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Posts Tagged ‘Easy Rider’

“Being born in Dodge City, I really wanted to know where the trains were going. The first real light I saw was in a movie theater. I just wanted to know where they were making those movies.”
Dennis Hopper

“He was a Midwestern boy on his own…”
Bob Seger
Hollywood Nights

Dennis Hopper was born in Dodge City, Kansas and spent his early years on farm. When he was nine he moved to Kansas City, Missouri (where he took Saturday art classes with Thomas Hart Benton) and then on to San Diego area when he was 13, eventually being named “Most Likely to Succeed” at  Helix High School in La Mesa.

Hopper succeeded at a lot of things—unfortunately they weren’t all good for him.

His acting career started by performing Shakespeare as a teenager at The Old Globe at San Diego’s Balboa Park, and he then headed to Los Angeles when he was 18 and did some TV work before landing a role in classic James Dean films Rebel Without a Cause and Giant. On a PBS interview, Hopper would say of the actor from Marion, Indiana, “James Dean was the best actor that I ever saw work, really. He was just incredible.”

Hopper also worked with four other Midwestern actors who made their mark in Hollywood (Marlon Brando & Montgomery Cliff/Omaha, John Wayne /Iowa-Nebraska, and Paul Newman/Ohio). When Hopper died yesterday he had more than 200 credits as an actor. But he’s probably known best for just a handful or so roles on top of the James Dean films; Apocalypse Now, Blue Velvet, True Romance, Speed, and his Oscar-nominated role in Hoosiers. When the dust all settles he may be best remembered for directing and starring in Easy Rider for which he also received an Oscar nomination for co-writing the screenplay.

“There are moments that I`ve had some real brilliance, you know. But I think they are moments. And sometimes, in a career, moments are enough.”
Dennis Hopper

Hopper rode motorcycles with Steve McQueen, hung out with Miles Davis, Lenny Bruce and Jack Nicholson, he collected and created art, he was at the civil-rights march from Selma to Montgomery which was led by Martin Luther King Jr., along with his Hollywood career that spanned 56 years.

And while Hopper had his days in the sun, he had his years (decades?) in the darkness. His was a life of excess— alcoholism, cocaine, heroin, LSD, hallucinations, abuse, violence, multiple failed marriages, detox clinics, jail, psychiatric wards, and orgies. But somehow he managed to rebound time and time again and somehow lived to be 74. (Even in his final days as he was in the midst of a divorce, he reportedly had “marijuana joints throughout his compound’ and loaded guns nearby to help ease the pain of his cancer and perhaps provide an exit—Hopper was Shakespearean to the end.)

I’ll always prefer to remember Hopper as his role in Hoosiers as the brilliant, yet alcoholic, Shooter. The story of a town drunk and a disgraced coach who both have a shot at redemption. That’s the hope I have for everyone, especially the artists—the crazy ones who seem to have a harder time than most dealing with demons.

“I am just a middle-class farm boy from Dodge City and my grandparents were wheat farmers. I thought painting, acting, directing and photography were all part of being an artist. I have made my money that way. And I have had some fun. It’s not been a bad life.”
Dennis Hopper
USA Today

Scott W. Smith

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Every once in a while on a shoot I get to meet some cool people. Even in Iowa.

Such was the case yesterday in Moravia, Iowa (pop. 713)  when I walked into a 110 year-old barn where Jim & Shaun (pictured) Wubben make custom choppers. PB Choppers manufactures motorcycles from the frame to the finished product and in 2006 they won the “Biker Build-off” at Sturgis (the western version of Daytona’s bike week in South Dakota).

By their own account their shop is a mixture of Easy Rider & Field of Dreams. A couple additional movie references came up when we were talking about Mickey Rouke and The Wreslter. That’s when I learned that if you want to work at PB Choppers one requirement is you “pretty much have to love Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man ” (which starred Rouke and Don Johnson in a script written by Don Michael Paul).

Movies & motorcycles are often a good combination such as Easy RiderElectra Glide in Blue, Fastest Indian, and The Wild One. Even today The Wild One movie poster with Marlon Brando sitting on his motorcycle is a popular seller.  And sometimes motorcycles help define a character like Tom Cruise in Top Gun and Richard Gere in An Officer and a Gentleman.

And perhaps the single best motorcycle scene is Steve McQueen in The Great Escape though Angelina Jolie’s ride in Lara Croft: Tomb Raiders beat it in one poll. Matrix Reloaded and Terminator also are favoritesAnd I’m sure some would argue for the newcomer, Batman’s two wheeler in The Dark Knight. 

Even Batman wants to be a bad boy.

All this reminds me of  a quote from a Harley-Davidson exec: 

“What we sell is the ability for a 43-year-old accountant to dress in black leather, ride through small towns and have people be afraid of him.”

Whether we’re talking about Harley’s, lifestyles or movies, it’s all storytelling. And as Robert McKee reminds us, “no story is innocent. All coherent tales express an idea inside an emotional spell.” 

 

Scott W.  Smith

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