THE MOVIE SHELF: comparing films to their literary counterparts

wim wenders, 1977.

Welcome to The Movie Shelf, an ongoing series that compares the films on our dvd shelves to the novels on our bookcases.

We at the 'Smoke have always been fascinated by screenplay adaptation: what a script writer takes from the source material, what gets discarded, how the two works differ from each other and what the existence of the movie itself says about the book (and vice versa.) It's "book versus movie" time, compadres.

based on the novel

patricia highsmith, 1974.

~ by john benjamin cribbs ~

"You look at a dark story like the Highsmith story that the film is based on and the challenge is to make something that is different than its source while trying to honor it. Not everyone thought that film was a success..." Wim Wenders

Ripley's Game wasn't the Patricia Highsmith novel Wim Wenders had wanted to film. He had inquired about making a movie from her novel The Cry of the Owl, but the rights had already been spoken for. As it turned out, so had the rights to every published Highsmith work up to that time. When word reached her that he was interesting in adapting something she'd written, Highsmith offered Wenders first dibs on her new manuscript: the third bookto feature her manipulative anti-hero Tom Ripley. Of course Wenders jumped at the offer to film the novel but he was nervous about its dark tone, finding its pessimistic, noir-like atmosphere at odds with his own romantic notions of the world, as depicted in his early eccentric road movies. Mainly he felt uneasy about translating the lead character, expressing his concern about being "not gifted in showing bad guys." His first choice to play Ripley, previously portrayed on screen with suave certainty by Alain Delon in Rene Clement's sun-drenched Purple Noon, was John Cassavetes.* Cassavetes was unavailable, but suggested that Wenders consider casting Dennis Hopper. When the director arrived at the airport to collect his new star, he found a bedraggled Hopper dressed in full military fatigues, unkempt and unshaven, fresh from the set of Apocalypse Now in the Philippines. 

Maybe returning as a veteran from that famously unhinged and war-like production was somewhat responsible for the wounded and weighty performance Hopper gave for Wenders (in his review of the film, Ebert said Hopper looked "about half-recovered from being shotgunned in Easy Rider.") His Ripley has a spectral quality about him, a detachment from the events and characters that seems almost like self-exile from life. He's a ghost who can't touch anyone else or control anything around him and therefore wanders through the film impassably, a stasis manifested in the shot of Hopper heedlessly tightrope-walking the slim edge of a bridge over the active West Side Highway. He's a bad guy so far removed from the plot as to be practically uninvolved, at least until the second half of the movie. His lack of involvement is so total that he's almost not a bad guy at all; this is a character we know from the previous Highsmith books and films to be a manipulative con artist and murderer, yet Hopper's version even manages to charm a young boy (it's hard to imagine Highsmith's Ripley even going out of his way to do so.) Especially considering the threatening presence of villains he played with the kind of manic intensity popularly attributed to him, this quiet and sensitive portrayal seems even more unique for Hopper, and certainly a far cry from his ravings as the addled, obsessed photojournalist in Coppola's movie. That was a Dennis Hopper feeding off the collective madness of a community gone to the dark side; here, he's most active in finding ways to set himself away from the crowd and allow the shadows to envelop him.

Wenders retitled the film The American Friend, a conscious reference to the western influence on the movie and the filmmaker. Of the German New Wave auteurs, Wenders had the most in common with the French New Wavers and their incorporation of American props and cultural references into their work** , most obviously their shared interest in the classic American road movie. Of course the parallel here is that Highsmith had erased her past as "Mary Plangman from Fort Worth" when her success led her to a new half-celebrity, half-recluse life in Europe and inspired her to populate her later books with foreign characters and settings. Wenders inverses the European components of Ripley's Game: besides stripping the title character of his rich French wife and removing any trace of the epicureanist greed that often motivates him in the novels, Wenders takes Ripley out of his leisurely estate Belle Ombre and situates him in a colonial house littered with Americana, including pin ball machines, a classic pool table and neon light beer advertisements and a box of Corn Flakes for breakfast. Hopper's appearance as Ripley is aggressively American, from his Stetson cowboy hat and frilled coat to his mangled two-word German phrases. He's even introduced singing the "The Ballad of Easy Rider," a thread to connect Wenders' love of road movies to Hopper's landmark 1969 film. "What's wrong with a cowboy in Hamburg?" Wender's Ripley muses, speaking for a director blatant in his inclusion of American costumes and props. But while Ripley's collection of western treasures appears comforting, most of them are covered with plastic or regarded by their owner with alien curiosity, like he doesn't know what to do with them. Out of his own country these things have no context - his curious regard of them mirrors both Wenders' own inquisitive trek to understand American culture (a journey chronicled in his wonderful photography book Once) as well as his own feeling of displacement as the director of arty, existential road movies now tasked to direct a genre story in the tradition of a classic Hollywood thriller.

