High Times Greats: Dennis Hopper

A rare chat with the original easy rider.
High Times Greats: Dennis Hopper
Discovery Films

For the August, 1983 issue of High Times, Mike Wilmington interviewed the late, great Dennis Hopper, who would have been 84 years old on May 17.

The years since 1969 have been no easy ride for Dennis Hopper. The onetime hang-tough buddy of the late James Dean, the outlaw-chopper-hippie-coke-score icon of the late ’60s (gunning his Harley through a haze of acid rock), suddenly found himself branded the avatar of cinematic bad-assery in the early ’70s, when the front office refused to give his next movie (The Last Movie—almost a fitting title) a decent release, later chopping it up for late-night television dog food. The Hopper rep became graven in plastic: Mr. Self-Destruction, blowing the studio’s hard-earned bucks out the window, down the toilet and up his nose—while prudent, frugal executives wrung their hands (and Hopper’s neck) in horror… And the iron door clanged shut for the rest of the “Me” decade.

It was a bizarre fate for a man who’d earned, with his first two directorial efforts, a special award at Cannes (for Easy Rider) and the Grand Prize at Venice (for The Last Movie)— an unprecedented coup for an American. But then, no one ever accused the American movie industry of an oversupply of rationality, intelligence, taste, decency—or even common sense. More pertinent, it seems peculiar—whatever happened to The Last Movie, which Hopper now owns—that a director-writer-star who can bring in over 40 million on an investment of less than $500,000, is ignored while hack after flack racks up one mild flop or fringe-hit after another with no loss of favor.

But in 1980 Hopper the director (he’d weathered the ’70s as an actor for Coppola, Wim Wenders and others) suddenly got his break again. A low-budget Canadian tax-shelter TV movie, in which he had a lead, was about to be scrubbed by the producer. Hopper leaped into the breach on a day’s notice, rewrote the script and—probably with the eagerness of a drowning man grabbing wreckage and heading it toward shore—took the helm on his third movie. The result, Out of the Blue—a hit in Europe, now in sporadic release in the United States—is a real surprise: well-crafted, stylish, lean and mean, a “B” movie in the classic sense—that should quash forever the old raps of self-indulgence or “unprofessionalism.” Only a solid pro could pull the strings together like this on such short notice; only a director with a touch of genius could have turned it into the searing song of evil and death it sometimes becomes.

Out of the Blue (the title comes from Neil Young’s “Hey-Hey, My-My…,” used as a credit song and leitmotiv) is a working-class teenage girl’s transit through hell and into the black. As Cindy (or CeBe, or “Gorgeous”), the magnetic Linda Manz (the narrator-urchin in Terry Malick’s great Days of Heaven) is a spiny-tough, tormented wanderer—journeying through mild delinquency, punk rock, the smack-addiction of her mother and the psychopathology of her father (just out of the slammer after six years for the manslaughter of a whole school bus full of children) to a dark, terminal, devastating nada of a climax. Made on the fly, under tremendous pressure, Out of the Blue is, technically, his best movie. It always hooks you, and sometimes it scars you with the incongruously beautiful (a flight of gulls in a garbage dump wheeling like white windswept scraps of satin) or the shockingly violent (the dynamite ending). Out of the Blue may be Hopper’s most nihilistic, seemingly hopeless film—the children of the Easy Rider generation taken to a completely blank dead-end—but it has energy and cruel beauty, a weird optimism all its own.

I interviewed Hopper in a Central Park South hotel suite that seemed bland and beige and plush. I was late, and Hopper, though friendly and considerate (he kept me an hour past my allotted time, all through the next scheduled interview and beyond) was giving off vibes. Not bad vibes, necessarily. Nor good ones, either. Just vibes, shivering and trembling the air around him. Hopper is smaller than you’d guess (like Bogart or Cagney; like Jack Nicholson). He has a face that—in his angrier moments, the intense ones—can be as gray and hard as a dulled ax blade, with eyes like chips of sky. In the non-angry ones (he has a beatific smile; a great roaring hiccup of a laugh; and, when I finally left, he gave me a bear hug), he looks different: oddly delicate, with a cachet of the Midwest—hay, crackling cornstalks, high octane—hovering over his head like a Kansas halo. He has, as they say, presence. An actor’s presence, of course—but also the presence of someone who’s been stepped on once too often, whose generosity and patience have been bled by too many pricks. Who can explode—In the middle of our talk he gave a prearranged radio interview to Roberta Altman of WYNY. Something in her questions, or maybe just the on-the-air lacquer of her voice, seemed to irritate him, and he began to wither her with jibes and cracks. At a loss, she wrapped up—off mike—with, “Well, I appreciate your honesty,” and he reflexively snapped, “I appreciate your corruption.”

