Monday, 9 November 2009

Focus on Hopper's America

Los Angeles Plays Itself

The Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) presents Focus on Hopper's America, a film season examining a period of rapid social and political change in the United States and the parallel artistic transformation in which Dennis Hopper played a key role.

The program coincides with Dennis Hopper and the New Hollywood, a major exhibition at ACMI which looks at a formative era for film and art in America through Dennis Hopper's life and work.

The corresponding film program is a complex archaeology of interlocking films, designed as a series of cinematic experiences that also provides a contextual backdrop to the exhibition.

"We've curated this season to be a stand-alone investigation into an enormously creative period in America and the powerful social and political change that shaped its art and its artists," said ACMI Film Programmer Kristy Matheson.

"It also enhances the experience of exhibition goers by allowing them to further appreciate the environment, the artistic influences and the works of one of Hollywood's greatest and most controversial exports."

Presented in three parts, Focus on Hopper's America is a program of rare and rarely seen works of new restorations, including features, documentaries and shorts (some staring, directed or produced by the man himself) that includes four Australian premieres, three of which are direct from Cannes International Film Festival 2009.

The first chapter within this program, 'Los Angeles, the Real Face of Hollywood,' goes beyond the palm trees and studio lights and explores the city as seen through the eyes of some of its iconic stars.

Opening night begins with Morgan Neville's The Cool School (2008), narrated by Jeff Bridges. The Cool School is the definitive record of the Ferus Gallery which gave rise to a modern art scene on the West Coast, and is where Hopper met many of the great artists he later worked with, collected and some of which he called his friends. A comprehensive overview of numerous personalities and artworks contained in ACMI's exhibition, and featuring an interview with Dennis Hopper, this fascinating documentary is "a spirited riposte to the groundless cliché that Los Angeles is a cultural wasteland" (The Hollywood Reporter).

The screening of The Cool School is accompanied by two shorts; Kenneth Angers' leather-clad Gay Nazi bikers roar on screen in Scorpio Rising (1964), and a hot young man buffs a custom hot rod to the omnipresent sounds of Dream Lover in Kustom Kar Kommandos (1965).

Colors (1988), one of Hopper's own directorial works, is a groundbreaking portrayal of gang violence, offering a window into the underbelly of L.A. Seasoned cop Bob (Robert Duvall) and hot-head rookie Danny (Sean Penn) tackle an endless cycle of violence, drugs and urban decay. Colors was praised for an honest portrayal of gang violence in L.A., so honest in fact that Producer Robert H. Solo hired real L.A gang members as guardians (as well as actors) for the film, two of whom were shot during filming.

One of the most fascinating views of this iconic locale, Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003) is Thom Anderson's critically acclaimed documentary. Utilizing an astounding array of classic, cult and rarefied film clips, Anderson analyses the representation of L.A across movies. Winner of Best Documentary at the 2003 Vancouver International Film Festival and voted Best Independent Film & Video 2004 by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, LA Weekly offered these words of advice to those who have not seen it; "Run, don't walk."

The central film in James Benning's Californian Trilogy, Los (2000), is a precisely crafted exploration of a Los Angeles by a leading avant garde filmmaker. The Australian premiere of Los will screen with Gary Conklin's short, L.A. As Suggested By the Art of Edward Ruscha (1981), which captures one of the West Coast's greatest art exports and the city to which his work is intrinsically linked.

Part two, 'Altered States: A Country in Change', looks at the US Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War and how these pivotal historical moments influenced artists across America.

'Altered States' begins with a charged session on civil rights. Roger Corman's social drama The Intruder (1962), starring William Shatner as a racist agitator, screened at the Edinburgh International Film Festival earlier this year receiving a rousing reception some 47 years after it was made. It is accompanied by James Blue's The March (1964), a cinéma vérité piece of the 1963 March to Washington which culminated in Martin Luther King's famous 'I Have a Dream' speech, featured in this film in its entirety. The March is the best known of Blue's five films made for the United States Information Agency. His early cinema verite approach has earnt him recognition as one of history's best direct cinema film makers.

