopper was no mere vanity actor-turned-director, launching Easy Rider into the zeitgeist and creating a work that served as an icon for both the counterculture movement as well as its inevitable death. Nothing but respect for my Captain America. Once you’ve finished watching that film, throw on Colors. This intense crime drama stars Sean Penn and Robert Duvall as unlikely partners, upending the cliché of the experienced elder cop and the brash young upstart even as the genre was taking root. It’s a product of its time, but it’s not dated the way it might have… or perhaps even the way it should have, given the issues it’s dealing with could easily be ripped from today’s headlines. It’s remarkably nuanced work from Hopper, who perhaps should get as many plaudits for this work as he does Easy Rider. Either way, this is a hell of a double.

Substitutions: If you can’t get or have already seen Easy Rider, seek out The Last Movie (1971). It’s not exactly a beloved film, and its reputation is that of a total disaster, but the same dystopic 1970s feel that drove Easy Rider drives The Last Movie. It is a film of excess, a difficult and indulgent second album, and really worth a watch. If you can’t get or have already seen Colors, get your hands on The Hot Spot (1990). This gritty film noir set in a sun-drenched small town stars Don Johnson, Virginia Madsen and Jennifer Connelly, and is definitely a minor classic, particularly if you’re a fan of ’90s thrillers.

The Hidden Gem: Want to see something off the beaten path, a title rarely mentioned when people talk about the films of Dennis Hopper? Then you should track down Out of the Blue (1980). This drama about a young girl whose obsession with music helps distract her from domestic dramas is remarkably nuanced work from Hopper, and deserves to be ranked with his best.

The next episode of Hell Is For Hyphenates, featuring Noah Segan talking the films of Dennis Hopper, will be released on 31 March 2018.

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