You sense that Hopper, however well he knows or plays “the game,” always has that temptation to slip into a little hipster jive or madness. He was edgy and vulnerable and real (when he choked up for a minute recalling James Dean, there wasn’t a shred of sham or “effect”)—and I liked him a lot.

Also in the room were Hopper’s lady friend and one of the publicists… and Terry Southern. The madcap scribe of Candy and Dr. Strangelove and The Magic Christian (and even part of Easy Rider) proved to be an amiable, shaggy, ample Texan—practically stuck in a late hippie time warp—and he kept hopping into the interview, something I was happy to let him do.

The transcript begins with Hopper’s ruminations on the deaths of some of his fellow Rebel Without a Cause alumni, and it ends oddly, when the tape suddenly runs out. Almost like Hopper’s movie career or his vision of America: a work in progress, splintered, fractured—a shattered mirror on a roaring motorcycle, with sunset reddening the highway…

Dennis Hopper: I was in Germany when I heard about Natalie’s death. I got a call from somebody in Palm Beach, Florida—some news reporter: “Do you think there’s any connection between all these people dying mysteriously: like Sal Mineo and Dean… now Natalie? Do you think there’s a plot to kill all these people?” And I said, “No,” I didn’t think there was. But, anyway, I’m not the last survivor. There’s also Frank Mazzola— Crunch—and Corey Allen—Buzz Gunderson.

So, it was foggy and Natalie was on the edge of the beach. Then it came out—in the papers—that she couldn’t swim. Well, she swam very well.

High Times: They said she had a terror of water—

Hopper: That’s a bunch of bullshit! We used to swim together all the fuckin’ time. Also, she had a scratch on the side of her face, and they said she fell and knocked herself out. Well, you know, it’s pretty hard to knock somebody out in the water.

Anyway, besides that, she had one glass of water, and there were no barbiturates or anything found in her stomach. She hadn’t taken pills, she wasn’t drunk. Anyway, she’s dead… Nick Adams was definitely offed. He was done with that stuff—I was going to say “antifreeze”—whatever it is they give you to make you stop drinking. Anyway, he was given an enema of this stuff. That’s how he got it. And he didn’t even drink. That’s pretty strange. And then Mineo. There are some strange connections, but there’s no connection overall, really.

Anyway, Rebel is a great movie.

High Times: I understand there’s a weird story behind Out of the Blue.

Hopper: I’d been there for two weeks. The man who was executive producer was Paul Lewis, who was my production manager on Easy Rider, and the producer on The Last Movie. I went to Canada to play the father—and waited for two weeks to work. Paul Lewis kept coming to me and saying, “You gotta come and see the rushes because there’s nothing usable. This guy doesn’t know how to direct.” And I said, “Let’s not bother. I don’t want to bug this guy.” He said, “I’m telling you, it’s not working. You should see the stuff. It’s shit!”

And I said, “No way until I work.” I didn’t go on the set and bother him. I stayed in my dressing room, got into my part, got high with Linda [Manz] and Sharon [Farrell]. And was really looking forward to working…

So, after two weeks, on a Friday night, Paul and I were out to dinner, and he said, “Can you come into the john for a minute here? I want to talk to you.” So I went in the john. He said, “I’m closing the picture. Your money’s in escrow in the United States. I’m closing it down because there’s nothing usable… We’ve got two and a half hours of footage. There’s nothing that can be used.” So I said, “Wait a second. Let me look at it tomorrow.” So the next day, I went through two and a half hours of footage. It was awful. I mean, it was like… [Hopper goes through a series of hammy, pantomime stage gestures to demonstrate the quality of the acting]… They made silent movies look real cool.