That sense of displacement and struggle as an artist saturates Wenders' take on the novel and Ripley as a character. In the movie, Ripley is an admitted frustrated artist - "I always wanted to be able to make something with my hands," he confesses to the picture framer who has himself been revealed as a failed painter. As we know from the Highsmith books, Ripley's art is crime and he gets what he wants through murder and manipulation. He lacks an identity in The Talented Mr. Ripley, and therefore forges and kills to steal the success he'd never achieve on his own. In the second (and, in my opinion, best) novel, Ripley Under Ground, he runs a scam involving a dead artist which eventually leads to him taking on the identity of the man himself, thus reaping the benefits of his counterfeiting while simultaneously enjoying the reputation of a great painting restorer. Ripley's Game is a little more complicated: his motivation to set the crooked events in play are seemingly prompted by a snub, when the framer dismisses an introduction with an ambivalent "Yes, I've heard of you." To Ripley this implies the man has knowledge of his criminal background, but moreso that he knows Ripley to be a fraud who has no place amongst these people. And the one thing the character desperately needs is to be accepted: Under Ground's art forgery scheme, transplanted to The American Friend as a subplot to establish Ripley's background, is at the crux really just an excuse to surround himself with high cultural types in order to feel secure and somehow tap into their artistic collective.

Wenders also likes to surround himself with artists and American Friend is filled with fellow filmmakers of all nationalities: Peter Lilienthal, Jean Eustache, Daniel Schmid, Sam Fuller and of course Dennis Hopper. Beyond the "let's play guns" amusement of casting these renowned directors as gangsters and murder victims, it's clear that Wenders feels closer to the story by populating it with supportive friends and colleagues who inspire him (Fuller for one played an important part in convincing Wenders to make Alice in the Cities, the first film to garner international acclaim for the young director). He casts them as experts in exile - a doctor in a bar, an American gangster spending his twilight years in the background of some seedy porno shoot, a painter pretending to be dead. Most noteworthy of the auteur lineup is Nicholas Ray, whom Wenders revered as much as the Cahiers crowd in France and convinced to take the small role of Derwatt, who was actually the subject of the main plot in Ripley Under Ground. In moving Ripley's involvement with Derwatt to a subplot in American Friend, Wenders significantly changes the role. In Under Ground, Derwatt is dead - Ripley has managed to keep the death a secret, convince everyone that Derwatt is a recluse, and hire a forger to continue creating paintings that sell through the roof. Wenders has Ray play Derwatt himself who, believed dead by everyone but Ripley, resides alone in New York, reproducing multiple copies of his own famous paintings which go for high figures at auctions due to the belief that the artist's work is now a finite commodity. He has literally become his own forger.

Ray had suffered a breakdown on the set of his 1963 film 55 Days of Peking: the movie was finished by the second unit team and Ray wouldn't helm a completed film for the last 15 years of his life, largely spending his time editing footage for an unfinished project shot with students at Binghamton University. So the connection to Derwatt, thought dead to the world and forced to constantly work on art that can never be completed, is obvious. If Ripley, the only man aware of Derwatt's existence, is an extension of Wenders' own frustrations as a filmmaker then Derwatt is certainly meant to represent Ray, a filmmaker without a crew alone in his New York apartment, Wenders' genuine "American friend." Living and dying are also inverted by Wenders in the story; therein lies the significance of bookending the film with Ray/Derwatt, the first scene of him walled away in his apartment fretting over a half-colored canvas, considering it from every possible angle (even using the false eye), the final shot him walking alone down the West Side Highway. (For more on the director's work, check out Chris Funderburg's epic series Second Chances: Nicholas Ray).

