I Was Born To Raise Hell ...

... to another level.

And that he did. Some people do their thing, and they just own it. Of course, I'm talking about the great Dennis Hopper, who died today. Easy Rider and Apocaplyse Now: Hopper owns the '60s. The whole decade is his. I'm hard pressed to think of a film that owns it's subject -- a major American cultural phenomenon -- the way Rider owns the hippie counterculture. Maybe The Godfather and organized crime (except Godfather was largely bullshit about the honorable mafioso who was too moral to deal drugs -- hah! -- and it has competition from Sopranos and Goodfellas). Rider's cinematic claim on the '60s is absolute. Not even Woodstock itself disputes. And you won't find any bullshit in a Dennis Hopper film about honorable crimelords and warm-hearted multiple-murderers.

Personally, I think Hopper's most brilliant film is Colors, one of my 10 Favorite Films. Just as in Rider, Hopper zoomed in on a critical, unfolding social phenomenon in America: the L.A. Gangs, the crack revolution in urban crime, open warfare between street gangs and the police, and hip-hop. And he did what filmmakers should do: he showed the rest of us. I remember coming out of the theater after seeing Colors; on the street right outside the theatre, cops were arresting a half-dozen kids (down on their knees, hands interlocked) exactly like I'd just seen on screen. Hopper showed us.

He was a ruthless film-maker, he'd kill off anybody. He was also ruthless in depicting sex on film, in Colors and The Hot Spot. I think Hopper liked the sound of women screaming during intense sex.

Most of all, as director of Easy Rider and Colors, Hopper was a master at matching music with cinematic image into a massively empowered symbiot. Born To Be Wild/Easy Rider: show me a more perfect match of image to sound anywhere! (Well, again I suppose The Godfather.) In the opening sequence to Colors, Hopper uses a police siren to morph from good ol' American rockabilly into a mortifying hip-hop track as the Crips execute a drive-by murder. Check out the scene where Crips ganglord 'Rocket' (played minimally/brilliantly by a young Don Cheadle) gets arrested in a round-up and swaggers like death itself into a holding cell to join his Crip underlings. Gated off from the Bloods in an adjoining cell, the Crips shout at their murderous rivals over the chilling title track by IceT. It's one the most terrifying, most vivid scenes I've ever seen on screen.

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