So anyway, I met with the accountants that put up the money—because it was a tax write-off trip, you know—and the director ended up with thirty percent of the picture and I ended up with five percent of the profits—which I’m never gonna see, but that doesn’t matter ’cause I got to make a film.

I took over the movie Sunday. First I threw the screenplay away—almost entirely. We started shooting six o’clock Monday morning… and reshot the whole picture. I shot four weeks and two days, and handed it in in six weeks on one movieola—which made a big difference to me, because, like, you know, in Easy Rider, with thirty-two hours of film, I’d never been able to see rushes because we were on the road— and it took me a year and a half to edit— Nicholson and Jaglom and Bob Rafelson came in and cut the restaurant sequence, which I had twenty minutes longer. And I came back from Peru on The Last Movie, where I also didn’t see any rushes—and I edited two years on Last Movie. So the whole thing was: Hopper can’t edit.

Well, this time, I saw my rushes and I had an editor there—her name was Doris Dyck, D-Y-C-K. So, when I came out, having shot forty hours of film, I already had a three and a half hour rough cut. We had only one movieola—’cause we couldn’t get parts for the second movieola—and six weeks later we had a movie: which is the movie you’re lookin’ at now.

I think it’s my best film. I mean, best film technically, that’s for sure.

High Times: If people are going to complain about it—and I imagine they will—they’re probably going to complain about the content, rather than the style.

Hopper: Content, right. Well, I was stuck with the content.

The original thing was Raymond Burr—Raymond Burr narrates the whole thing, as the psychiatrist. This is The Case of Cindy Barnes! The story of her father—and how I, Raymond Burr, saved her and her mother from this terrible man. After she kills her father, he saves her… and so on, and they live happily ever after; he takes care of it with the officials, and everything’s cool.

First of all, narration’s not my bag. I mean, I think if anybody’s going to use narration, they ought to rethink something. I direct-cut [snaps his fingers]. I don’t say, ”Let’s go to black; let’s fade out; let’s superimpose; let’s do all that shit.” Like, you know—you want to make a movie? Direct-cut or fuck off! I mean, you know: get down.

Also, it started like: they’re all in a diner, and they hear over the radio that Elvis is dead. And the two women go hysterical, go crazy. And I think, “Shit, man, I think I’m a really fine director of actors, but I don’t know if I can pull this one off!”

I changed it to Elvis dying a little bit before this. Then I found out—after smoking a few joints with Linda—that she played a little guitar and some drums. I said, “Put some drums and a guitar in her room.” I saw some things on Linda’s wall, like the punk-rock groups—Pointed Sticks, D.O.A., Dishrags—and I said, “What are these?” She said, “Those are punk groups.” I said, “Well, that’s what she’d be. She’s be trying to be a musician, trying to get out of all this shit.” And then I made the mother into a junkie.

Then Raymond Burr came in. He caused… I got all the actors struck against me because Raymond Burr was a Canadian—but he’d given up his Canadian citizenship for U.S. citizenship, so I was over my quota of how many actors I could have from the United States versus Canada. But the tax people, the backers, wouldn’t give up Raymond Burr—because he does all these bank commercials, commercials in Canada.

He screwed me up with the Canadian Actors’ Guild, and they struck against the picture. I had people picketing throughout the four weeks, so I wasn’t allowed to use any professional actors in the film. Everybody besides Don Gordon, Sharon Farrell, Linda, myself—and Raymond Burr—were all people that had never acted before.

This happened, like, my second day of shooting. Then, Burr came in the second day—not knowing I’d cut his part down to only two scenes—and he didn’t like his part in the script the way it was. I said, “Okay, Raymond, rewrite anyway you want.” So I spent three days—he got fifty thousand dollars—and I shot a whole movie about Raymond Burr: a “Raymond Burr Saves Cindy Barnes” movie. I mean, there was a whole movie there in the outtakes… And I shot all these scenes of him finding her in the city and saving her; and, like, going to the school, and talking to her mom—and, like, this whole fuckin’ thing, man. I shot it all, knowing I was only going to use two scenes.

High Times: Could that extra stuff be cut into a coherent movie?

Hopper: Oh, sure, yeah.