Everything in between those two shots are variations of the two actions that they convey: staying in one place and traveling somewhere - waiting to die, moving towards death or defiantly away from it.*** Perpetually on the road to oblivion is the framer, Jonathan Zimmerman, played with mellow gloom by Bruno Ganz. He's been diagnosed with a rare blood disease and, when he hears a vague rumor that his condition may have worsened, he accepts a stranger's offer to assassinate a rival gangster in exchange for money that his wife and son can live on in the event of his death.** ** The rumor of course has been perpetrated by Ripley as revenge for Jonathan's "I've heard of you" remark, intended to lead Jonathan to the gangster and his felonious offer. But it's a "game" in that Ripley is curious to see if Jonathan will accept the assignment. Jonathan remains confident that he won't go through with the murder, allowing himself to be coaxed by the gangster into a trip to Paris to get a second opinion from another doctor. Wenders shows every stage of his journey, from airport to airport onto the automatic walkways and down the depths of the Paris metro on escalators that lead to the man he's been asked to eliminate. The recurring noir fatalism theme is literalized in Jonathan's movements - this man is so desperate to die, he allows himself to be manipulated, believing the phony news of his impending death even though he strongly suspects them to be falsified. He lets himself be led under superficial pretexts (searching for an answer to his health scare) and justifiable reasoning (earning money for his family) to commit murder when the truth is that he's bringing to others what is denied him: death. There's a connection there between Derwatt, who is believed dead but wishes to be alive, and Jonathan, who lives but seeks only to die.

Not that Jonathan is resolutely suicidal, as the moment where he levels the silencer at his own head in the hotel room might suggest (in the book, Highsmith specifically states that Jonathan's plan is to pull off the second murder and then kill himself - this is thwarted by Ripley's appearance on the train.) Mood and inner doubt may be characteristics of suspense thrillers, but they dominate this film in a way that almost completely obscures such "noir-ish" conventions. Wenders isn't actually interested in mystery or suspense, but he does like to keep the atmosphere perilous: the high balcony of Jonathan's apartment, the terminal speed of the train, the recurring Paris establishing shots of the towering crane in the center of the city that serves as his own sinister Eiffel Tower, reworked as an intimidating arm from the gallows stretching across the skyline. That old reliable trope of fatalism is itself reworked by Wenders, who has characters literally transported to their fates: the first murder victim by escalator, the second and third by train, both foreshadowed earlier in the film by a man stumbling on an automated walkway in front of Jonathan before his murder victim "slips" the same way and by the animated train picture above the son's bed which sets up the ensuing assault on a real thing. In the same fashion, Jonathan is hoping to be spirited towards his own end, betrayed in his death wish by his own shrinking movements. Heading deep into the seemingly bottomless German U-bahn and, later, into the bowels of the Parisian metro, he runs ahead of the descending escalators. He hurries impatiently down them on his way to question his doctor as to whether his fatal condition has worsened, out of what could be just as easily read as anticipation than anxiety. Most significantly, he turns around and runs the wrong way down the rising stairs after shooting his first target in the back. Even Wender's framing of Jonathan suggests the character's subconscious need to "lower" himself. In his first appearance, Jonathan is walking with his son, who wanders up a platform, making himself taller than his mousy father. From then on Jonathan is constantly at the same height as his son, whether it's approaching the boy at eye-level when he's in the top bunk bed or kneeling to speak to him in the bathtub. He sleeps "beneath" his wife Marianne, then later in the movie is even sleeping on her lap in a very uncomfortable looking position as she drives. Jonathan's death wish is less a case of suicidal ideation than a surrender to reckless abandon, hoping his new enterprise as a hit man will lead to obliteration. This is the ultimate eventuality, after Jonathan leaves from his "heightened" level by the sea - standing where the tide has drawn back leaving himself, his wife and Ripley ground to stand on (thus, above water) - he also dies unexpectedly while moving, this time in a beat up VW Bug. Earlier in the back seat he had sung the chorus of a Beatles song, "Baby you can drive my car," to himself, or possibly to some compassionate god of the road he hoped would finally take him away.

