Orson Welles and Dennis Hopper: Unruly Geniuses

A partial transcript of Episode 20 of THE ART MOVEMENT. Click here to listen to the full radio show.

I have to mention one of the films of the 2020 program of the festival that immediately stood out. It’s a film called Hopper/Welles. It’s having its premiere in Venice. And I looked into it a little bit. Apparently, it’s just a 129-minute long conversation between Orson Welles and Dennis Hopper. Officially, it’s down as being directed by Welles.

That would make Hopper/Welles yet another recently discovered, posthumously released film by Orson Welles, following The Other Side of the Wind, the lost and unfinished Orson Welles film that saw the light of day in 2018. And it actually premiered in Venice that year too, and I was there to see it. I went to a late night press screening of it and interviewed the editor who basically put the final piece together.

The Other Side of the Wind starred John Huston and Peter Bogdanovich, obviously two great directors in their own right. And very few people thought that film would ever see the light of day. But when I went to that late night screening, first of all, the room was packed. Which is rare for a late night screening.

But also, something happened I had never seen and I don’t think I have ever seen again. As soon as Orson Welles’ name popped up during the opening credits, people just applauded enthusiastically and some people jumped up on their feet.

Like, this guy. We all love him, man. And that just goes to show how exciting we all were and we even forgave the film for being kinda meh in the end. It was still very cool to be one of the first people in the world to have seen it. Although I did ask myself whether Welles himself would have been happy that the film that he refused to complete had actually been screened.

But I’m just thinking about Hopper/Welles. Obviously, I’m really looking forward to seeing the movie whether I go to Venice this year or not. I’m still not sure and I’m not really sure I would want to go. I’ll only go if the money is right. Otherwise, I’ll sit this one out and focus on myself. I’d go if I got to be a member of the jury. But anyways.

Like, when I think of Welles and Hopper, I see so many similarities between them. Both were obviously revolutionary figures in American film history. Both were also prone to excesses. Welles died an enormously obese man and an alcoholic. Hopper struggled with sever drug problems and alcohol addiction for most of his life.

But men’s directorial debuts were groundbreaking. Citizen Kane by Orson Welles from 1941 still, to this day, routinely tops Best Movie Ever lists and rightly so, in my opinion. And Hopper’s first movie, Easy Rider, which he co-directed with Peter Fonda in 1969. That film essentially kickstarted the most exciting film movement in American film, known as New Hollywood.

In fact, Hopper almost put an end to this entire movement with that disastrous production of The Last Movie, released in 1971. Actually, the film itself is great in my opinion. And it was more the production itself, just how amazingly chaotic it was. I mean, you want to read about it. It almost ended Hopper’s career outright. His relationship with the studios kind of never recovered. And really, who knew more about troubles with the American studio system than Orson Welles.

I mean, they were also both renaissance men and so it’s going to be interesting for sure to see what these two guys would have talked about on that specific date. I do hope the film will present the conversation uncut. I am not interested in contemporary critics or contributors popping up on the screen every now and then to tell us all how great they were. Dennis Hopper and Orson Welles are two guys that you see and you know, even just by their sheer unparalleled charisma, how great they were.

Download the full show here.

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