It could be shown on late, late, late night television! Anyway, that’s the story—

High Times: Was Raymond Burr irritated that he only wound up in two scenes?

Hopper: I don’t know. I don’t think he’s ever seen the film. There was like—there was some trip… He thought he could get eighteen million dollars to do the life of Genghis Khan or something—I don’t know—and he wanted Paul and I to do it. He had this island we could shoot it on, out in the Pacific somewhere.

High Times: Maybe like that last Genghis Khan movie with John Wayne, The Conqueror.

Hopper: Yeah, it could be even worse! So, like anyway, he left and said in a Toronto newspaper that working with Dennis Hopper was one of the worst experiences he’d ever had.

High Times: So the changes you wound up making, not counting Raymond Burr—

Hopper: The girl wasn’t a punk-rocker, and the mother wasn’t a junkie… And I decided to kill ’em all! I said, “Fuck, why is it always dad’s fault?” I let the girl take ’em all out. You know, I heard Neil’s song—”Hey, hey, my-my; rock ’n’ roll will never die… The king is dead… Elvis… The king is dead, but not forgotten…” But this is the story of Johnny Fuckin’ Rotten, right? “It’s better to burn out than to fade away…” Dynamite! So, dynamite it was—dynamite in the car with mom. She kills dad. She kills mom and herself… That takes care of the whole family. It doesn’t have to go any farther. It’s a nice ending.

Terry Southern: [Jumping into the conversation with the élan of Guy Grand] A down-beat ending?

Hopper: Up in smoke! This is no slow Antonioni with my ex-wife walking away from the house watching an icebox blow up in slow motion. This is a bam-wham zappo zappo!

Southern: A toe-tapper?

Hopper: Biffo box office, not necessarily—

High Times: I took my girlfriend to the screening and she was grossed out by the ending. She suggested that the last ten minutes… No, I won’t say it.

Hopper: No, no! Go ahead. Say it!

High Times: She thought you needed analysis.

Hopper: She’s right! Very intelligent woman!

High Times: Maybe it’s because the family is sort of likable, and then death and destruction just come out of the blue—

Hopper: Out of the blue and into the black!

High Times: Are you worried that audiences will look for some motivation for all this negation?

Hopper: [Laughs uproariously] Since I only had Sunday to think this over, well, I mean, God sent it into the fire! I just said, “Paul, get me through the first week.” I just tried to use as much as possible of what people thought they were going to be doing. It was fast. And furious.

I wasn’t clear on some things myself. Like when I come in and say to Linda, “Do you remember sucking your thumb?” and she stabs and kills me—I don’t know whether they ever had incest or not. It’s suggested, in the first script, that they did. I think if he had balled her, or she’d given him a blow job, or he’d given her head, or smelled her panties or whatever—it’s not clear. I ask about sucking her thumb and she says, “Do you want a hit?”; and then she stands over me and says, “Whatever happened to cotton candy, daddy?”

Southern: So, they did make it. Or is that ambiguous?

Hopper: That’s as much as we know. Whether he ever sat in a corner and jerked off while she sucked her thumb… He’s been in prison five years, so all this happened five years before—

Southern: But what’s she so salted about if they didn’t make it?

Hopper: Something’s happened, but it’s not clear what. That’s all I’m saying.

Southern: I like to think that they did make it.

Hopper: Well, when you see it, you’ll see how it’s suggested…

I didn’t want to blame it on anybody. I didn’t want to say it’s the father’s fault, or the mother’s fault. I feel—and like, I’m justifying, because I have to—the girl had no hope. There was no place for her to go—no place for her to run. No way out of her predicament. Things didn’t get better when daddy got home. And like, you know, she fuckin’ trashed them. And herself. And that’s a pretty desperate little thing.

I said it at the Cannes Film Festival and I’ll say it again: Just the only way you can think about the movie is like a little bitty article on the third page, fourth page, of every newspaper, every day, somewhere—A little article that says: DAUGHTER STABS FATHER, DYNAMITES HERSELF AND MOTHER IN BACKYARD. And you go, “What the fuck is this?” And you go to the sports page. And there’s never anything written about that little article again, you never see it again. You never relate to it… That’s the kind of story it is. You open the paper, and there they are.