So the road in this Wenders Road Movie is, even literally at the conclusion, a road to destruction, but it's not one the filmmaker travels easily. Throughout the film he's working to find a compromising tone with the source material. "Menace" is the word that best sums up the atmosphere of Highsmith's novels, something dangerous and elusive that runs through her work and is traced to an unlikely source gradually over the narrative - a concept obviously very difficult to translate to film. Graham Greene called her "a poet of apprehension," "a writer who created a world claustrophobic and irrational which we enter each time with a sense of personal danger." Aesthetically the film is on very solid ground matching Highsmith's minatory tone, thanks in no small part to Robby Müller's stylized lighting and Jürgen Knieper's minimalist score with its occasional bursts of Herrmann-esque horns (not to mention the brilliant, dreamlike tinkering on the piano when the train enters the dark tunnel, one of the most effective uses of transitional music I can think of.) Wenders as a director enters the waters a little more timidly, but as it turns out that's the best approach he could have taken: by accessing Highsmith's world the way Greene suggested a reader does, "with a sense of personal danger" and a high level of uncertainty he managed to create one even more malignant and foreboding. Every departure the director takes from the source is inspiring. First there's the title change, which beyond its homonymitic implications (friend/fiend, friend/fraud) makes the word "American" seem mysterious; foreign in every sense of the word (several years before the Anton Corbjin-George Clooney movie kind of tried the same thing, I guess.) To create a more familiar Jonathan, the British "Jonathan Trevanny" from the book becomes German "Jonathan Zimmerman" with a Swiss background to accommodate the casting of the Swiss-born Ganz. Wenders inverts the novel's two major locations, establishing Jonathan in Hamburg and setting the first murder in Paris, because he knows Hamburg well; Paris is as much a mystery to him and as new an experience to explore as a filmmaker as murder is to Jonathan. Wenders himself had never shot a murder scene in a movie before, was convinced he didn't have it in him to direct the scene convincingly (like Ripley, he seemed to hope that murder would just play out on its own - in three of the five books Ripley sets up or is indirectly responsible for another person's death.) He confessed his fears to Ganz, who suggested Wenders spend the weekend before the shoot walking around in public with a loaded gun in his pocket. The scene turned out beautifully, helmed by a director as squeamish about shooting the murder as the character is committing it. Jonathan follows his intended target from the train into a metro station in a state of bewilderment at what he's about to do. He nearly misses the the man getting off the train and is so dazed waiting to follow him he distractedly allows the gun to stick out of his coat. Standing behind the mark on the escalator he fires the gun at his back with such ambiguous aim the man may of well slipped, like the stranger on the automatic walkway. The flustered shooter turns and flees the wrong way down the ascending stairs. The violence of the scene is realistically clumsy and intimate. An interesting change from the book is that Highsmith had the first murder occur in the middle of a large crowd - Wenders has the killer and victim alone in a practically deserted metro station, Jonathan's subsequent flight observed only by passive security cameras, the diagetic realization of Wenders' own distance from this kind of scene.