Soundtrack for a Revolution (Bill Guttentag/Dan Struman, 2009) is a striking contemporary documentary structured around the personal stories and songs that gave the US Civil Rights Movement strength and dignity. Led by executive producer Danny Glover, the work weaves archival footage with vibrant colour images and includes new performances from John Legend, TV on the Radio, Joss Stone, Wyclef Jean, The Roots, Richie Havens, Mary Mary, Anthony Hamilton and the Blind Boys of Alabama. Soundtrack for a Revolution is direct from Cannes 2009 and ACMI presents the Australian premiere, accompanied by Agnes Varda's observational documentary Black Panthers (1968).

Also direct from Cannes 2009 is the restored Far From Vietnam (1967). Produced in the midst of the period of conflict, Far From Vietnam is a powerful anti-war protest film crafted by some of film's great auteurs including Jean-Luc Godard, Joris Ivens, William Klein, Claude Lelouch, Chris Marker, Alan Resnais and Agnes Varda. Accompanying Far From Vietnam, is Cuban filmmaker Santiago Alverez's Now! (1965), described as "a blazing civil rights call to arms in this classic found footage filmic machine gun". Set to the vocals of jazz singer Lena Horne, Now! Pre-dates the music video clip and sample culture by almost two decades.

Closing out 'Altered States' is Apocolypse Now Redux (2001) starring Dennis Hopper. Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 film journeying into the hell of war won two Academy Awards (Best Cinematography and Best Sound, 1980) and two awards at Cannes (the much coveted Palme d'Or and the FIPRESCI Prize, 1979). The film was re-released in 2001 complete with additional scenes and bringing further critical acclaim. Of Redux, The New York Post exclaimed; "the breathtaking visual and aural restoration makes the film's original glories even more intense than you remember them."

Part three, 'Rebellion in the USA', is where sex, drugs, personal freedom and the collapse of 1960's idealism comes to the fore. This temperate environment is investigated through a series of rarely seen counterculture classics.

Barbet Schroeder's sexy, sun-drenched More (1969), is a dramatic exploration of the pleasure and pain of 1960's excesses, scored by Pink Floyd and shot by Oscar-winning cinematographer Néstor Almendros. This film will screen with Bruce Connor's Cosmic Ray (1962), a pastiche of found footage set to Ray Charles' soul track What I Say, and a precursor to the modern video clip.

Next screens Hopper's second directorial effort, The Last Movie (1971), also produced and staring the man himself. The Village Voice cited it as "One of the craziest (and druggiest) movies ever made" and it is not hard to see why. Hopper's Peruvian 'western' is a psychedelic narrative infused with jump-cuts, double takes, dreamscapes and disjointed realities. This cult-classic features cameos by Samuel Fuller, Kris Kristofferson and Peter Fonda but it is Hopper as the dashing Hollywood stunt wrangler, Kansas, that really steals the show! The Last Movie will screen with Bruce Connor's Breakaway (1966) featuring the vocals of Toni Basil (Of 'Oh Mickey, you're so fine.' fame). Connor has experiemented with her wild go-go dancing moves by playing the footage backwards and forwards.

Book-ending 'Rebellion in the USA' is L.M. Kit Carson and Lawrence Schiller's rarely seen, Amercian Dreamer (1971), a fascinating documentary on Dennis Hopper's ill-fated sophomore film, The Last Movie. They find Hopper in New Mexico cutting the film and his contribution, though through a haze of drugs, is captivatingly raw and uncensored. Philosophical turns about art, life, sex and filmmaking make this very much a document of its time and essential viewing for contemporary audiences. Similarly reminiscent of the decade is the short it screens beside, Aleph (1958-1976), directed by Wallace Berman over almost two decades.

Focus on Hopper's America runs from 3 - 13 December 2009, to coincide with the exhibition Dennis Hopper and the New Hollywood. The program is shortly followed by a Long Play season of Easy Rider to celebrate the 40th anniversary of a groundbreaking work and the centrepiece of Dennis Hopper's career.

For more information and session times, visit

Further information

Claire Butler
Communications Coordinator
[direct phone] 61 3 8663 2415 [fax] 61 3 8663 2498 [mobile] 0434 603 654
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