Southern: What does the safety pin through her cheek mean?

Hopper: That’s symbolic of the punk movement…

The thing is, at best, it’s symbolic of the family structure breaking down—period.

The other thing is that the drug problem is not just a city problem anymore, it’s all over the country. And the attitude of the family structure—society—is that it’s up to a new generation: these conservative kids, man, if they’re gonna pull that back together… So everybody could be radical, their kids could be radical again. And I assume that’s just the way things go back and forth, back and forth—

High Times: One kind of family structure breaking down, another kind coming up. You get a little hint of this in the punk scenes in the movie, but—even though it’s not as vicious as the outside world—there’s all this violence—

Hopper: Yeah, but that’s mock, more than real. I mean, the punk thing is more of an act than real violence, or an acting-out of violence. I don’t see the punk movement as a violent trip, any more than the hippie movement is a “love” movement.

Southern: What about the violence—that isn’t symbolic? I mean, with their “slam dancing”—you know, slam, jump off the stage—It’s incredible.

Hopper: Yeah, but it’s still symbolic—

Southern: They don’t really have rumbles, do they?

Hopper: They don’t. Yeah, rumbles… Those were… The chains and the pipes… Those were the good old days!

Southern: They don’t have gang wars. They’re never organized. They don’t have rivalries?

Hopper: They don’t just say, “Meet us under the bridge…”

Southern: I don’t think they ever break up into groups.

Hopper: No, they don’t have any clubs.

Southern: Rip Torn’s daughter has a mohawk. And she’s a beautiful blond girl. Angelica.

Hopper: [Laughs raucously] Boy, was he great in that movie!

Southern: Heartland?

Hopper: No. Which one’s the one where he knifes all the people in the subway?

Southern: Oh… A Stranger Is Watching.

Hopper: Oh, man, that cat, does he do some—He just kills ’em. I mean, he’s cold, man, he’s chilled. For a guy from Texas—you guys are both from Texas, man. You’ve come a long way. Now, Wim Wenders and I are going back to Texas. What is this? It’s a crazy world—

High Times: What’s this about Texas?

Hopper: Rip Torn and Terry Southern are both from Texas. We’re just… We’re remembering; we’re flashing back to Easy Rider.

High Times: How come they didn’t involve you in Easy Rider, the sequel? Or did they? You’re acting but not directing?

Hopper: Yeah, there’s always the possibility he could get somebody who looks like me.

Southern: One of the Bridges boys.

Hopper: I may look too young to play next to Peter. He may get an older guy.

High Times: Why did they choose a new director?

Hopper: There’s a class problem. There’s a class difference between Schneider and Fonda and myself.

High Times: I read somewhere that, before you cut Easy Rider all the way down, there were various versions of it: a four-hour version, an eight-hour version—

Hopper: There was a two-hour-and-forty-minute version… that I thought was better than 2001. The riding scenes were incredible—I mean, much more expanded. You saw much more of the country. And like, Laszlo’s camera work, and the way I cut it, and the way the music moved with it—It just had a movement that, you know, like in 2001, how the space ship moves? I mean, I thought it was much better than that. As a matter of fact, I even wanted to put out a thing called The Ride. After the dramatic thing, put out a picture called The Ride, from the outtakes. It could be a two-hour ride, you know, and people just go and dig the ride, and dig the music, and dig the flow of the camera and dig the country… And dig the guys on their bikes.

High Times: Why didn’t you do that?

Hopper: It just got lost.

High Times: Is the footage still in existence?

Hopper: Yeah. Yeah.

High Times: Do you ever feel like going back and doing something with it? Or is it just—too far back in the past?

Hopper: Right now, Terry and Michael O’Donoghue are scripting the sequel. We’re going to use the beginning footage of the last scene. [To me:] Why are you making those faces?

High Times: It just amazes me that you’re not directing the sequel. I can’t figure it out. It seems crazy.

Hopper: It seems crazy to me too. But, like, you know something? I wasn’t asked.

High Times: Do they definitely have a director?

Hopper: Michael O’Donoghue.

High Times: But he’s not a director!

