Tag: jane espenson

Dennis Hopper

by on Apr.21, 2010, under Los Angeles, Movies

Dennis Hopper looms large in my mind as a weird hybrid of hippie and roughneck. I know him as an early Sunset Strip art scenester, showing photographs at Ferus; as the archvillain of Speed, an evil mastermind hiding out on the skids; and as the director of Easy Rider, which I half-saw one night in college. I picture him as a kind of Dog Soldiers Malibu-hills Don’t-Tread-On-Me cocaine libertarian, a portrait probably not entirely distinct from Hunter S. Thompson. I know he’s dying.

This video essay by Matt Zoller Seitz provokes a deeper consideration. Watching it, Hopper’s fragility leaps to the surface — the hard-luck cop in True Romance who dies rather than give his son up to Christopher Walken; the alcoholic coach from Hoosiers; flashes of tenderness, sensitivity, and weakness in dozens of Seitz’s clips. The art scenester appears an exponent of the avant-garde and a poet of nature and existence. It’s a moving tribute, well worth watching even at its considerable length for online video (24 min).

This, from Seitz’s short introductory essay, also rings true:

When I think about Hopper, I hear his voice in my head: the nasal Kansas vowels; the cowboy twang; and last but not least, the semicolons where periods would normally go, contributing to a sense that his thoughts, like works of art, are never finished, only abandoned, that he never really stops talking, that there’s always one more observation or pronouncement or dirty joke waiting just around the bend.

Jane Espenson’s warning against glib dialogue has been very helpful to my writing partner and me recently:

You probably loved it while you wrote it.  You could feel the emotion and poetry in it.  But when you reread it, it seems glib and overwritten.  If you take the poetry out, it feels flat.  In my opinion, the only thing wrong with the line is that it defies human psychology.  We don’t get articulate when we’re emotional — the opposite happens.  We get stumbly and tangled as we choke back our tears.

The trick, per Jane, is letting the poetry “creep back in when you write the next line, after the heat of the moment has passed”. Hopper seems particularly adept at a kind of unglib, poetic moment of rushing towards illuminated truth, as if the bends around which the observations wait all lead towards something bright, or fiery.

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