As most of you know Dennis Hopper died last Saturday. Upon hearing of his death I decided to watch Easy Rider to see how great he was. I was impressed by the ease with which he played Billy, the long haired biker and highly recommend the film for a deep dish slice of 60s nostalgia. Then I discovered that he had been in a number of other Hollywood classics including Cool Hand Luke, Apocalypse Now and Blue Velvet. He even had a tiny part in Rebel Without A Cause. Clearly Hopper was an actor who saw Hollywood change tremendously, he was around for the days of James Dean all the way to today’s day of Twilight. After searching IMDB.com for Hopper’s resume I found a wonderful tribute to Hopper on VanityFair.com in which writer Gwen Davis recounts her first meeting with a very young Hopper at a party in the Hollywood Hills in the 1950s. I can already picture a party with classic hollywood rebels and starlets sipping on cocktails and not once worrying about the paparazzi bashing their party. Gwen’s great tribute can be found here: http://www.vanityfair.com/online/daily/2010/06/remembering-dennis-hopper.html
I bring all of this up because it seems that some of the aura of Hollywood has died with Hopper and the actors of his generation. Of course people are still fascinated by the lives of actors (and some directors, writers and producers too) but nowadays there’s little mystery behind these people. The paparazzi follow them everywhere and we get constant Twitter updates about where these people are, what they’re eating (or not eating) and what kind of toilet paper they use. Plus with the apocalyptic ambush of reality TV stars into our media, the allure of fame is becoming more and more off-putting. Back in the Golden Age of Hollywood there seemed to be a certain amount of exclusivity when it came to being a movie star but now it seems there’s no guarantee that a party with a talented, respected actor like Kate Winselt might not be crashed by a no-talent fame whore like Snooki from Jersey Shore.
On the Vanity Fair website there is a special section devoted to Classic Hollywood and it says, “call us nostalgists, but we tend to think films were better, stars were more glamorous, and scandals were saucier in the good old days.” Now I’m sure that we glamorize the Hollywood of the ’20s through the ’70s but in those days it does seem like movie stars were less manufactured and in less fear of censorship. Today there are so many actors,stars and celebrities (many of them very young) like Miley Cyrus who are basically products packaged in plastic. Stars like this are boring, controlled and have none of the genuine edge of classic Hollywood stars. A scene of an episode of Entourage comes to mind when movie star Vinny Chase is in a meeting with a potential talent agency and they tell him that they want him to be a brand and he leaves the meeting, offended that they would simply try to turn him into a product.
I think about everything that has made Hollywood so enticing and iconic: Clark Gable and Katherine Hepburn in the ’30s, Casablanca, Citizen Kane and the Hollywood Blacklist of the ’40s, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe and Marlon Brando of the ’50s, Stanley Kubrick, Jane Fonda and Bonnie and Clyde of the ’60s, Meryl Streep, Francis Ford Coppola and A Clockwork Orange of the ’70s, even the Brat Pack and Spike Lee of the ’80s but in the last couple of decades the movie stars seem less iconic and the intelligent movies seem to be getting driven to the fringes of Hollywood by studios afraid to take chances on smart movies that might not make a billion dollars.
Two years ago Time magazine printed an issue with George Clooney on the cover calling him, “The Last Movie Star.” This might seem like a pessimistic declaration until you remember that Clooney only got his big break in the 90s and to be fair there have been a number of stars who will likely one day be looked upon with the same admiration we have for actors like Hopper: Brad Pitt, Denzel Washington, Tom Hanks, Angelina Jolie, Kate Winslet, Cate Blanchett and Quentin Tarantino just to name a few. So Hollywood might not be what it used to be but we can be confident that there are still stars that do good work and resist revealing everything about themselves in order to keep a mystery and sexiness about them which is crucial to the survival of Hollywood. After all what draws us to show-business above anything else is its sexiness.
What do you think? Comment! Discuss!