The American Friend's plot closely resembles Highsmith's debut novel Strangers on a Train and its film adaptation by Alfred Hitchcock, the idea of the "everyday murder" by a normal person except in reverse: the innocent man who had never had murder in his mind is the one to go through with it (compare also the difference between plotting the crime on a train in Strangers compared to actually doing it onboard in Ripley's Game/Friend, as well as the decidedly more wholesome outing to the carnival in Wenders' movie, a trip which everyone involved survives.) Not only is Jonathan's amateur hit more compelling to watch than the stylistic relish with which Hitchcock staged his murder, the two characters drawn obscenely together by a bizarre plot feels like a more natural relationship than the one shared by the Strangers characters. The bond between Ripley and Jonathan isn't based on obsession or homosexual attraction (although Wenders has claimed there is a homosexual subtext in the film; Highsmith dismissed any homosexual connotations that filmmakers in the past have made towards the Ripley character, even prior to 1999 when Anthony Minghella debuted Matt Damon's unambiguously gay Ripley.) Rather the portrayal seems to come from Wenders' own youthful enthusiasm: his indulgence in plugging his filmmaking idols into a movie about elaborate plotting and murder has the feel of a boy playing with his favorite action figures in a sandbox. It's that same sense of childlike wonder with which he translates Highsmith's characters - lonely, rootless men who attempt a friendship that draws upon their childhood fantasies: two friends playing guns. When the two men are outside Ripley's house waiting for the vengeful gangsters to turn up, Ripley instructs Jonathan where to hide and tells him "I'm on the roof with a gun. But I don't want to use it because of the neighbors!" The line is paraphrased from the book, but Hopper reads it less as a serious strategic instruction than an excited response to the danger building up: "I don't want to wake the neighbors up - they'll complain to my parents!" Likewise, in the book Ripley offers Jonathan a scotch while he stands around, in the film he brings him a piece of cake - and accidentally drops it as Jonathan grins guilelessly. I mentioned the way Ripley walks around his own house looking at objects curiously like they're not his - in a way, it resembles a boy left home alone for the weekend who gets to really explore his parents' house for the first time. By the second novel of the Ripliad, Highsmith's hero had pretty much made himself at home as a successful European citizen, but there's a reason Wenders wanted (it's only a mild overlooking on his part that Jonathan never dresses up as an Indian with full headband and grocery bag cut down the middle with sleeve holes to make a vest.) Even when the gangsters arrive, they're playing dress up, waiting in an ambulance with one of their number wrapped up, absurdly disguised as a burn victim. Even Nicolas Ray's eyepatch and Sam Fuller's trademark stogie feel like props specific to adventure serials and gangster B-movies. Wenders is having fun, and so therefore are his two lead characters despite the dire circumstances they find themselves in. The title Ripley's Game suggests a flippant, juvenile approach of the characters to the novel's dark themes, but the word "friend" in Wenders' title denotes an equally harmless and sinister picture of innocent kids at play in the middle of an active battleground. When confronted by Jonathan as to why he involved him in this cycle of murder and deceit, Ripley explains Jonathan's snub and offers the very wounded, childish rebuke, "You said that in a very nasty way."

Jonathan and Ripley alternately admire each other. Ripley, of course, strives to be accepted in society when in truth he exists outside the circle of high class art dealers and outside the law, not to mention - as an American - outside the German crowd. Jonathan's snub reminds him of who he really is; his initial idea is to take revenge by manipulating Jonathan into becoming a criminal himself. But he never stops coveting Jonathan's existence, calling him "good craftsman - I admire that. I've always wanted to be able to make something with my hands. But some people have it and some people don't" (again, Wenders' changing of Jonathan's last name to "Zimmerman" is important: the surname derives from the German word for "carpenter.") Highsmith's Jonathan is never identified as a former painting restorer whose disease has left him unable to continue his direct contribution to the art world, but for Wenders it's important to establish him as unfulfilled with his meager existence as a picture framer. Ganz's performance is a tough one to decipher, although he's never less than fascinating to watch. His mood swings from mischievous to melancholy so often and so quickly it's hard to say if Jonathan feels more put-upon by his obligations to his family or frustrated with the twists of fate that have given him a terminal blood disease and now (from his view) forced him into a double life as a killer. Still, the notion of getting away from the humiliation of his disease and lowly occupation, the only solution appearing to be the culmination of uncertain death from his illness or a more personally-motivated end through life as a gunman, appeals to him. Ripley recognizes this and exploits it, which leads to Marianne's disapproval of Ripley and his relationship with Jonathan: not because of any sexual rivalry but in the general way a mother and wife would disapprove of a "bad influence." When she finally finds out what's been going on and shows up at Ripley's house, he hides from her and slowly comes out looking ashamed with his "cowboy" flannel on holding a gun stiffly at his side like a kid who's in trouble. Both men are giddy in each other's company; at the same time, neither wants to be associated with their criminal acts: both use phrase "Count me out," Ripley when denying his shady affiliations, Jonathan when claiming he won't do the murder (of course both are not true; an unconvinced Jonathan tells Ripley "No, I count you IN," my favorite line of the movie.) Wenders applies an alternate take on Highsmith's theme of false surfaces by casting these characters as men who present themselves as honest businessmen and once-respectable artists when what they really want is to run the globe around playing gangster. Jonathan wants to negate his adult responsibilities, in the same way that Wenders is a serious filmmaker who on the one hand felt an obligation to produce serious philosophical films (The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick) when his heart was leaning towards fun rock 'n roll road movies (Alice in Cities, Kings of the Road.) Even the simple act of relaxing in his shop listening to a Kinks record (which Wenders identifies on the dvd commentary as the first LP he ever owned as a teenager) is interrupted by Jonathan's wife when she comes in demanding answers her husband would rather avoid. At the same time, Ripley is also producing his own false fronts, turning up at Jonathan's shop sans hat wearing a sports coat, his "mature" pretense. The difference between the two is that of an honest craftsman and celebrity artist wanna-be/movie star: you can tell their attitude towards existence by simply comparing the hats, Ripley's outrageous Stetson against Jonathan's dull yet sensible ski cap.