Hopper: Right. He was a producer of “Saturday Night Live,” and a writer, and Schneider made a deal with him before Peter and I were contacted—

High Times: There’s something kind of Byzantine, almost crazy, about the way the movie industry is set up these days—particularly the way films are distributed and financed.

Hopper: There’s a structure. Things are based on a tax structure which I don’t understand; I can’t even make out my own income tax. Like, there’s a saying: “Okay, you make a picture for a million dollars, you can’t steal a million dollars.”

When I made Easy Rider, I made it for 340,000 dollars. It grossed forty million. I made it with AFTRA, which is the television union—which is not IA, which is the movie industry’s union… which is the Teamsters. Now, AFTRA can’t be used to make movies; or they have to buy the seal from IA—to be shown by the projectionists who are IA projectionists, and the drivers who drive things to the theaters. And you have to have an actor for every driver… well, a driver for every actor; who cares which? Can you imagine what it would have cost if I had made that movie IA? Gone across the U.S. having to have a driver for every actor in the picture? For every piece of equipment?

So I made it with AFTRA. How did I get it distributed? Because Bert Schneider put up the money. His father was chairman of the board of Columbia Pictures. And so, a seal was bought from IA— which is an under-the-table operation. And it’s totally, union-wise, illegal… that all the major studios have an under-the-table deal with IA, when AFTRA should be allowed to make films too. But, they won’t get distributed.

Also, your low-budget film is not doing them any favors. I was naive enough to believe that if I could make a film for 340,000 dollars, that would make forty million, that I was doing people a big favor. But I was only doing Bert Schneider, Peter Fonda, Jack and myself a favor. And they patted me on the back and said, “Hey, you’re great.” And, like, then I made a film that won the Venice Film Festival [The Last Movie], which I didn’t know whether it had any audience appeal or not—but it’s an interesting movie.

High Times: You don’t know whether it had appeal, because it didn’t reach enough people.

Hopper: Yeah, it didn’t reach enough people… because Universal Pictures… This picture cost 1,200,000 dollars—which was in their tax range, because that was a low-budget film for them. You bring it in a hundred thousand under budget, you shoot it for seven weeks, man, and it takes you two years to edit it. And then you win the Venice Film Festival. And they think it may make fun of the movie business. They don’t understand the film, they don’t care whether it’s art. The only good art, as far as they’re concerned, is a dead artist. Then, it’s good art. And you say, “Hey—you’re dealing with a paranoid.” And you try and fight four hundred lawyers in a big black building, you know? And you go on “Dick Cavett” and you say, “I came back. I won the Venice Film Festival. And Universal Pictures said they’re gonna show it for two weeks in New York, two weeks in Los Angeles, three days in San Francisco—and they’re gonna put it on the shelf unless I reedit the film; unless I kill the guy at the end. Well, now, hey, I know that if they put this into the theaters right now—into the art houses that we had in those days—it’ll be five million dollars immediately, because the Venice Film Festival winner makes five million dollars. What in the hell are they doing?”

High Times: But—

Hopper: I’m talkin’ to the United States of America on the “Dick Cavett Show,” not to you… Now, try this one on: They write off 1,800,000 dollars—but I only spent a million dollars. And they only spent a hundred fifty thousand on prints. And publicity. That’s only a 1,250,000 dollars. And they write off 1,800,000 dollars.

Then, a year later, there was one thing that happened—They got confused in the game. They got caught, man, in the fuckin’ game. But you see, I don’t give a shit about playing games. I love to play games. Just tell me the fuckin’ game, people! If there’s a game… Hey, you know, what am I? Am I the fuckin’ coyote outside, man? And all the fuckin’ dogs can go in and hang their assholes on different pegs, man; and I’m the coyote outside? Well, then, I’ve got to change all the pegs of the dogs’ assholes, man! And that’s why dogs go around today smelling each other’s assholes: because coyotes changed their assholes around.

Okay, big joke. Sounds good, right? Doesn’t work. The thing is, a year later, they call—the vice-president calls—and says, “Listen, you know the outtakes that you have? What do you think about owning fifty percent of a television show, huh? Let us cut it, right? We make a TV show, you own fifty percent of it.” And I said, “Fuck you.” They said, “No, no. Think about it, think about it.” I said, “Fuck you, man.” He said, “I’m callin’ you back tomorrow.”

