Dennis Hopper’s tumultuous life somewhat brings to my mind the life of the ace Indian parallel film director John Abraham(not to be confused with the Bollywood actor). Hopper, aged 74, died on May 30th (according to IST) and John Abraham died exactly 23 years earlier. It is not the dates. But something in their short careers that is quite interesting.
Hopper died at 74 after battling prostrate cancer and leading a life as a rebellious and brash bloke just like his movies. John Abraham had died falling from a roof top after consuming copious amounts of alcohol and marijuana. Both were the bad boys of glamour world and both have been regarded as geniuses who were like short flashes in the time frame of the world.
Dennis Hopper is best known for writing and acting as Billy in the hugely successful iconoclastic road movie ‘Easy Rider’. It was not a great movie in itself, but it set the tone for other movies in it genre -- low budget, pot-smoking hippie movies about American freedom.
What is most noticeable in the movie is that it freezes different sections of American society in its frames. But Dennis, though an accomplished photographer and painter, had to largely live-off the fame of Easy Rider, Apoclaypto Now and as Frank Booth, sadomasochistic villain in Blue Velvet. He also played the villain in Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock starrer Speed.
Following the success of Easy Rider, Universal Studio granted him USD 850,000 to make a movie to serve his whims of creativity. The result was The Last Movie, but by that time, drugs and beer had him and the movie bombed at the Box-Office.
According to him, he used to snort lines of cocaine as long as his arm just to help gulp down more and more of beer. During the filming of the movie in Vietnam, he had become so paranoid from drug abuse that he ran naked into the forest saying that World War III had started. And when they tried to transport him by airplane, he jumped on its wings! Later, he was admitted in a rehab facility and came clean to start afresh.
Coming to John, as his contemporaries were to later testify, was much known for many a faux pas. In his short nevertheless tumultuous career he directed only four movies, and left a slew of unfinished scripts and ideas. John was a bright student at the Film Institute in Pune. His unbridled passion knew no bounds – be it films, literature, or debates. Ritwik Ghatak, his professor at the film institute considered him as the most promising among his students.
Adoor Goplakrishan, his fellow-practitioner described an incident when they went for Pessaro film festival in Italy. When everyone slept at midnight, John would walk in the street in the cold, observing the night-life, to conjure up images and raw-materials for his work.
Their energy and passion ran high as the spirits. They lived their works inside-out, outside-in. They gave themselves so much to their work that they were a spent force before their years. Dennis called up David Lynch, the director of Blue Velvet and said “Don`t worry about casting me in this because I am Frank Booth.” John Abraham’s nomadic lifestyle had an uncanny resemblance with his characters in his movies. When his body lay in the mortuary without even being recognized, who cannot but help remember the protagonist in his film Amma Ariyan (Report to Mother).
The one-liner that comes to my mind when thinking of Dennis is the title of the 1955 teenage-rebel movie Rebel Without A Cause, which he also acted in. The same goes with John Abraham.
To describe John Abraham as a rebel without a cause may not go down well with the cinema intelligentsia. He has made people’s movie – movies produced by money collected from street plays, they may argue. But then, why did he die?
John while visiting his friend Adoor Gopalakrishnan, asked his daughter, “Who asked you to grow up?” Much later after his death, when Adoor wrote a memoir on John, he turned the question around. “John, who asked you to die?”
When I came to know of Dennis Hopper’s death it was much like the scene of Easy Rider where he gets shot by rednecks and the movie ends abruptly.
Dennis, this is not the end.