There's a lot of travel in The American Friend, and with any road movie there's an elusive search. Again, Jonathan's is a search for death, but Ripley's is more obscure. Wenders splits his personality into these characters, putting his curiosity and admiration of things into Ripley and his determination into Jonathan. To Ripley, there's no discernible difference between the streets of Paris, New York, Hamburg and Munich, all draped beneath a science fiction-y red sky by Robby Müller. "Even this river reminds me of another river," he notes staring outside his home, claiming to every day know "less and less about who I am and who anybody else is." Everywhere is one big place, and the grounding connection to each individual part comes from the relics found there: trinkets and gizmos that pop up throughout the film. Besides Hopper's Stetson hat, there's his a tape recorder, polaroid camera and Wurlitzer jukebox. Jonathan gives Ripley an eye-trick motion photo as an apology for his snub, as if they were childhood friends in a secret clubhouse and Jonathan gave up his treasured cereal box prize to make Ripley feel better. In turn, Ripley gives Jonathan a porno peeper** featuring flip photos of nude women with lightning measures underneath after he starts feeling guilt for getting him involved in the crimes. These offerings are paralleled by Jonathan's son, always shown with cool and unusual toys - Jonathan even brings him a gyroscope as a gift. They're all toys for little kids, but they mean much more; in one small but telling moment, one of the son's friends instructs him to look at a moving picture through rotating wheel from the side rather than through the exposed top, otherwise it doesn't work. Exploration is something the characters aren't allowed, even when what they desperately need to know is What does this object mean to me? Who am I in this location? The garrotte issued for the second murder is just another of these random objects; Jonathan considers it like a disappointed kid who didn't get the toy he wanted. The characters find a comfort in objects the way Wenders loves his road signs and neon lights, his escalators and Thunderbirds. In traveling together - by bus, by train, by airplane, by the thin walkway above the West Side Highway, by the comfort of a Kinks pop song - the director and his characters seek visual stimulation to distract them from the harsh reality of the world they're trapped in (and, for Wenders, the conventions of the genre he's representing.)

Although Highsmith had faint praise to offer American Friend and Hopper's performance as Ripley, and complained about how Wenders borrowed additional elements from a book of hers he "didn't buy," she should have been grateful for the one essential element Wenders inarguably maintained from the novel: Ripley's nationality. Wenders, like Highsmith, knew that only an American could dig himself so unwelcomely into the lives of others and make such a mess of things, and Hopper's cowboy is a more relatable existential wreck than Alain Delon's suave French Ripley from Purple Noon. His first line, when knocking on a(ny) door to meet Nicolas Ray's Derwatt, is "It's Ripley, believe it or not," a very American reference that is 100% Wenders. Like Highsmith, he also finds something admirable in the amoral Tom Ripley, but instead of highlighting his shrewdness, cunning and ability to manipulate others the director focuses on his a wanderer, a shiftless hobo of the world's one big road. This is reflected in Ripley's final line of the movie, with Hopper quoting Bob Dylan by saying "Pity the poor immigrant." As much as I hate to apply Bob Dylan lyrics to any movie, they fit pretty well for both Ripley and Jonathan:

That man whom with his fingers cheats
And who lies with ev'ry breath
Who passionately hates his life
And likewise fears his death.