Anyway, I got drunk that night, man; I had a bottle of scotch, I sat alone in my house—and you know what I’ll ask for, man? I’ll ask for the negative. I’ll ask for my cut of the film. I’ll ask for all the prints they made of it! Yeah? And I’ll let them use the outtakes, but I get the outtakes back. They can make their show, and it can’t be called The Last Movie. [Later it would be called Chinchurro.] Well, those are impossible things to ask for, man. I said this to the vice-president when he called the next day and he said, “I think that can be arranged, have your lawyers call—” That quickly. That was all the conversation there was. I said, “What?” They’re giving me what? The whole picture? This amazed me, so I had the lawyers call and I said, “I don’t understand why they’re doing this.” And the lawyers said, “It’s very simple. They’re selling the outtakes from their movie division to their television division—for a million dollars.” So, now—without ever having distributed the film—they’ve made two million dollars.

And I never saw a penny. They put this thing—Chinchurro—out at three in the morning in Las Vegas, Nevada, wherever. It’s not “A film by Dennis Hopper”— but it’s got to be starring Dennis Hopper. I’d like to see the fuckin’ thing. See what the fuck they did with it—

High Times: Or if they changed it at all—

Hopper: Anyway, that’s the story of how to make money. And like, you see, they can do that with anybody, anytime.

Let’s say nine out of ten films fail, in Hollywood terms, right? So, we gotta make more money. We’ve got one-in-ten odds here. All right. So, maybe I don’t ever want to see your fuckin’ picture anymore. I’ve got you covered, man! I make money whether your picture is ever seen or not! I’m gonna make money off you, that’s all. There’s no fuckin’ way I can lose. There’s no way I can lose at all. I show your picture, token; show it here and there… That’s all, and that’s the end of it, and that’s the way it works, and that’s the way it’ll always work—and that’s called monopoly!!! It’s called monopoly, and it’s been broken before… And they broke it—And they made one of the biggest fuckin’ mistakes in the world: they should have left the theaters with the studios. They broke what monopoly? If it’s monopoly—then fuck it, man. Television and movies should be separate, man. And the record business. Should all be separate.

High Times: That’s one thing—

Hopper: Because that’s monopoly—if I understand capitalism at all. That’s monopoly and monopoly should be busted flat in Baton Rouge and headed for the train.

High Times: So, whatever happens to Out of the Blue is small change on the horizon of—

Hopper: Listen, Out of the Blue is just a film. And I’m just an artist.

High Times: I’ve gotta come back to Jimmy Dean. You were his close friend. Could you talk about him—any way you’d like?

Hopper: I think he was the greatest actor I’ve ever seen.

High Times: Ever seen, period?

Hopper: Period. No question about it. The greatest actor I’ve ever seen. For a guy who started out imitating Brando— He ended up a fuckin’ king.

High Times: Why do you think he’s lasted so long; has the same impact thirty years later?

Hopper: [At this point, Hopper—obviously struggling with the question and his memories—paused and stared into the distance for almost two minutes. Tears were visibly welling up in his eyes, and when he finally spoke, it was in a husky whisper.] There was no other actor, first of all, in film… that’s ever even attempted to do what he did. Because he didn’t just work internally, from emotion-memory—which he did—but he used his body in an expressionistic way that… There just aren’t actors that can do it like that: Marching off the land in Giant; lifting himself up on the water derrick to look at his land the first time; the gestures… laughing; being tickled, when the guys are searching him when he’s drunk in the jail; the siren noise, and the invention… All that shit was his. That wasn’t written in any fucking script. He just looked at the lines and threw the script away. He got the gist of the scene and went for it. He didn’t fuck around.

But, I mean, the things he did in Giant, it’s just fuckin’ incredible. The whole film was so… There’s a scene where he—and he forced Stevens to let him do this shot, man—there’s a scene where he cranks up a car, to start this fuckin’ car, man; and it took him twenty-seven fuckin’ tries. And he’d get a little ch-ch-ch—and it’d fuckin’ die, and he’d go on. And Stevens said, “What the fuck are you doing out there?” And he said, “You wanna cut it shorter, you can cut it shorter; you wanna not use it all… But I’m going to do it, and we’re going to shoot it.” He was a serious man; a serious man.

