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  1. #16
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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    HOPPER/WELLES (Orson Welles 2020) (Spotlights series)

    ORSON WELLES: HOPPER/WELLES (2020) (Spotlights series)


    The young dog and the old dog

    This film, resurrected by producer Filip Jan Rymsza and editor Bob Murawski, who helped bring Welles’s unfinished The Other Side of the Wind to meticulously restored life two years ago is a collection of footage brought back to the light from film files. It's an odd, sometimes quite uneasy, experience. Take Dramamine before watching this film. It has the jitteriest, most messy camerawork you've ever seen, wobbly camera, sudden jerky zoom. Every few minutes the reel runs out and some underling walks into the shot and claps a clapper and says "3A - 3BX", or something like that, interrupting Hopper. It's insane. Half way through there appears a woman sitting near Hopper who starts laughing distractingly at his jokes. Then there's some other guy, another woman at the table. It is very disturbing. If you're interested in Dennis Hopper and Orson Welles, or perhaps in the mood in "Hollywood" in 1970, you want to take this in. But it isn't brilliant conversation, and some moments are embarrassing. They were both too drunk. But it has interesting moments, and sometimes when the camera is in focus and close up on Hopper and he's smiling, he looks great. At this moment when Hopper reportedly had flown to Los Angeles from Taos to see Welles and he was finishing his disastrous movie and Welles was finishing his never-finished Other Side of the Wind (so Hopper calls him "Jake" here, his role in that film), this happened. I dare say Welles looked at this footage and decided it wasn't usable. He was right. But it's Welles and Hopper talking, and here it is.

    It's a house, dark, just lamps, with a roaring fire. Dennis Hopper is bearded and in a denim jacket and cowboy hat, drinking (he says) gin and tonics, and smoking Marlboros. In the background, never seen, shouting a bit, is Orson Welles. Hopper had made his famous movie, Easy Rider a year before, and was 34. Welles was 55 and had made his big movie, Citizen Cane, 29 years before. Or course Welles made other important films and is a great director, but also was looked on with some justification as a losing proposition, and living much of his time abroad. We must remember that Hopper had also played opposite James Dean in Rebel without a Cause andGiant in the fifties. Easy Rider seems dated now, and the film Hopper was finishing up, The Last Movie, was a disaster. It might be better to think of him as an actor and a personality who dabbled a bit in directing. I think of him as a very astute patron of contemporary art.

    What's going on? Welles starts off as if he's interviewing Hopper, but you can't tell if he's interviewing or provoking. He is no interviewer, too definite in his views, to contrary, a bit of a blowhard. He admits his questions are childish (he says those get the best answers: do we agree?) but if he'd asked more specific ones it might have been more interesting. Hopper may be awed by Welles. He laughs a lot. It seems like nervous laughter, though it helps to make the "conversation" seem amicable. Sometimes it feels like he's channeling Bob Dylan a bit (whom Welles affects not to have heard of). But Hopper is so young, and Welles is such a back number, sometimes there's doubt whether either has anything to say, to the other, anyway. Both could be more interesting in other contexts - talking to the astute and witty Dick Cavett, for example. Both were on Dick Cavett's show, separately, and had good stories to tell, now and later. But of course those are artificial performances. This is more unpredictable. Perhaps its sheer raw messiness gives it interest.

    About midway Welles calls Hopper "filmmaker, extraordinary leading actor, seminal personality for a whole generation." But as the evening wears on, he becomes more and more disagreeable and provocative. Hopper is convincing when he speaks of the radicalism around him in Taos, where he is living, and the danger for him of speaking out on politics when there are federal agents around who question him, yet Welles keeps pressing him to talk about his political beliefs. As Xian Brooks says in his Guardian review, we're watching "Welles frustrated by Hopper; Hopper tormented by Welles." Hopper is admirable for retaining his good humor. Welles is unjustifiably condescending. He just wants to provoke, not to listen. It's painful to watch. But go ahead and watch it.

    In his Variety revoew, " Dennis Hopper and Orson Welles Square Off in 1970 in a Tantalizing Talk Plucked From the Vaults," Owen Gleiberman clarifies where both men where at this point and what Welles was trying to do in shooting this footage and in prodding Hopper. Sheri Linden in her Hollywood Reporter review presents a more positive picture of what's going on.

    Hopper/Welles, 130 mins., debuted at Venice Sept. 8 and showed in the "Spotlight" section of the (virtual) New York Film Festival, where it was screened for this review; also scheduled for Busan and the American Film Festival in Poland. Metascore 68%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-28-2020 at 10:50 PM.


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