As he demonstrates in the final scenes when his criminal abilities are forced to the surface, Ripley can in fact do things "with his hands." What he does may not be strictly ethical, and not exactly artistic, but through Tom Ripley Wenders represents "the bad guy" as a grown child who doesn't know any better: the object that fits best into those hands is a gun or a Molotov cocktail. And in the end Jonathan drives away, leaving Ripley cheering at the flames bursting from the exploded ambulance on the beach, rejecting the incorrigible darkness of his American friend.

* I think Cassavetes would have been interesting in any of the three main roles.
** Unlike Fassbinder, whose use ofo American props and music seems borrowed from the French New Wave - a homage to a homage.
*** Originally Wenders planned to the end the movie with a shot of Derwatt using black paint to destroy his original work, then stopping when he realizes he's gone blind.
** ** Although they are miles apart in terms of everything, the basic set-up of TV's exceptional "Breaking Bad" is very similar.
*** ** I don't know the actual names of these things and it is impossible to find them out. Literally impossible.


His later career niche of hamming it up as villains in movies like Speed and Waterworld made it easy to forget what a cinematic icon Hopper was, until his passing last year got everybody looking over his filmography and finding dozens of excellent performances in classic movies. I'll admit I could never get into Easy Rider, or any of the experimental films where I felt Hopper was trying to drive home some kid of obscure point, but these are just a few of the parts he managed to nail over the years (I exempted his role as Ripley from the list - it would probably tie for #1).

10. Daniel Morgan, Irish ex-partriot turned Australian bushranger, in Philippe Mora's Mad Dog Morgan

"A boomerang, sir!"

9. John Canyon, blue collar freight pilot in the year 2196, in Stuart Gordon's Space Truckers

"You know, for a son-of-a-bitch, gimp rapist murderer, he died ok!"

8. Walker Benson, the pill-popping convict who admires Gary Oldman's erection, in Mick Jackson's Chattahoochee

"Here, try these. They ain't dancin', and they ain't gamblin', and they ain't drinkin', cussin', fightin', fuckin' out of wedlock. They ain't even mentioned in the Bible, but they will get yuh real close to Heaven."

7. Bill, rehab guru, in Alison Maclean's Jesus' Son

"Are you kidding? Because it makes you sound awful stupid asking if I'm alive, 'cuz obviously I am."

6. The real "Lyle from Dallas" in John Dahl's Red Rock West

"You must be Suzanne. You look pretty enough to eat."

5. The unnamed photojournalist who apologizes for all the decapitated heads in Francis Coppola's Apocalypse Now

"One through nine, no maybes, no supposes, no fractions. You can't travel in space, you can't go out into space, you know, without, like, you know, uh, with fractions - what are you going to land on - one-quarter, three-eighths? What are you going to do when you go from here to Venus or something? That's dialectic physics."

4. Don, the alcoholic trucker responsible for a tragic accident, in Hopper's Out of the Blue

"Punk...punk...You know something? I'm a punk. I want you guys to clean up your act, have a good time, and shape up and I'll see you in my dreams, you know what I mean?"

3. Paris Trout, shady shopkeeper and hate crime perpetrator of "the Old South" in Stephen Gyllenhaal's Paris Trout

"Jesus help those who poison my household against me!"

2. "Feck," the hobo with a murderous past who lives with his blowup doll girlfriend, in Tim Hunter's River's Edge

"Oh, man. I ate so much pussy in those days, my beard looked like a glazed doughnut."

1. Of course - Frank Booth, the hellium-huffing, disguise-wearing, Roy Orbison-loving, PBR-drinking boogeyman of David Lynch's Blue Velvet

"You receive a love letter from me, and you're fucked forever!"

And yeah yeah, he's good in Hoosiers.

...and 5 Memorable Dennis Hopper scenes:

Getting his fingers cut off by Jeremy Slate in True Grit.
Being mowed down in the middle of the road in Hang 'Em High: "You've come to kill The Prophet!"
Going apeshit on a log with various chainsaws in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. "I am the lord of the harvest!"
Smoking a cigarette and explaining the cultural lineage of Sicilians to Christopher Walken in True Romance.
Ordering the pizza with pterodactyl tail topping in Super Mario Bros. "Goombas!"

~ April 20, 2011 ~