And, like, you know something? Like, one day… he was doing this old man, and it took him all day to get the fuckin’ makeup on—and you gotta remember, he died at twenty-four years old—and so he got ready for this fuckin’ scene, and like, they didn’t do it. And so the next day he didn’t show up. They were fuckin’ crazy, they were fuckin’ nuts. They didn’t know where he was. He came in at five o’clock Monday morning—and this was the most expensive movie, at that time, ever made—it was one of the biggest-grossing movies for a long time, too—but… They took him into the office; Stevens took him into Jack Warner’s office—Harry Warner’s, maybe. He just put his feet up on the desk and they said, “You can’t do this, you can’t miss a day. Do you know what you cost us, man?” We worked Saturdays, so we only had one day off a week. “And you cost us da-da-da-da, and the whole production’s gonna—” And he just listened, man, with his feet up on the table, calmly, with his hat pulled down. [Gives an imitation of James Dean as Giant’s “Jett Rink.”] He listened to them. He said, “Well, boys,” when they finished—he was into his part then. Yeah, he was into his part. And he said, “Look, I’m going to tell you something: I’m not a fuckin’ machine. I’m not a fuckin’ machine that you can turn on and off. I’m not mechanical. I’m like a sequoia tree—” He said, “Every day that I come here to work, I may have stayed up all night preparing for this scene; I may be in this condition. I expect to work at that moment, at that time.
Not on your time, but that time—because that’s when I’ll be ready. Now, if it changes an hour this way, or an hour that way—that’s fine. Any longer… and it’ll be two days the next time and four days the time after that!” And he just took a fuckin’ hike. Put his makeup on. From then on they were ready, every time, within an hour. Incredible.

It was incredible to watch him work. He was really a genius. And what you see of him on the screen… I mean, whoever bought Giant, man? There’s a fuckin’ gold mine in the fuckin’ outtakes, man. Whoever those people are, man, tell ’em that I know where there’s some scenes in that fuckin’ movie—they should put out just a fuckin’ film of Dean.

Wim Wenders told me last night that they put out the same version of Giant and it’s twenty minutes longer. And you can tell where the cuts come in, you can tell where the film’s changed. I asked if they put more of Dean in. He said, “No, they put in more of Rock Hudson.” Fuck puttin’ Rock Hudson back in!

The point is: if they put anything in, then they should take the fuckin’ scenes… Okay, there’s a scene in the movie where he comes in and Mercedes McCambridge is dying… is dead; and he’s outside and he’s drinking, and he’s got his rope… [Hopper rises from his chair and proceeds into an uncanny imitation, playing all the roles, of the scene in Giant where Jett Rink is informed of his inherited land, the “Little Reata.’]… And then, man, when he leaves, they cut from him at the door, going… He flips the rope and does this little slide of the hand. And closes the door. But, in between there, man, he goes and says goodbye to every one of those motherfuckers. He doesn’t say anything to them, he just gets up and starts fuckin’ realizing that he is one motherfucker, man! And when he leaves, he’s out there marching on the land, and he knows there’s fuckin’ oil… It’s incredible! If those things could be put back together, just to show that whole full kind of behavior.

I mean, they could put out a whole thing of it—Things like cranking up the car; like the oil-well sequence; things… scenes that are just so… that he filled out in such a way, man… It’s incredible! And they were really well balanced; he wasn’t a fool. There were scenes that he would move right along… And then there were times that he’d crank up the car twenty-seven times. That’s fuckin’ funny, man! I mean, it’s funny, you look at that shit! And the brilliance of the scene that I tried to describe to you—it was just… man, it was just so fuckin’ wonderful!

But, what he was: he was an expressionist. He expressed things with his body, and you’d never seen acting like that. I mean, it’s not silent-picture acting. But it’s like… the way he’d pick up a glass… move his hand… mark off the land… raise himself up on the windmill… That’s heavy. That’s heavy. Because there’s no other actor that does it. Brando didn’t do it. Clift didn’t do it. You’ve gotta remember that he died before Rebel Without a Cause came out. Very few people ever remember that fuckin’ James Dean was dead before…

(The tape ends)

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